Monday, September 29, 2014

Marbled Potato Pavé - Expect the Unexpected

The Thanksgiving work has begun and before I get to the good stuff this upcoming weekend (dessert obviously) I started easy and got the first side out of the way. Last week I briefly touched on the "fun" tone I'm going for for Thanksgiving and the pavé is as good a place as any to start. 

My greatest enjoyment in cooking is the unexpected and using traditional techniques to create something that excites from the moment you see it. I've never been able to draw or paint, never picked up an instrument, never really did anything artistic until I learned to cook so I take that very seriously. If it doesn't look equally as good as it tastes then it's not ready for the big time.

All of which means no mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving. 

Oh and I think I'm getting the hang of this finally! I mean look at all those pictures! 

Special Equipment
Mandoline slicer

Marbled Potato Pavé

Pavé in French means paver and these little bricks incorporate some of the very best of French cooking; dairy, dairy, and a little more dairy. Creamy, buttery, garlicky, savory, I have your attention yet?

The best part is they're not hard to make. In fact they're a dream for a full holiday spread. The majority of the preparation can be done a full two days early and they are very filling so you won't need to make a whole lot. They also beg to be customized so this won't be the last you see of them.

Some notes on quantities here. There...aren't any. I wasn't kidding when I said it was easy.

heavy cream
Russet potatoes, peeled
sweet potatoes, peeled
unsalted butter, ~5 Tbsp softened
thyme, chopped
garlic, minced
chives, minced
canola oil for frying

Preheat oven to 350F. Fill a large bowl with heavy cream, season with salt and pepper. Using a mandolin slice potatoes lengthwise 1/16" thick adding them to the cream as you slice, tossing them occasionally. 
Stir it up
Brush a 3" deep pan with some of the softened butter, line with parchment paper leaving a long overhang. Brush the parchment paper with the remaining softened butter, season with salt and pepper.

Trim the potatoes to fit solid, even layers in the pan. Begin with 2 "sheets" of Russet potato on the bottom, dot with thin pieces of butter, season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Alternate with sweet potato slices, butter, thyme, salt, and pepper and continue until the pan is full.
Do a better job at "even layers" than me.
Fold the parchment over the potatoes, cover tightly with foil. Bake ~1 hour 50 minutes until very tender. Remove from oven, cool 20 minutes. Uncover and place a piece of cardboard, foam, anything rigid you can cut to fit into the pan, then weigh it down evenly with whatever you've got on hand. Cool it like this until room temp
I am Italian so I used my perpetual surplus of tomatoes.
Wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours to 2 days to set and firm potatoes. 

Showtime! Preheat oven 250F. Remove the potatoes from the pan, trim the edges, and slice into squares. Heat some canola oil in a skillet at medium-high. Brown cut sides of squares first then quickly brown the top and bottom of the squares. They're tougher than they look so you shouldn't need to baby them too much in the pan or worry about them falling apart. Place the cooked squares on a plate in the oven for ~15 minutes to finish warming through.
They're going to smell good. Control yourself.
My kind of monument.
Arrange the squares on a platter, top each with a small amount of salted butter and sprinkle with chives.
I'll take my check now Land O Lakes...

Crispy outside, smooth inside. Like a truffle! A garlicky, buttery truffle.

That's pavé. I told you it was simple. Next week it's apples all weekend. So many that I'm considering splitting the post in two at the least. Stick around, I'm just getting started this season.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Peanut Butter & Jelly" - Forward Thinking/The Best Time of Year

Been a little while I know. I skipped a week to plan ahead. Thanksgiving is coming and those who know me know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. With two full spreads in the works I'll be busy for the next nine weeks testing dish after dish and putting all of the results here.

It's been bugging me that I haven't officially posted the PBT&J I made two weeks ago but between planning Thanksgiving and attempting to live a life outside of the kitchen slightly more than usual it continually slipped my mind. There's my confession, now let me cleanse that sin.

Here's the thing about making candy; it's awful. But it's also a blast. Candy is more temperature sensitive than an old lady in the freezer section of the supermarket. A difference of a few degrees will create entirely different things. There is almost no wiggle room. And since I'm still mostly terrible at documenting my work, cook by sight and smell often, and write everything from memory this may take more than one try to get the results I got. I attribute this pair of treats as much to luck as skill.

