Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chef Pretty Hair

FYI - Chef Pretty Hair (Eric Ripert) was on Charlie Rose Tuesday nite (November 17th). You can watch it at He talks about his new show on PBS called Avec Eric which just started this Fall. One point I didn't realize is that his producer is the same one Julia Childs had.

I was surprised by the fact that he went on a wild boar hunt in one episode. He is apparently more of "natural (no steriods, free range, etc.)" than an "organic freak", which is how I had him pegged. Anyway, it's a good show if you get a chance to watch it.

In December, I plan on an end-of-year review series of posts, one of which will be (Finally!!!) my experience at his NYC restaurant Le Bernardin, and meeting Chef Ripert (pronounced Rip-air).


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A favorite, under-utilized kitchen gadget

First, I apologize for pirating pictures from the web for this post, but the recipe described was quickly gobbled before photos could be taken!

Second, I want to talk briefly about one of my favorite kitchen gadgets...a small mechanical scoop. Basically this is a small ice cream type scooper that rarely gets use but is really nice when you need it.Mine has a black handle but you get the idea. This is perfect for making small round things where you don't want to dirty your hands or when you have a dough that you don't want to overwork. Perfect for dumplings, meatballs, fish balls, and last night appetizer...crab tater tots!

I got a copy of Michael Symon's new book from Amazon for a deal and this idea/recipe had to be attempted. I love me a crab cake, I love me a tater tot...The method is interesting in that he makes a choux paste as a binder and it works great!

Crab tater tots

2 T butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup mashed potato
1/2 lb crab
Oil for frying (he deep frys, I pan fried with excellent results)
salt & pepper

Start by making the choux paste. In a non-stick pan, combine butter, water, and flour over high heat and cook stirring rapidly until everything comes together in one mass and colors slightly. Remove from heat and let cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Add the egg and stir like mad until well combined, about 1 minute. One the mixture is cool, add the potatoes and crab meat and mix well, but be gentle with the crab. Pour some panko into a dish and using the scooper, make perfectly round crab balls, roll in Panko and set aside. I suggest forming 1/2 as your oil heats and making the other half while your first batch is frying. To cook, add enough oil to a skillet to come about 1/3 of the way up the sides of your tots. Fry for about 1 1/2 minutes on the first side, then turn until brown on all sides. Transfer to a cooling rack over a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt. Repeat with the second batch. Can be made about 1/2 hour ahead of time and reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and sauce of your choice...I like a spicy aioli :)


Monday, November 16, 2009

Shrimp and grits: the concept of layers

From Drop Box

How do you make a heavy dish taste light? There has to be acid to balance it out. Shrimp and grits as a traditionally Southern dish is notorious for being way too heavy, but there's a way to lighten it on your palate. The inspiration for this dish came from watching (don't laugh) Martha Stewart when she had David Chang from Momofuku restaurant in New York City, who has been featured in several magazines lately and considered the new guard of Asian cooking in the Eastern US. I've never eaten there, but I'm intrigued because the weakest link in my repertoire is definitely Asian.

From concept to satisfaction

Shrimp and grits are about a few main ingredients, the sine qua non, because without these ingredients, shrimp and grits barely exist if at all. But as you build the layers separately and add them all at the end, you'll taste that complexity in the final product. Sure, you could just make grits, add some cheese, and add some shrimp, but you've limited the depth.
Obviously shrimp and grits, but also bacon, butter, and something acid to balance the flavor. The David Chang version included dashi, soy sauce, and hot chiles to give it a distinctively Asian flavor profile. The bacon and soy sauce are a surprising combination and an easy dressing to any Asian style noodle dish, but...that's another post (was that too Alton Brown?).

One guy's version of shrimp and grits
The recipe is not important, because if you're Southern, and you like to cook, then you've likely eaten it, or at least tried it.

This was a 3-4 pan dish.

1. High volume water pot at 140F to soft boil two eggs (serving was for 2 people). I can't swear about the time on these, but my thought was that as long as they cooked no higher than 140, they couldn't be bad. They cooked for about 20 minutes.
2. Sautee bacon, shallot, and minced garlic. Low heat is the key, don't really need to brown it, particularly the veggies.
3. Grits, of your choice, cooked to almost done. The higher the quality of the grits (yes there are different kinds like instant, quick, regular, fresh, etc.), clearly the better the dish. Chang swore by Anson Mills in Columbia, SC. Y'all hear that, CSRA? Have you tried them? Whatever you do, add butter to the grits as they're cooking.
4. Garnish of finely diced scallions.

