Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alt-Rock Lobster

How can you improve lobster? What is better than a boiled or steamed Maine lobster, or a broiled or grilled Florida, Brazillian, or South African lobster tail? I rarely try to improve on nature when it comes to lobster, lobster is almost on the level of oysters, which can never be improved, should not ever be cooked, even, they should be eaten raw, alive, with nothing more than mignonnete, some fresh ground black pepper. But, I got these Thomas Keller books for Christmas, and his presentation caught my eye.

He doesn't like to boil or steam a lobster, he prefers a method that involves briefly par-boiling the beasts, then extracting the meat, and slowly poaching it in butter. This sounded fine to me, so I decided to try it.

I know, it sounds so arrogant, but I never follow recipes, I just take inspiration from them, and besides, my cooking is almost always driven by making use of what I have on hand, so I was neither inclined nor prepared to follow any of Keller's recipes precisely. But, I was ready to follow his general scheme, the main ingredient is usually stacked on top of a portion of some complementary (not complimentary) side, a vegetable preparation, I didn't have any of the things he uses in his recipes,so I took stock of what I had, and here is what I came up with: Lima beans. I had lima beans, I had red peppers, I had scallions, and some red pepper coulis sauce, leftover from something I made yesterday that I will blog tomorrow. And I had this, its something you can find in asian markets, you can buy frozen blocks of chopped lemongrass, either with or without hot chilis in it, its the greatest thing, any dish that calls for lemongrass, you pull this block of frozen chopped lemongrass out of the freezer, chop of a hunk,you are golden. This one has the hot chilis, I thought this would add that little something different:

I gently cooked these vegetables in a little white wine, then added the red pepper coulis, and the cream, it worked perfectly:

So, I wanted three elements for this dish, and I love potatoes with lobster, french fries with boiled lobster is heaven, but I am trying to be Keller-esque, so I went with something that turned out to be easy, but kinda cool, different, I never did this before. I buy these bags of tiny little exotic potatoes from Costco, little red, yellow, and purple potatoes, and I love to roast them, toss them in olive oil and herbs and roast them. But tonight, I had some goat cheese, and I thought, how about blending some goat cheese with the olive oil, tossing the potatoes in the goat cheese mix, and then roasting:

And, Voila! Goat cheese roasted fingerling potatoes:

Now, to gently poach the lobster in butter:

And then it was just the frantic effort to plate these elements, in some attractive way, and I am not so good at presentation, its certainly not Keller level, but here is the result:

I do just have to mention, there was one little secret ingredient in the lima-bean mix, white truffle oil, I was inspired, somehow, to remember, I had this truffle oil, and truffles and lobster, thats a good thing. The red pepper coulis-lemongrass-truffle oil sauce, on the lobster, was better than butter. As I said at the beginning, some things, fresh seafood and lobster most of all, are usually best kept as simple as possible, pure and simple, but this worked fantastically. In the end, I think it was those few drops of truffle oil that did it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Brandade, You're a Fine Girl

Tonight's big success was my Thomas Keller inspired presentation of a classic provencal dish, brandade de morue (I think thats how it is spelled). I've been talking about it for three days, I need to backtrack to explain how it came about.

First, who is Thomas Keller, why do I keep talking about him? He is the chef-owner of a restaurant called The French Laundry, its somewhere in the San Francisco area, all I know about it is, its supposed to be the best restaurant, or at least the best French cuisine, in the US, and you cannot get a reservation. Foodie people (I hate this, when my passion of 30-some years is suddenly everyone's latest fad, I used to be ahead of the curve, now I am one of millions) just worship Keller. Julie and Julia was a cultural phenomenon, this year, cooking your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking has become a mainstream fad. Well, real fanatics, they are working there way through Keller's French Laundry cookbook, they call it "doing the Laundry" ha ha, how drole.

So, for my birthday, just a month ago, I got Keller's first two books, The French Laundry, and Ad Hoc at Home, I have to say, I was a bit unimpressed. The French Laundry dishes are all of them, every one, of that oh so precious, tiny little layer cake variety, various ingredients all cut into a small round shape with a cookie cutter and layered up, "vertical food," pretty, not so much my cup of tea. Yet its what I did tonight.

For Christmas, I got Keller's Bouchon, his bistro-style restaurant cookbook, and this is more my style. And it was a recipe for salt-cod and potato fritters that caught my eye immediately when I opened the book on Christmas morning. I happened to have a bag of frozen, vac-packed cod filets from Costco in the freezer, and I was unhappy with the quality. But some time ago, I had done a recipe where you salt your fresh cod, to make fresh, home-made salt cod, and I thought, this was a fitting purpose for this mediocre cod, so yesterday, I defrosted two cod filets and salted them, you just put them in a bowl filled with kosher salt, cover them with kosher salt (I used Camargue sea salt, no difference, its what I had) and let it sit, after a day or two, you have salt cod, then you can soak it in water and milk to turn it back into something like fresh cod, what a journey, out and back.

So today, totally snowed-in from the blizzard, I had time to make this salt-cod dish.

Its not really complicated, this is peasant food, basically salt cod mashed in with mashed potatoes, its peasant food from the south of France. Its salt cod, mashed potatoes, garlic, olive oil, thats it.

