Friday, June 26, 2009

How to Slice an Orange

Yeah, I know - what fool doesn't know how to slice an orange? I submit that the fool writing this post did not know how to properly slice an orange PAPER THIN. Why would you want a paper thin slice of orange, you say? Well, maybe if you were trying to recreate the Fromage Blanc Souffle Glace dessert you had at CityZen. Which is what I tried to do. Suffice it to say that you can spend an entire blog post on the orange, and save the rest of the dessert for another post.

I have to admit, I, like most inexperienced orange slicers, approached this task with little concern. How difficult could it be? All you need is an extremely sharp knife and steady hands. Wrong. Ok, so if that doesn't work, then all you need is a mandoline that can slice to 1/16th inch, and you're golden. Well almost.

I honestly didn't research the science behind citrus pulp, but I'm sure someone has, so if you are interested, then Google it. I like "figurin" stuff out. The primary problem with the mandoline procedure is that the pulp of the orange is not stiff enough to be smoothly sliced by the mandoline. For instance, a pear or an apple, with a much more dense cellular makeup, will easily slice paper thin and smooth with a mandoline. Large, open-celled citrus fruit does not.

So how do you solve this problem? Well, my first thought was the freezer. It worked. But, you need to par-freeze (not sure if I just made that term up, but it works) the orange, then slice it. If it's too frozen, then the mandoline will have a difficult time cutting through the frozen liquid in the pulp. I par-froze my orange for a little less than two hours, but your times may vary, depending upon how efficient your freezer is, and whether you actually close the freezer door all the way. Some members of my household have difficulty with that.

Once you have the paper-thin slice you are looking for, then you need to move on to the crispy factor. This is no easy task either. My experiment involved a simple syrup with a dash of Gran Marnier for sweetness. I dropped the slices into simmering syrup for about 10 minutes. After removal and patting dry, I placed them on a Silpat, and proceeded to dehydrate the slices.

After burning the first batch, I determined that low and slow was the way to go. It took about two hours in a 250 degree electric oven to get close to the result I was looking for. I think I ran out of time before I actually achieved my goal. Next time I might try the gas oven (dry heat) or (gulp) try the microwave. I know the microwave may sound un-professional, but based on the results of re-heating a chicken dinner in the microwave, I'm sure it would dehydrate quicker.

And while you are attempting this ridiculous task, keep in mind that it has relatively little to do with the flavor of the CityZen Dreamsicle. It's a garnish - although an impressive one. I'm sure some people ordering the Dreamsicle even toss it to the side, without ever tasting it. What a shame.

Monday, June 22, 2009

HFD version 2: application of some technique

The landlocked wanted seafood. So, seafood it was. I'm with JW about the heat, and although I know I don't live in Augusta anymore, grilling on a black egg in the blazing sun gets a little hot. Not to worry, though...

The theme of this menu was ocean and farm/garden to table. Some of it came from my garden, some from the farmer's market, the rest from Whole Foods. We have had critical camera failure, so I don't really have any good pictures to share. Sorry, we're working on it.


Organic microgreens with roasted red beets, heirloom tomatoes, and fried shallots
Red snapper ceviche
Seared diver scallops with basil/mint emulsion
"Lucques" style sauteed snow peas
Grill roasted whole chicken
Orange-fig gelato (store-bought)

Wine pairing: Chateau St. Michelle Riesling
Beer pairing: New Belgium Brewery: Mighty Arrow (sold out spring brew really great)

Nothing particularly difficult or time-consuming. Total meal took about 3 hours to prepare, eat, and clean up. Here's how it broke down:

We have been buying bulk salad greens from the grocery store (Harris Teeter) because it's about 1/3 the price of buying it in the plastic containers. Once you realize that almost all of the microgreen lettuce comes from Earthbound farms in California, even the bulk, you realize that you're paying for packaging. And I think it's easier on fridge space to store a bag of greens.
For the beets, I bought them at a traveling farmer's market that comes right to VUMC campus on Thursday afternoons in the spring and summer. The beets were half the price of what I can get at the store and higher quality, raised locally. I trimmed the greens off (which are very edible and present in many of the microgreen mixes you buy, whether you knew it or not) and parboiled them. Per Jamie Oliver, mix acid (vinegar or citrus), oil, and aromatic in foil with your root veg and throw on the grill for a while as you're cooking something else. My combo was balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole crushed garlic, and red beets. Peel, slice, add them to whatever or eat them by themselves.
The Cherokee Purple tomatoes are an heirloom variety that I like, and I have some growing in my backyard, they're just coming in. I just quartered, salted, and placed on a wire rack over paper towels to drain excess liquid and concentrate the flavors for a couple of hours as I was working on everything else. Remember, water is the enemy of salads.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

The fried shallot is stupid simple, but really adds a nice edge to whatever you're doing, particularly greens. Literally, 1 shallot, thinly sliced on the equator, and fried at moderate heat. Don't burn it! Top your salad with it, you won't be sorry. It's like tiny flavor-packed onion rings without the breading.
Finally, fnished it with a balsamic vinaigrette that I used a spicy English style mustard for a binder. I don't stick to the 3:1 ratio as closely for vinaigrette, because I use a pretty strong oil that can overpower it. Just whisk and add oil until it firms up to the consistency of sour cream.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

