Thursday, July 31, 2008

Making the Most of It - Pickled Carrots, Candied Grapefruit Peel and Roast Pork Tacos

Remember when I told you about my sticky, greasy kitchen a week or so ago? Well, this is what I was up to...

Somehow, I'm always more inspired to DO something with produce given to me by people who actually grew it than I ever have been with the stuff from the store. The same goes for the produce I grow myself (which is pretty much limited to lemons right now - but we're hoping to change that soon!) I don't know if it will work on the students we're trying to train with our school garden program, but I do know that I grew it or know where it came from, I'm much more likely to use it than throw it away or let it rot in the crisper drawer.
pickled carrots
A few weeks ago, Jora gave me some freshly dug carrots and a few grapefruits. Normally I'd probably just slice up the carrots and juice the grapefruits - but this time I decided to be a little more creative. I pulled Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food off the shelf, and found a simple recipe recommended for pickling just about any fresh vegetable. Then, while flipping through the book, I coincidentally came across an intriguingly easy-sounding recipe for candied citrus peel. I was already going to be at the stove with the pickling brine, so I figured why not?

Jora also gave me a jar of gorgeous red onion pickles which in turn inspired a dinner of delicious roast pork tacos - we'll get to that in a minute.
carrot pickling brine
The brine went on first. I didn't have white WINE vinegar, only white vinegar -which seemed awfully harsh - so I went thirds with 1/2 cup each of cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, and rice vinegar - along with 1 3/4 cup of water and 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. I added some thyme sprigs, 2 cracked garlic cloves, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, 6 or 7 peppercorns, a few coriander seeds, a pinch of sea salt and little pinch of turmeric for color, and set that to heat. When it simmered, I added the vegetables and let them cook until tender but still crisp - as suggested. The only problem was it didn't make enough brine to fill the two pint jars I was using - when I do it again, I will definitely up the quantities. Overall though, I was pretty happy with how they came out. They're sweet, tart and well seasoned and I like the touch of color the turmeric adds. These are refrigerator pickles - and will keep for a few weeks well chilled.
candied grapefruit peel
The candied grapefruit peel took a bit longer, but I was really happy about the ease of the method. When we did this in my culinary school class, we blanched the rind (orange in that case) in several changes of water, and then cooked it with sugar. The repeat blanching takes a while, because it requires you to let the water come to a boil multiple times. (I believe we also cleaned the pith off before blanching it, which is kind of difficult if you don't have great paring knife skills.)

This recipe simply asks you to place your juiced citrus halves in enough water to cover (I had to use a glass plate on top to keep them submerged) and simmer them until tender. Let them cool - then slice off the pith with a sharp paring knife (cut the pieces in half and lay them flat, then slide the knife almost horizontally away from you - getting all the white stuff off. They may fall apart a little bit, it's ok since you're going to cut them up.) Slice the pared rind into thin strips, and put them in a saucepan with four cups of sugar (which seems like a lot, I probably don't have to tell you) and 2 cups of water. Cook that mixture over medium heat simmering until the liquid turns thick and bubbly - it will look like corn syrup and the peels will be completely transparent - the book suggests it should be at 230 degrees (the thread stage of candymaking) on a candy thermometer - but I didn't let mine go quite that long. Let the syrup and rind cool for a few minutes, then pluck out the strips with tongs and lay them on a rack set over some parchment paper. Let them dry overnight, then toss them with sugar and store in an airtight container.
candied grapefruit peel
Even though the end result is probably 90% sugar by weight, the grapefruit peels are still quite bitter - though certainly edible. Orange would probably make a better candy, but I plan to use these to garnish summer cocktails - they'd be great with anything using Aperol or Campari, and I like them in Champagne Cocktails, Palomas and Greyhounds.

Last but not least, here's the recipe for the pork shoulder tacos inspired by Jora's pickled red onions. This idea actually lodged in my head back when I read Molly's article for NPR about pickling. Molly's husband Brandon came up with the pickles to go with - you guessed it - pork tacos.

This recipe is essentially an easier and less greasy version of carnitas - with many of the same flavors, and a nice salty tang from the beer. The edges are crispy from the browning, but the meat is moist from the long cooking. Shredding the meat with the strained cooking juices helps keep everything moist, and best of all, it's simple. No long marinating, no multiple pots or cooking methods. Just the way I like it!
pork shoulder roast ready for the oven
Beer Braised Roast Pork Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, Cotija Cheese and Avocado
Serves 4-6

a dozen fresh homemade or good store-bought flour tortillas, warmed individually in a skillet.
2-3 avocados, very thinly sliced
fresh salsa verde or green hot sauce
crumbled cotija or feta cheese
pickled red onions

4-6 pound pork blade roast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 12 oz bottles Mexican ale style beer, such as Negro Modelo
1/2 medium onion - sliced into wedges or thick slices
3 garlic cloves, smashed flat
4-5 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (I used Rancho Gordo)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons of large flake sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper corns and ground pepper for the roast
one orange - juiced and the rind cut into quarters

Preheat the oven to 350. Brown the pork well on all sides in about 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy dutch oven. Leaving the meat in the pan, pour in the beer and surround the pork with the remaining ingredients. (Add the orange juice to the liquid and place the juiced quarters around the meat.) Sprinkle the roast with some of the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano. Bring the liquid to a boil, simmer for ten minutes, then cover and place in the oven to roast for about 1 1/2 hours - until the meat separates easily with a fork.