How does this become haute cuisine? Well, in Bouchon, Keller took little balls of this brandade, coated them in batter, and deep-fried them, to make fritters. Lovely, I would have liked that, but deep-frying, at home, is yucky, all that oil, it gets in the air, coats everything in the kitchen, lots of work and mess for a few fried cod balls? No sir.

But I figured I could pan-fry it, like a crab cake, and I have panko on hand, so thats what I decided to do.

And in the end, I wound up inspired by the French Laundry style of vertical, layered presentation, driven mostly by what I had on hand.

For a sauce, well, I had cucumbers and tomatoes, garlic and lemon juice and some hot peppers, so I made a spicy gazpacho in the food processer, I didn't take a picture, and I had a red pepper, so I roasted it on the range, and cut a disk of roasted red pepper, using the same cookie cutter I used to shape the little discs of brandade.

And I had a little bit of jumbo lump crabmeat left over from Christmas eve's special seafood dinner, so I figured I could put a couple of lumps of crabmeat on top of the roasted red pepper, put a little more gazpacho on top, and drizzle some unfiltered extra virgin olive oil over all, and this was the result, suprised myself, I did.

A Blizzard of Cooking!

This is certain to go down in history as the Blizzard of 2010 or "Snowpocalypse II: The Shitstorm" or some such. It snowed from Christmas night, all day yesterday, till this morning, with the wind howling the whole time, gusts of 50 mph. Its hard to say how much snow fell, because there just drifts everywhere, many of them 6 feet high, the windows of our house are half-covered. What to do, what else, cook, stuck in the house with tons of leftovers from christmas, no way I was shovelling (I found someone on Craigslist who would come over with a snowblower), I was free to create.

First, breakfast, saute'd greens and diced tomatoes over toast, with a poached egg and pieces of ham I had briefly browned in a pan:

The next project was obvious; of course we had a ham for the Christmas brunch, and therefore, it was time to make split-pea with ham soup.

So this is the progress so far, the split pea soup is just about finished, and I have started on that brandade de morue that I have been going on about for two days now:

And I think it may be possible to escape the house now, the man with the shovel seems to have freed one of the cars, so I am going forth to get a few items that will allow me to try one of the French Laundry recipes I have had my eye on.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

So earlier today I was all set to try to make brandade de morue, using the cod I had already started salting, but, then, snowed in and with a blizzard raging, I did what any reasonable person would do, and took another nap, and woke up, with dinner time upon me. The salt-cod fritter recipe in Bouchon involved a bit of unfamiliar work, so, hey, the cod will just get more authentically salt-cody by salting for another day, so I put it in the fridge, and then I surveyed the contents of the fridge, took stock of what I could make, from what was there.

So, this first pic, this shows the ingredients I decided I would use. I had an idea for a white pasta sauce, with clams and sausage, but, thickened not with cream, but with pureed white beans, I have done this before, its nice on pasta. And yes, its not really believable, but I actually just happened to have this stuff around, I had bought a dozen clams on Christmas Eve, meant to make clams oreganata along with the other tapas, but I ran out of time, and yes, I bought the fresh kielbasa the day before, because fresh kielbasa is a delight, and rarely available, if you have never had it, its nothing at all like the smoked Hillshire Farms crap-ola, its just the garlickiest pork sausage you ever had, its perfect for what I wanted to do, combine sausage and clams in a white pasta sause.

So, that was the plan, sausage and clams, I would steam the clams open in the leftover champagne, because it was there, reduce the clam stock-champaigne mixture a bit, thicken with pureed white beans, with this combination of flavors, there is little seasoning needed, black pepper, parsely, really is it.

And so, the mis-en-place:

And the final result:

December 26, 2010

Its a blizzard! I am snowed in, and for the first time in forever, have the time to post on my foodblog. Its going to be pictures, lots of pictures, from now on, taking off from what had become my habit of posting pictures of almost all of my creations on Facebook.

First, we have Christmas Eve tapas:

And here we have the making of my version of Thai green curry with beef and thai aubergines.

First, the assembled ingredients:

Then, there is the mis en place:

And then the finished dish. Where I stray from tradition is that instead of slicing the beef into thin strips, which would of course be cooked well through in the curry sauce, instead, I cut the beef into much larger pieces, almost small steaks, and pan sear them in the wok prior to cooking the curry and aubergines and other vegetables, then I put them back in the sauce just before serving, so that they remain medium-rare, this was really good.

Tonight, truly, we are snowed in, there is a blizzard going on, we may get as much as 20 inches of snow tonight, so I will be making up something with what I have on hand. I had some frozen pacific cod, from Costco, not the greatest stuff, but, I have had an idea for a preparation that will overcome its shorcomings, I am salting it, and plan to use it in a recipe that would call for salt-cod, maybe a brandade de morue, or, in my new Thomas Keller book, Bouchon (a Christmas gift) there is a picture of some kinf of deep-fried salt-cod fritter that looked interesting. Fresh cod can be "salted," and attains a texture very similar to properly soaked genuine salt cod, in just a few hours, so I started that procedure this afternoon, you just lay the cod fillets in a bed of salt and cover with more salt.

I will follow up later, with pictures.