Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Wonders of "Ratio"

Recieved Ruhlman's "Ratio" last week and read cover to cover on the plane to and from New Orleans. Reading this book, if legit, does amazing things for the avid home cook. It ends reliance on recipes! When in New Orleans last weekend, Lil B recommended we try crawfish-goat cheese crepes at Muriel's on Jackson Square. They were indeed quite good, and I couldn't help but think to myself..."I could make something better..." Of course my efforts to duplicate were foiled when neither the BILE-LOW or the K-Roger had any crawfish tails. However, I did find some frozen lobster tails at the K-Roger, so that's what I went with.

Here's how the dinner came together. Got home around 6PM. Boiled some water with a little champagne vinegar and poured over the still frozen lobster tails. Let steep for 5 minutes. I then rinsed under cool running water, removed the tails from their shell and popped into the fridge. I next chopped the shells into little bits, tossed into some water with some veg that included leftover fennel and left to simmer. 615PM went out to play with babies. 715PM removed simmering "stock" from stove and took Julia upstairs for some exciting Elmo action.

745PM returned to the kitchen, got Lucy and Julia some bedtime milk and made the crepe batter. This is where "Ratio" kicks in. Knowing that crepe batter is a ratio of 2 part liquid, 2 part egg, and 1 part flour, I needed no recipe to make a savory crepe. I wanted just enough batter for 2 people, so I made a 2 egg crepe batter. Large eggs weight about 2 ounces each, so I mixed 2 eggs with 1/2 cup (4 oz) of my strained lobster stock, and using my scale measured out 2 ounces of AP flour. For leavening, I added 1/4 tsp baking powder (1 tsp usual per cup flour) and for seasoning a big pinch of salt and some red curry powder. I whisked the mess together and popped into the fridge. I also fired up my make shift sous vide apparatus and set the water bath for 139 degrees as recommended by Keller (he actually prefers 139.1 degrees for lobster, and yes .1 degrees makes a difference?)

755PM went back upstairs to help put the girls to bed.

810PM back in the kitchen. Preheated oven to 350 degrees. Made 5 crepes and set aside to cool. Made filling. Made 1/2 and 1/2 mixture of ricotta & goat cheese seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and fines de herbs.

820PM "Food-saved" lobster tails with a couple pats of butter and tossed into the sous vide apparatus. Filled crepes and popped into oven. Set timer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile made a sauce out of a shallot, white wine, remaining lobster stock, a little coconut milk (let over from last night, had no cream), some curry powder and finished with some butter kneaded with flour.

The result was on the table at 840PM and gone by 850PM.

Was this as good as what I had in NOLA? Not quite, but it's my first attempt, and I do believe I heard several MMMMMs from Jenny.

BTW: lobster cooked sous I've had at I've had anywhere outside of a Ritz-Carlton or 4 star uppity joint. Keller actually cooks lobster, not sous vide per say, but poaches directly in a butter bath at 139.1 degrees maintained by a thermal immersion circulator. This requires about 5 kg butter (about $100 worth of butter). My version used 1 T butter per tail (about 10 cents worth) and was full of buttery goodness. I can't wait to try Keller's someday. Maybe I'll walk into Per Se next time in NYC, sit at the bar and order a tail ala cart.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sous vide Thanksgiving, courtesy of Grant Achatz

These videos are very interesting, and I stumbled across them after watching Achatz appear as a judge on Top Chef. I became even more interested in it when the Alinea at Home website was launched. More than anything, it opens a totally new dimension of possibility. At it's simplest form, cooking is about ingredient selection and combination, chemistry, and heat transfer. Maybe that's what makes it so intriguing to me. Watch both and enjoy!

Sous Vide at the White House?