Cook the above, use the sautee pan to cook your shrimp. Deglaze the pan with water and reduce, add to the grits for flavor. Don't skip steps like these, they'll be the difference between good and irreproducibly great.

Once the grits were cooked, I added the sautee of bacon, shallot, and garlic to them and added 1 tbsp of butter and heavy cream until the consistency was right. Added the shrimp (sauteed in a Dizzy Pig rub that obviously had a hint of curry powder), and stirred it up to mix.
Side note: the egg. Crack the shell CAREFULLY and place in a slotted spoon. What you want is a coagulated layer of egg white around the creamy yolk. Add to the dish, garnish with something fancy.

Other ideas
  • For acid, you could use vinegar, but the "volume" is to high. A little squeeze of lemon or lime juice (not enough to taste) would do. Probably not zest, because you need the flavor and the acid.
  • This would have been infinitely better with a higher quality of grits. The wife got a funny look when all I could find were Quick Grits. As I learned in My Cousin Vinny, "No self-respecting Southerner cooks instant grits." Nuff said.
  • Go Asian, cook your grits in a seaweed broth with smoked or unsmoked pork belly. Add soy sauce to the grits, it goes GREAT with butter.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Three Couples and a Limo – Part I

Charles Dickens once wrote:

“To begin our trip with the beginning of our trip, I record that we settled into the Tahoe to journey to the airport. At precisely three thirty on Thursday, we arrived at the Newman residence, where the clock began to strike, and I began to cry simultaneously.”

Since I probably just angered the living descendants of Dickens, I will now regale you, in less than Dickensesque prose, with the details of our trip to San Francisco, and the Sonoma/Napa area.

Chapter 1 – Nutella
As we are prone to do when traveling, we paid a brief visit to the ATL A17 Crown Room between connections. It began with a beer and ended with a double scotch less than 15 minutes later.

During that brief visit, medicinal beverages were prescribed, prescriptions filled, and beverages consumed with the efficiency of an Intel processor and the accelerated effect of the first hour of controlled-release Ambien. The accelerated effect was, unfortunately, not sustained for the in-flight beverage service. So disappointing was the unsustainability that I refused to exercise the free drink voucher that I received in Augusta for having TSA discover a small handgun in my blazer as it went through the x-ray. A diversion I will not yet detail.

Also during that brief visit, a man discovered Nutella. The versatile hazelnut spread created in 1940s Italy because cocoa was in short supply due to war rationing. (FYI – you can win 12 jars online at Nutella) The modern-day discoverer was Danny Newman. Enamored is the word that comes to mind.

Between the Nutella and Biscoff cookies consumed or squirreled away in pockets, and the 8 to 12 gratis prescriptions that were filled, I’d say we
covered the annual membership fee.

Chapter 2 – Chinatown
Visiting San Francisco requires most people to ride a cable car, take a taxi, or drive the Bay City of Starsky and Hutch. We refuse to follow the tourists with small calves, and instead, walk from our hotel, in a circuitous route, to Fisherman’s Warf [sic]. Along the way, we discover buildings, sites, structures, and objects that we have never before encountered. Chinatown was an exception.

We had tasted Chinatown, but never experienced the Pork Bun (cha siu baau). Being from the South, the mention of almost any pork product elicits Pavlov salivation. Dr. Newman was told of the phenomenon known as the pork bun by a patient, and was determined to sample their sweet and savory glory. So, we rooted them out like truffles. At 10:30am PST, only 45 minutes after a large breakfast at Sears Fine Food (which has amazing corned-beef hash) we shared three pork buns and a wad of meat in a dumpling wrapper. The pork buns were like eating a big fat yeast roll from the Western Sizzlin’, stuffed with Sconyer’s BBQ that was dipped in John Boy and Billy sauce. It was heaven on a bun. In reality, it was a baked yeast roll variation with pork belly and an oyster/hoisun sauce. I hear you can get them steamed too. I did not taste the meat wad in the dumpling wrapper, which got mixed reviews from the other participants.

The six of us had beer and Dungeness crab at Fisherman’s Wharf (which I have always found to be good) then trotted our sufficiently exercised calves onto the cable car, and rode it back to the hotel. The guys quickly left the hotel for some afternoon carousing at Johnny Foley’s Irish House one block from the hotel. The intent was to pub crawl, but the variety of 18 beers (each of which was poured into the correspondingly branded glass), the conversation with locals and travelers, and the advent of tasting a lamb slider kept us there.