Ceviche (sous vide che?)
I admit I screwed this up a little bit. We had some left over red snapper (DOG loves it), about one portion size. Skinned it, cut into a dice, and added to a ziploc bag with 2 fresh squeezed limes, a handful of diced onion, 1 minced jalapeno from the garden, and a healthy handful of cilantro. This was allowed to cure in the fridge for about 2 hours. Now, this fish could have been eaten raw as a "crudo" so it wasn't a big deal to have it completely cooked through (white instead of pink). To rush it a little bit, I threw it in the microwave to apply a little steam heat for 2-3 minutes. The mistake here was if I was thinking it wasn't cooked enough, then I ruined the herbs. The herbs had that wilted faded look. Ceviche is really a sous vide of fish using acid instead of heat to cook the protein. I also should have drained off the excess lime juice or added some oil, because it was really strong, and I could hardly taste the fish. I'll keep working on this one.

Seared scallops with basil/mint emulsion
For fun, I stuck my sautee pan on the grill as it was winding down to keep the smoke outside. Scallops are best cooked on pretty high heat to medium rare, in my opinion.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
This was really nothing fancy, just salt, pepper, and olive oil for the sautee fat. I did them in batches to maximize the crust of the sear. The emulsion is just a lower ratio vinaigrette done in the blender (eventually after the food processor and the immersion blender failed). I didn't execute it as well as I would have liked because I did it in too small of a volume, and it broke, and it wasn't the bright green like a pesto that I was looking for. I just used a handful of basil, handful of mint, handful of lemon balm (from the garden), lime juice, salt pepper, and drizzled in the olive oil while it was blending. I need an inert binder to help it "catch" and emulsify, but I don't think egg is the thing here.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

Lucques-style sauteed snow peas
For Lucques-style, I just mean that the base is thinly sliced onions in a couple of tablespoons of butter with salt, thyme, and a crushed, dry, small pepper like japones or something similar.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
Just add whatever other veg you want (in this we had some snow peas), give a quick sautee and you're done. Easy. Try yellow squash this way, you'll love it!

Grilled chicken
Whole chicken, pasture raised with a salty, savory dry rub, indirect at 400 for about an hour or so.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
There may be a subtle difference in the breast meat of these birds in that it doesn't seem to dehydrate as quickly, but I'm not sure about that. Maybe the marketing has gotten to me.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

Well we were in too big of a rush to enjoy the dessert, but I did a couple of days later. Gelato and paletas are out there, just look around and find one you like, reproduce it at home. Haven't quite gotten there yet.

Happy Father's Day

Sunday around my house used to be known as "Mexican Night".  Virtually every Sunday, Jen and I would lovingly prepare what we considered to be authentic Mexican fare.  There was an excellent Bon Appetit issue in May 2003 that enticed me to delve into "real" Mexican cooking.  This was followed by a brief enchantment with Rick Bayless' books... the end result come Sunday night was spicy, rich, fresh, and often intoxicating.

This tradition has fallen on hard times.  Enter Lucy and Julia.  They are not cooperating with my laborious preparations of authentic Mexican foods.  Lucy just can't seem to p
erfect fresh tortillas and Julia won't stop crying from having her fingers crushed in the press...

This brings me to Father's Day 2009.  I wanted something relatively easy to prepare, but different from the regular hot dogs and burgers, and I wanted some Latin flare, but with Southern Tradition.  Thusly, I concocted an eccentric menu that really hit the spot.  I wouldn't recommend you combine these unless you are in a similar mood, but each was interesting in and of itself.

First of all, ridiculous heat wave in Augusta.  Any grilling would have to have a suitable, refreshing beverage accompaniment.  With the inability to purchase alcohol on Sunday and having no beer and a limited amount of Tequila, I had to get creative.  Jennifer recently bought a few herbs, one of which was lavender.  Scouring through my liquor supply, I found a disgusting bottle of Absolut Raspberry Vodka purchased years ago by mistake.  I rationed that sweet tea infused with lavender and "fortified" with this vodka would hit the spot.  Surprisingly, I was right!  I made about a 1/2 gallon of the stuff and drank 2 tall tumblers which helped me get through/stumble through the day/heat.

The remainder of the menu:
Grilled portabellas, marinated in a sort of mojo sauce, tossed with a fire-roasted salsa of tomato, onion, serrano, and poblano
Jicima with lime and chili flakes
Skirt steak burgers with chimichurri and Mexican crema.

For the burgers, I simply cut the steak into 1 inch cubes, salted, and refrigerated for about an hour.  Afterwards, I pulsed in the food processor until coarsely ground and formed into patties.  Just before dinner, I grilled over high heat for about minutes per side (because I ground myself, I am perfectly happy to have a medium to medium rare burger), plopped on a toasted bun and doused with chimichurri and crema.  BTW...this burger was gooooooooodddd.