As you probably know, I have been interested in Sous Vide cooking for quite some time and had pre-ordered Keller's "Under Pressure" last November. My enthusiasm was greatly diminshed thereafter as the recipes in "Under Pressure" were designed for high-end restaurants with access to ultra-expensive equipment and ingredients. A good thermal immersion circulator runs about $1000 and a vacuum-chamber capable of "compression" runs 3-4K. Not going to happen at my house...So above you see the comprimise, a PID controller from Auber and a Black & Decker 20 cup rice cooker. The PID controller cost about $150 and the cooker $40. Below is my 1st attempt at Sous Vide.
On the way home yesterday, thought I would pick up some steaks for dinner and thought this would be the perfect 1st run. Went to the NY Butcher Shoppe and bought 2~10oz NY strip, I didn't splurge for prime cut as I wanted to see what this cooking technique would do for an ordinary choice cut of meat.
The process could not have been any easier. I simply put hot tap water in the rice cooker, plugged it into the PID controller and set the temperature to 135 degrees F. Within 10 minutes the water was at temperature and holding steady. There was some overshoot at times, but never above 137 and never below 135. The PID controller works by regulating the current supplied to the rice cooker based on the set temperature. Next I patted the steaks dry, seasoned with salt and pepper, brushed a small amount of olive oil and sealed with my FoodSaver (purchased at Tuesday morning sometime back for < $100). I dropped the steaks into the water bath and left them there until we were ready to eat which turned out to be about 3 hours.
This is what the steaks look like in the pouch after "cooking":
An this is the unappetizing appearance when removed from the bag...
But never fear, I've got a blow torch!
And this is the end result...
Meat that is succulent and wonderfully tender. Almost didn't need a knife. The entire steak was a perfect-medium rare, but when cut exuded almost no juices, they all stay inside the meat! There are some problems with this preparation, but with some refinement has great potential. First, I definately want more char, more that I could get with the torch. The difficulty will be making char without cooking further. Will try on a high-heat egg next time... Second, you have to trim as much fat as possible. The fat doesn't render and actully becomes extremely tough and quite disgusting. So next time, I will trim, trim, trim. I think my next attempt with be with a flat-iron steak. I will post a follow-up with the results.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Contraption

The contraption showed up on my front porch about two days before the oyster roast. No note. No pre-arranged dropoff. Just the contraption. I was working from home that day, but didn't notice it until around 11am. I went to put my latest Netflix in the mailbox (Madagascar 2) for the mail carrier, and noticed it perched on the wicker table out front. Pristine-ly clean aluminum, shining in the morning sun. The kind that makes you squint, even after a morning Starbucks. It was about 24 inches tall, round, with a domed lid. It took about 45 seconds for me to realize what it was.

My friend and former insurance agent had mentioned this contraption in the recent past. He offered to assist with the oyster "roast", and had a potential supplier for oysters. He had been to our oyster "roasts" many times, and appreciated the work that went into the event. We have had them many times in the past - UGA football games on the big screen (25 feet of high-def bliss - but I digress) and for the annual Master's party that we have on Par 3 Wednesday. Unbeknownst (I hate that word) to me, Rusty had dropped the contraption on the porch before he went to his office, which is about a mile from my house.

Rusty is the kind of friend that everyone should have. Good hearted. Personable. And previously being in the home insurance business (now corporate), could find almost any building-related material at low or no cost using his client connections out in "the country" (i.e. Waynesboro, Sylvania, etc). He once got me a claw foot tub from a house in Harlem, GA for free. To this day, I still wonder whether we actually stole the thing. We took my pickup truck at sunset to a dilapidated shack with no power. We crept inside with flashlights, took a hacksaw to the pipes to get it free, and man-handled it into the pickup. I was on the verge of a hernia. If you've ever picked up a real clawfoot tub, you know what I mean. We still use that tub for iced bottles of beer when we have parties. I got smart and bought a hand truck to move it around.

Anyway, Rusty is a man who can get things. And a man who likes to dream up contraptions. Cooking contraptions appears to be one of his latest fixations. He had a fellow build him an upright smokehouse for meat, that stands about 5-feet tall, is rectangular and made of sheet metal, and has about 10 racks inside. It's attached to a pot-belly stove that he feeds to smoke and heat to the meat. Awesome contraption. He also had a fellow build him a smoker/grill from a 6-foot propane tank, cut in half, with a 1/2 inch sheet metal divider to distribute the heat, and make the smoke roll across the meat from one end to the other, prior to exiting through the chimney. Again, awesome contraption.

The contraption Rusty brought me two days before the oyster roast was not at all contrived or built by a fellow. It was from an Oriental Market. An oh-six oriental market nonetheless (for you non-Augustans, that's the south side, as in 309-oh-6 zip code). The 06'ers have a number of oriental markets, and as OG pointed out, if you haven't been to one, you don't know what you are missing. Especially in variety and price. This contraption was made for steam, and boy can it steam. I'm not sure what the oriental crowd uses this contraption to cook, but you can't beat steaming oysters in it.

Which brings me to the first clarification of the day. We call all of our oyster events "oyster roasts", although technically, it's a steam. Oyster Steam doesn't sound nearly as appetizing as an Oyster Roast, so we stuck with the latter. Although I can promise you, I will have the wet canvas and wire cages available for an event in the near future, which we will honestly call an Oyster Roast.