As always credit where it's due: Thomas Keller has been instrumental in taking my game to a level I didn't even know it could go and really helped me find my "voice." If you're interested in cooking and looking to be better he's well worth checking out. This pairing is often served at The French Laundry as a little subversive (get used to that adjective) treat at the end of the meal. It's hands on, pretty, and a nice reminder that no matter how high and mighty people get about food the first thing it should always be is fun.

Special Equipment
Food processor

Peanut Butter Truffles

If nothing else these little jerks will test every ounce of your patience. On paper they're relatively easy to make but when it's time to get dirty and form them it can be tough. Despite their outward appearance of frailty as you roll and coat them know that they're tougher than they look, and they will look like a hot mess. Just act like you haven't screwed up as badly as you think you have while making them and you'll be fine. Now that I've talked you out of making them let me tell you that they are delicious. If you get them right they're better than a Reese's.

Don't use Hershey's. It tastes awful and disobeys all universal laws of candy making. Ghirardelli should be your minimum standard for chocolate. Use all natural peanut butter as well. Skippy makes a pretty good one that I like to use.

4 oz milk chocolate, chopped
1 lb natural peanut butter
1/4 C sugar
2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature chunks
16 oz 60% cacao chocolate, chopped
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the milk chocolate in a double-boiler until smooth, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Process the peanut butter, sugar, and salt to combine. Add the chocolate, process to combine well. Scrape sides and bottom of mixing bowl, add the butter, process to combine until smooth and thinner than before. Transfer filling to clean bowl, chill ~2 hours until firm, stirring once or twice. **Filling can be covered and chilled up to 1 week.**

Shape chilled dough into ~1" mostly round balls, place on parchment lined tray, chill at least 1 hour until very firm.

Heat ~2/3 of the 60% chocolate in a small, deep pot on double-boiler to 134F, remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate to melt, cool to 84F. Return to heat, stirring constantly, until 90F. Remove from heat. Using a skewer, gently dip chilled peanut-butter balls into chocolate one at a time and return them to the parchment lined tray. Once all have been dipped repeat the process. Chill truffles to set. **Truffles can be chilled for several days.**

Before serving lightly sift with cocoa powder.

They weren't all that pretty.

Grape Jellies

So much to learn from such a little thing! Temperature control, balancing acidity to work with pectin, cold plate testing, dealing with and adapting to failure. Who said candy isn't good for you? If done correctly you'll have beautifully smooth and firm jellies with a deep rich color that melt in your mouth. If you screw up you'll have fresh homemade jelly, which isn't too bad a consolation prize. I'm just a beacon of hope today, eh?

Juicing grapes is a misery so look for 100% organic grape juice. It can't have a single additive or be from concentrate since anything but pure juice may not play nice with the pectin. Apple pectin powder can be hard to find in a supermarket but supplement stores like GNC usually stock it. Pectin is actually pretty neat, it's basically the fibrous junk left behind when fruits are pressed for juice and sometimes used as a stabilizer in place of gelatin. But unlike gelatin it's not all the same. In this case apple pectin requires a certain level of acidity to activate which is why the lemon juice is necessary. Thomas Keller neglects to mention all of this so I'm glad I read as much about making jelly as I did before starting.

2 C organic unsweetened Concord grape juice
2 1/4 C + 3 1/2 Tbsp sugar, divided as such
1/2 C light corn syrup
2 Tbsp apple pectin powder
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

Place a glass or porcelain dish in the freezer.

Line a 9"x13" baking pan or casserole with plastic wrap leaving some overhang to grip later.

Combine 3 1/2 Tbsp sugar with apple pectin in medium bowl, set aside.