Onto dessert.  This is where things get really unusual.  I enjoy making ice cream, and since purchasing Ratio, have been into experimentation.  It never occurred to me that creme anglaise, creme brulee, flan, and ice cream were essentially the same exact thing just cooked in different ways.  Last weekend, I made peach ice cream.  It was gooooooodddd.  This weekend, I decided to try my take on ice cream that I saw in the Lees Brothers Cookbook.  They made a boiled peanut and sorgum syrup ice cream for a low country boil dessert.  This of course doesn't go at all with my theme, but hey, Kroger had some boiled peanuts, and I've been on a cane syrup kick ever since eating the pancakes at Stanley's in NOLA (the ones with ice cream and cane syrup...mmmm....).

My ice cream base recipe for one quart
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
vanilla extract (about 1 tsp)
pinch of salt
1-2 T of some type of liquor
*Ruhlman's ratio would call for more yolks, but I think 2 per cup liquid is enough, and I'm cooking here!

Because I would be using cane syrup, I decreased the sugar to 1/2 cup.  To make the ice cream, bring 1 cup of the creme and 1 cup of the milk with the sugar to just below a simmer over medium heat (light whisps of steam will begin to rise).  In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks with cold creme and the vanilla.  When the creme/milk/sugar mixture is up to temperature, temper the yolk mixture with about a 1/3 of the liquid and whisk vigorously.  Then, add the remaining mixture.  Return the pot back to the fire and strain the mixture to remove any cooked egg (bad eats in these type desserts).  Cook stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon (the French call this nappe).  Remove to a stainless steel bowl set over ice to cool and when near room temperature refrigerate to chill completely, preferrably over night.  The next morning (or whenever), churn the cream as directed by your ice cream maker (to this step I added 1/2 cup rinsed and shelled boiled peanuts and if you don't want large ice crystals to form, you can add 1-2 T of whatever liquor you desire), should take about 25 to 30 minutes to become thick and fluffy.  Transfer to a quart container and freeze for atleast 4 hours until solid (Before freezing, I swirled in a quarter cup of chilled cane syrup).

We ate this ice cream last night with our neighbors.  This time Jimmy and the oldest daughter, Mary Margaret, and unbelievable, this was loved by all!  Most liked the peach better, except for Jennifer, who has a penchant for saltiness.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Wanted to get a thread going so we could share our favorite cookbooks. My top 5 in no order are...Frank Stitt's Southern Table, Mario's Molto Italiano, Ruhlman's Ratio, Keller's Bouchon, and America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. I am anxiously awaiting the release of Keller's Ad Hoc, which will be Keller's definitive recipes for home classics, and David Chang's Momofuku. Both of these will be available this fall.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Digital Confidential

TV. Not what my last post was about, but not far from what makes it tick. Music (if you missed the last post) and television (Julia on PBS) were both broadcast in analog glory over low-bandwith sprectrums available with almost any simple device within range (ie. a car radio or a home tv set) over the past upteen years, until the government decided we all needed to switch to digital. I am by no means opposed to digital television. In fact, I think it's a huge advancement to receive digital transmissions. But now, you need a cable box, satellite dish, and an array of other devices to consistently receive your daily dose of information.

I realize I sound like a codger here (for a definition of codger, you may need to visit Webster). My life is by no means simple, uncomplex, or without modern electronic amenities. In fact, I pride myself on understanding electonic trends, having most of the latest gadgets, and being able to speak intelligently with my teenage neices on a technologically relevant level. Which is why I recently watched a crap-load more digital television than I normally do.

I caught an eposide of Ted Nugent's SpiritWild Ranch Saturday Night (6/13), in which he entertained Anthony Bourdain with his religious hunting experience (which is admittedely a little weird, but normal for Ted), an epidsode of 60 minutes on Sunday, which featured Alice Waters (San Fran chef) touting organic produce, and a new-old sitcom of which I was unaware.

The sitcom I watched was the first episode of "Kitchen Confidential" on NetFlix on demand. I read Bourdain's book a few years ago, but until last Friday, I didn't realize there was an attempted sitcom based on the book. The sitcom apparently dates from 2005. It was relatively entertaining, and worth watching more episodes. I'm planning on completing the entire set of episodes, regardleass of my feelings about the show. I feel I owe it to Bourdain and this blog to finish what I started, If I expect to become a successful music, food, and television critic.

UPDATE: I just realized i didn't watch Kitchen Confidential on Netflix. It was on Hulu.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Cooking School at Home

I'm writing because I can't sleep and I'm anxious.  Jennifer, thankfully, is has been mercifully drugged by her night nurse and I'm sitting here trying to find things to take my mind off reality.  Lately I've been contemplating ways to improve my overall skills in the kitchen.  Apart from going to culinary school, there simply aren't many resources out there that aren't basic recipe books.  I'm tempted to work through a techniques book, page by page to accomplish these things and hopefully have some fun.  My initial thought would be to work through Jacques' book, but I also found this website that teaches fundamental and is linked to podcasts.  What do you guys think?  My other thought would be to work through Ratio, but that isn't as much about technique as it is an understanding the essence of a food.