So we have established that the contraption is a steamer, and can steam oysters better than any contraption I have used. Since we have done this a number of times in the past, I have tried to perfect the process, not unlike the way JW continues to perfect his Pizza dough. An oyster steam is a bit harder to perfect. Not because it's a difficult process. It's actually pretty simple. That's why it's difficult to perfect. The simplicity is inherent in the steaming process. There's a lot less opportunity to introduce flavor into the process when you are steaming. My typical process involved a 40 quart aluminum pot with a basket, which was resting in the pot on top of half garlic heads, lemons, and a number of spices. These additions don't do much for the oysters, but do give an amazing aroma that enhances the eating experience. My problem has always been the limited distance between having the lid tight, when the basket is resting on garlic and lemons, to having the lid too far above the pot rim, where too much steam escapes. The contraption completely solved that problem.

Not only did the contraption allow the lid to tightly seal, but the bottom section provided a good 4 inches of room for liquid and aromatics. I used sea salt, 30 bay leaves, 4 heads of garlic (halved), 4 lemons (halved), a cup of old bay seasoning, a 1/4 cup of cayenne pepper, 1/4 cup of peppercorns, and about 4 quarts of water to steam the oysters. We use a turkey burner outside, and with the contraption, had two layers of oysters. This gave us a layer (bottom) that was well steamed (for the girls), and a layer that was just right (for the manly oyster eater). For the record, Rusty ate with the girls.

I got 400 oysters from my good buddy that runs the restaurant around the corner from the house. Very good quality, and about 50% cheaper than what you would pay at Publix (which we have done in the past). The first round of oysters was a test of the contraption, and were a little too steamed for me. They were all eaten. The next 3 batches were perfect. About 20 of the guests managed to consume all 400 oysters, and the contraption was an excellent addition to this annual event. As you can see from the photos, it's not something sold by Ronco, but is extremely light, inexpensive, and durable. And expandable. I'm not sure when it would resemble the leaning tower of Pisa, but as Rusty says, "the steam has to go up, so put as many of them layers on there as you want." More experimenting is definitely in order. I foresee vegetables (corn, potatoes, etc.) on some of the layers.

Rusty is on the lookout for one that I can purchase for myself. It appears that the oriental market doesn't keep them in stock for very long.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New charcoal

I went to a local restaurant supply store (the Cash n' Carry) and they were advertising this on the billboard outside. I figured, why not? I don't like going to Walmart in general, and I sure don't like buying the 10# bags because they run out pretty quick. My other problem is that the small bags of Royal Oak have too many small pieces and dust, so it takes FOREVER to light because the small pieces restrict airflow (fuel).
So, this one isn't even on the Naked Whiz' website. It is pretty much Royal Oak, which I'm sure is almost identical to what you might get in a bag of BGE, which I suppose I should compare it to. Burns great, hot, it is a little sparky, ash burns fine and white. Does great for low and slow and HHH.
It's distributed by Sysco who makes a lot of bulk items that restaurants I'm sure use (plates, canned veggies, frozen stuff, etc.). About 14 bucks for the 20# bag.
Now, if they'd just get rid of that orange bag....

Friday, April 10, 2009

Interesting website: pizza related

Check out this website about the proper way to make pizza. Interestingly, it seems to be a lot more about technique than the type of dough that he uses. Also, it seems like there is a significant place for the sourdough starter. Clearly, I have a lot more experimenting to do.
The good news for all you in GA is that this guy's pizzeria is in the ATL, so it's definitely something to try out if you get the chance. The other cool thing is that there is a google map of what he considers the greatest pizzerias in the world. Finally, JW, notice that your pizzeria in New Haven is really high on the list.
I think it further illustrates the level of obsession that can sink in regarding pizza, and that unless you live in NYC or Italy, you have the opportunity to make some of the best pizza in town if you're careful about it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Oyster "Roast"

Good times! First, let me apologize for the quality of this photo...I guess that's what happens when you take pictures with your phone in the dark. Mr. Brown hopefully will post more on this event later and discuss the fantastic steaming device found at the Oriental Market.