Combine juice, 2 1/4 C sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking gently to dissolve sugar. Simmer gently until completely combined and clear. It will be too dark to be "clear" in that sense of the word. The entire mixture will just look...cleaner than it did at any point before. Whisk half of the hot liquid into the sugar/pectin until dissolved and no lumps remain, return to pan. Add lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until 219F. Maintain that temperature +/- a degree as best as you can and cook until noticeably thickened with pretty heavy resistance to the whisk. Spoon a small amount onto the chilled plate. The jelly is ready when it firms quickly and doesn't slide around the plate. Pour into plastic lined pan and spread into smooth even layer. Sit uncovered at room temperature on a cooling rack ~3 hours until fully set and completely cool (not even remotely warm).

Gently remove jelly from pan with plastic overhang. Cut into desired shapes, tossing each one in sugar to cover completely (they will be super sticky). Best served immediately after coating with sugar but will stay lightly covered at room temperature for several hours. If the sugar has faded by then just toss them with some more to get them looking good again.

Like little rubies.

Moments after coating.

This was taken about an hour after the first coating and the sugar has already visibly faded.

And that's the PBT&J. I hope you enjoyed reading it and hope even more that you try making it. I've got one more special meal planned for the 2014 New York Rangers Puck Drop and then it's all Thanksgiving up to and after November 29th. I'll probably take an hour or two off on the 30th before getting right back at it for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New American BBQ - Dual Plating

I promised some barbecue last week and here it is. Now technically none of this is barbecued since that would mean cooking low and slow. This, technically speaking, is grilling. But really who cares? I sure don't. Whether you call it barbecue or grilling anything cooked over an open flame will always taste terrific.

The menu I made uses the last of my favorite summer produce in order to send off the season as the fall, otherwise known as the best cooking season of the year, starts to roll in. Here's what I've got:

I've listed everything as it would appear on a menu but by no means should it be prepared in that order. I did mine like so: 
Sunday; cupcakes - sherbet - pound cake - marinate steak. 
Monday; corn relish - potato chips - broccolini - grill steak - whip cream (right before dessert).

Teriyaki-Ginger Flank Steak; Charred Broccolini, Corn Relish
Sweet Potato Chips
Cherry Sherbet; Lemon Pound Cake Crumble, Whipped Cream

As I was working with the finished food I also came up with two ways to plate it all thus the "dual plating" in the title. 

With regard to pictures I still find myself struggling to remember to actually document the entire process and not just the good parts (the end). This particular menu required going between several moving parts all at once to get the food on the table for my family in time so photo ops came less frequently than I was anticipating. This cooking stuff is easier for me than the blogging part but I'm learning.

So in the words of The Joker "here...we...go."

This assuages some guilt for the underwhelming amount of pictures.

Special Equipment
Charcoal or propane grill
Kitchen Aid stand mixer with ice cream bowl attachment
Food processor
Mandoline slicer
Dutch over or deep fryer
Chinois/cone strainer

Teriyaki-Ginger Flank Steak

Step one for any sort of dish with meat is buy good meat. As I post more and more dishes I'll go into detail for specific types of meat. In this case - grilling flank steak - look for cuts about an inch thick as evenly around as possible with a healthy amount of marbling but not thick hard fat. Also buy USDA graded meat. It drives me nuts when I see people buying up ungraded supermarket meat unaware that that pretty bright red piece of meat with no fat in it is about as bad as beef gets. If none of this makes sense please read up on USDA grading and what makes good meat good. More people are doing it wrong than there are doing it right. With that rant out of the way (sorry about that) let's get back to it. 

Flank steak
Kikkoman Teriyaki Sauce & Marinade
Kikkoman Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Ginger root, about 6 medium to large 1/4" thick slices
6 Garlic cloves, sliced
Black pepper

Season steak with fresh ground pepper and place it in a resealable plastic bag. Distribute the ginger and garlic evenly on the steak. Fill the bag with teriyaki and soy sauce using about 3 Tbsp of soy sauce for every cup of teriyaki until the steak is mostly covered. Marinate the steak, turning the bag occasionally, 6-24 hours. 

Heat grill for both high (400F) direct and indirect cooking, which means leave an area of the grill without coals or a lit burner. Remove the steak from the bag and clean off any ginger and garlic on it. Grill over high heat until browned - about 3-5 minutes per side. Move to the cooler side of the grill and cook until desired doneness - 10 minutes for medium-medium well. 