The technique used by the bartender to pour beer was unusual and virgin to our eyes. A beer glass was placed, inverted, under the tap. A second glass (the consumptive glass) was placed on top, right-side up, and the tap was eased down about half way, so that the beer poured slowly. Once filled, the beer was allowed to settle in place, then the tap was slot-machined in order to put a head on the beer. An outstanding and entertaining way to pour beer.

The sliders were not exactly what you would expect on a pub menu. A slider is simply how mid-western Americans grew up referring to a Krystal or White Castle burger. The concept is great, and the lamb sliders were outstanding. They were Niman Ranch Lamb (famous ranch in the wine country) topped with arugula, eggplant, goat cheese, and a mint aoli. I believe I will attempt a recreation of the sliders in the near future.

To be continued… [Chapters 3 thru 5]

Monday, November 9, 2009

Faux gras. Not.

I saw this on Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, and figured why not. Instead of foie gras (fat duck or goose liver), they made it out of chicken livers. Basically, the concept is enrich chicken livers with a creamy stock and ton of butter. Why not, if you can get chicken livers for cheap? Don't you have a bait store close by? Or Bi-Lo?

Faux gras
1 lb of chicken livers, cleaned of sinew
2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of diced onion
1 garlic clove
pepper (white if you have it)

From Drop Box

Take your livers and clean them of sinew. There's a ligament that separates the lobes, not to mention some blood vessels. Don't stress too much, you'll strain later, and get most of it out.

Take your onion and with a couple of tbsp of your butter, soften over super low heat. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes with the cream. Keep going another few minutes until you're sure that the onions are softened, and kill the heat. Adde the butter, and set up a bain marie in the oven at 300 F like you would for creme brulee'.

Bain marie
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Put a tea kettle or pot of water on to boil while you're doing the other stuff. The purpose here is to use steam heat (gentle and low) and humidity to "set" your mousse or custard, or whatever you're making. You'll put your mixture in ramekins in a baking dish, and fill the dish with boiling water until you've come about halfway up the ramekins.

Take your livers and the onion/cream mixture and blend until very smooth. Make sure that:
1. You have a cover to your blender AND...
2. That your two year-old doesn't wander by and turn on the blender.

From Drop Box

Once you've got your puree, force it through a sieve (wire mesh strainer) with a ladle or something like that and pour into your ramekins. Cook in the bain marie for about 30 minutes or until it's set.

From Drop Box

Cool in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.

What the recipe doesn't tell is what the heck to do with it. I tried to make it like regular foie gras, had caramelized some apples and made a sauce out of that. I noticed a little problem with the consistency, and I tried to form what looked like liver slices.

From Drop Box

The result? Good grief. Quite simply some of the worst looking stuff I've ever seen or made, and trust me, I've seen plenty in my job. Inedible.

From Drop Box

So, we didn't eat it. And it made a HUGE mess compounded by the toddler that turned on the blender whose lid we had just lost. Not to mention that until you steam it, it's raw chicken liver. Not exactly the kind of stuff you want all over your kitchen. Where did it go wrong?

1. I didn't have a complete pound of liver. I only had 10+ oz, because I had made a Jacques Pepin recipe earlier that night that required 5 livers cut in quarters. That's the main thing I can think of.
2. I watched this again on the website, and Ruth Reichl (the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine) makes it with a more reduced onion/cream mixture. She doesn't mention that it's a requisite.
3. Did I use too hot of a skillet? I experimented with various heat combinations, and none of them worked out properly. I also (dummy) used my stainless pan and burned it.

What I wound up making was caramelized apples with an apple reduction sauce.

"Apples and sauce"
1 whole apple, peeled and cored, sliced pretty thin
Sautee in butter until caramelized over medium heat
Deglaze the pan with about a cup of chicken stock
Add apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper
Finish with a little butter to add thickness

Reduce until thick and strain, pour over the apples. Sorry no picture, but it was simple and really good!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Online Cooking School Revisited...

Just stumbled onto this site while doing a google search for endothelin and a specific thing I'm looking for in the lab...go figure. Looks pretty good. I'm going to add to the links.
Got a new gadget for the Kitchen Aid for my B-day. Will be posting the results in a few.