My job as usual was to provide the condiments (I'm the equivalent of a redneck saucier). I made a cocktails sauce from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook (great book that has upscale versions of Southern classics) that used tomatoes instead of ketchup and whose secret ingredient was orange zest. I also made a remoulade & a wasabi aioli. Typically I make the remoulade from scratch, but this time decided to simplify in the essence of time. I had read somewhere of using of all things, sweet pickle relish as a "secret" ingredient. So I tried that, and the remoulade was the most used condiment by far, and I had atleast 5 requests for the recipe. So here goes:

For 1 cup
1 cup Hellman's mayo
1 tsp capers
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves minced
1 T sweet pickle relish
1 T hot sauce (I use Crystal for cooking), add more to taste
Juice of a lemon
1 T minced parsley leaves
About 20 grinds of black pepper
Salt to taste (probably doesn't need any if the capers are salty)

To make: pulse everything in a food processor fitted with the blade until combined and creamy. This sauce is particularly good on po boys and pan-fried or blackened fish.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ruhlman's new book

Called "Ratio". Teaches how to cook without being a slave to recipes. Could be awesome, though I hope not too heavy on baking...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jen's Birthday & One Helluva Dessert!

Marinated Olives with Goat Cheese

Recipe courtesy Epicurious

Well, as per my usual, I was on-call for Jennifer's birthday, so I had to come up with a reasonably quick but tasty mid-week menu to "gild the lilly" to borrow a horrific phrase from that bloated genius Mario Batali. The appetizer was a simple marinated olive and goat cheese served with some artesianal bread from the Fresh Market. The bread also came in handy for mopping up the delicious sauce from the shrimp dish. BTW: this dish is awesome and very easy. Could make ahead and serve in a pinch...

Those are not the reason for the post. The dessert is where it's at! The picture doesn't do it justice, but it is a bastardized version of a recipe from the Babbo cookbook called "Strawberries and Peaches with Balsamic Zabaglione".

Strawberries are everywhere it seems, so I wanted to do a dessert using what's available at our crappy local markets and I remembered this recipe from my readings. Mario calls for peaches which I would not dare use this time of year even if I could find them, so I used all strawberries. He also calls for vin santo...good luck finding that stuff in Augusta... What I did find was a very tasty liqueur called Farette Biscotti Famosi. Interesting stuff, has hints of nuts, citrus, caramel, and fennel...nice even by itself.

Easy recipe and fantastic in my opinion. For the berries, I sliced a pint thinly and covered with 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup liquour that I brought to a simmer to macerate.

For the zabagione: Whip 1 cup heavy cream to stiff peaks and chill. Over a double boiler, whisk 4 egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup liquour, and 1 T aged balsalmic until thick and foamy. Remove from heat and continue to whisk until mixture cools to room temperature. Next fold in the cream and chill until ready to eat.

To serve, I a few spoonfuls of the berries in the bottom of a martini glass, topped with crumbled biscotti cookie, then added generous dollops of the zabaglione.

MMMMMMM! This was so easy and incredibly flavorful. We had a shot of the liquour on the side. This would be a perfect make ahead dessert for a dinner party when you don't want the dessert to be the star, though it just might be! Try it and lemme know.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quick pizza dough and grill setup

There a bunch of pizza recipes for the ceramic cooker, and after a lot of trial and error (A LOT), I think I've hit on a good combination. JW was up to visit last week, and felt inspired to send me some goodies: King Arthur 00 flour, perfect pizza flour, sourdough starter, and a new metal pizza peel. That was after we made a bit of a mess with too hot of a fire and a couple of blackened pizza crusts. So, this is what I did with it.

"Quick" pizza dough. (adapted from Mario Batali's Italian Grill)

1 tsp of yeast mixed in a cup of warm water, 10 min until it bubbles, then add to the FP
1 Georgia cup (32 oz) of "perfect pizza" flour (King Arthur) or general purpose
1 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
1/4 cup of dry white wine
1-2 tbsp of olive oil

Throw it all in the food processor with the dough blade, add a tbsp of warm water at a time until it "catches". Get it out and knead for 5-10 minutes. Got to, activates the gluten and allows it to be thin. Oil a steel bowl and cover, let it rise 1-2 hours. Beat it down, let it rise another hour. Cut in four pieces and make your pies.

Grill setup

Charcoal to the top of the vents in the firebox, let it roar to around 500 or so. Put your cooking grid down, set the double decker and a 13" pizza stone for about 10 minutes or so. Cook them until the top of the crust is starting to brown. The bottom will be perfect, and the top will be nice and cooked.

Warnings: beware of water packed mozarrella. In fact, just avoid it. Also, it's great to do fresh tomatoes, this is one circumstance where I'd seed them and let them dry out a little bit. When you make your tomato sauce, do what you can to minimize water. Water is the enemy of your pizza.