Allow meat to rest 2-3 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain and serve.

Charred Broccolini with Garlic Oil

1 bunch of broccolini, stems trimmed
4 garlic cloves, roughly minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp black pepper

Simmer olive oil, black pepper, and half of minced garlic seasoned until garlic begins to shrink. Strain into heat-proof container, reserve cooked garlic. Boil broccolini until bright green and crisp tender, drain and mix with oil and garlic. Grill over high heat until smoking and just beginning to char. Remove from grill and serve or place in oven at 200F to keep warm.

Charred Corn Relish

Man I can't say enough about this little dish inspired by Bobby Flay. It's as easy as it is versatile. Feel free to add a charred minced jalapeno for a little heat. I omit it here since I'm the only person in my family who likes heat. 

2 ears of corn
vegetable oil
5-7 basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp chives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Boil corn in salted water until just tender, drain and cool. Brush lightly with vegetable oil, season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until charred around. Don't char the whole ear, leave some spots clean. Slice corn into bowl, mix with remaining ingredients, rest 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature. 

Sweet Potato Chips

The trick to these is trying not to eat all of them before it comes time to plate.

1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced 1/8" thin
vegetable oil for frying
kosher salt

Heat oil in Dutch oven or deep fryer to 325F. Fry potatoes in small batches, turning occasionally to avoid air pockets, until deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt.

Plating Dinner

Arrange sliced steak on platter, top with broccolini, garnish with corn relish and chips.

Family Style
Or fill the chips with small pieces of steak, corn relish, and broccolini florets.

Fancy Pants Style

Cherry Sherbet with Lemon Pound Cake and Whipped Cream

If summer were a dish this would be a strong candidate to represent it. The only thing missing is a splash of bourbon which I plan to remedy with the leftovers this week.

680g cherries
juice of 2 lemons
1C sugar, finely ground in food processor
2 Tbsp raw orange blossom honey
1C fat free milk
1 1/2 Tbsp heavy cream

Cook cherries and lemon juice in large saucepan until warm, soft, and beginning to burst. Puree until smooth with a little pulp. Mix in remaining ingredients. Chill in freezer until very cold. Process in ice cream maker and freeze to harden. 

Pound Cake:
1 1/2C cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4C sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
2 Tbsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp lemon juice
16 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and hot

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease loaf pan with a tiny bit of the melted butter then dust it with flour. 

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Process sugar, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest and juice in food processor to combine. Add hot butter to running processor in a steady stream to incorporate. Pour mixture in mixer bowl fitted with whisk attachment.  Sift flour in in 3 batches, whisking each to combine and scraping sides of bowl between each batch, until no lumps remain. Pour batter into loaf pan, smooth top, tap pan on towel several times to force out air bubbles. Bake 50-60 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a wood skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack. 

Whipped Cream:
2C heavy cream
4 1/2 tsp confectioners sugar
2 tsp vanilla paste

Whisk ingredients with mixer at medium speed until stiff enough to hold shape.


Fill a glass with sorbet, top with cake and whipped cream. 

I'm all about looks and this still wasn't worth it.
Make sure it's wide mouthed glass. I tried it with a wine glass and while it looked real pretty (in person) I ended up just doing this with it:

Business time.

So long summer, you've been very educational but it's time to start saying goodbye to light and refreshing and start getting into some "stick to your ribs" cooking. Hoodie weather looms on the horizon (as the forecast calls for 90's this week) bringing football and hockey in tow and there's no better venue for a home cook to show off than at a pot-luck. Might be high time to start practicing this week.

**To be honest this is all going much better than I expected it to. I find myself more motivated to cook than I usually am, which is a freakish level to begin with. I'm more comfortable in the kitchen than anywhere else and things come very easily for me there (except making rice - it's my kryptonite) so being bad at something in that setting, in this case documenting my process, is a welcome struggle. I've found that it's also improved my thought process in that I'm far more calculating when I prepare throughout the week instead of flying by the seat of pants in the supermarket every Friday afternoon. I've become efficient enough to start a back catalog of rainy day posts which are already hard to sit on. All in all I must say that I'm enjoying this exercise and I hope you are too. **