Remove the roast to a plate. Strain the liquid into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve, and add both the liquid and the roast back to the pot. Shred the meat with two forks in the juices, and use tongs to pile the meat onto a serving platter.

Pass the meat with the warm tortillas, avocado, salsa verde, cotija cheese and red onions, and serve pinto beans on the side.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yes, those Chocolate Chip Cookies.

NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - 1st Batch

It was quite a weekend in my kitchen, and it is a bit worse for the wear I'm sorry to say - greasy in some spots and sticky in others - as my husband discovered when he grabbed the refrigerator door handle Monday morning. Still, there's nothing like a successful round of home cooking to buoy the spirits - especially when it results in something you can squirrel away - like pickled carrots or candied grapefruit peel - or cookies. If you can leave them alone, that is.

It started on Friday with chocolate chip cookies.  You know. Those cookies - the ones everyone is talking about, and with good reason. They are amazing. If you haven't tried them yet, you really should.
Guittard Chocolate Pastilles at Eclipse

I actually didn't have urgent plans to make them, until I saw the flat chocolate "feves," or pastilles, on a visit to Eclipse on Thursday. I remembered the recipe's suggestion to use them instead of chips, in order to create thin layers of chocolate running through the cookie.
NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - 1st Batch

I've made many batches of chocolate chip cookies over the years, but it's a little known fact that they've never been very good. The goal of a nice bit of caramelly chew always seemed to elude me - Toll House cookies would come out a little too greasy, but adding flour just kept them from spreading properly. Chilling the dough seemed to help a little bit, or slightly underbaking them - but I'd never been able to achieve that perfectly chewy, browned, slumping edge with middles that aren't too gooey. I've tried using chopped chocolate instead of chips, messing with the brown to white sugar ratio, airbake cookie sheets - silpats, even going back to regular old butter, sugar and flour - unlike the organic stuff I normally use. You name it, nothing has satisfied. Ultimately, I shrugged it off - maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that I couldn't make a batch of utterly irresistible chocolate chip cookies in my own kitchen - I'd just eat them even faster.
NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - 2nd batch

Enter the New York Times. When I'd read about the thin layers of chocolate, something clicked in my mind - I remembered biting into a cookie like that somewhere - maybe one of the Patina Group's delis in Los Angeles, or La Farine in Oakland (my all time favorite.) I was still a little skeptical that the curse could be broken - but I decided to give it a shot. (I also have a rice curse - can't cook the stuff to save my life.)
Butter and Sugar for Choc Chip Cookie Dough

I tried to follow the directions to a T, even measuring the flour by weight instead of volume - since it calls for exactly the same amount of cake and bread flour (the volume measurements are accurate - I checked.)

The box of chocolate pastilles I had was only one pound and the recipe calls for a quarter pound more - so I added some Ghirardelli 60% chips, but I really think they were totally unnecessary. If anything - and if you can believe this - the only flaw with these cookies is that there was too MUCH chocolate. The one thing I did not do, is sprinkle the cookies with salt. Quite honestly, I forgot - but I didn't miss it. Maybe I'll try it next time. I used large crystals of flake sea salt in the batter, and they did have a nice salty tang.
NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - 2nd Batch

I rested the dough overnight wrapped in plastic - and baked the first batch the following day. I scooped golfball sized chunks of the chilled dough onto a silpat, and baked them at 350 degrees for about 12-13 minutes. On the 1st day, I did about a dozen, and let the rest of the dough go until Sunday.
NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - 2nd batch

The gist of the article is that resting the dough allows the flour to absorb more of the butter and eggs, providing a more uniform consistency and more even caramelization. The first batch, rested not quite twenty four hours, was phenomenal - with all that chewy, tender texture - but without the usual greasiness. Sunday's - rested 36 hours, might have been a little more chewy and might have browned a bit more - but I couldn't really tell if it was just the oven (and level of doneness) or a difference in the dough.

I think resting this dough for a day or so is probably beneficial - but beyond that, who knows? And who cares? I'd rather have a great chocolate chip cookie today than a slightly better one tomorrow!

Recipe here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

COCO500 with Friends - San Francisco

COCO 500 exterior
I'd heard so many good things about COCO500 (and it's precursor Bizou) that by the time I ate there a couple of weeks ago, I almost felt like I'd already been. While it certainly would have been great to dine there on this particular evening, I came close to that kind of celebrity starpower with my dining companions, the Married with Dinners and the Hedonias. It turns out that Anita and Cam and Sean and D Paul get together regularly on Wednesday nights, and they were nice enough to do it again just for me later in the week. Given that these guys are serious cocktail connoisseurs, they had a great suggestion for pre-dinner drinks - Bacar Below, just down the street. The artisan cocktails were delicious, and the food menu looked pretty good too - maybe something to check out on a future trip.

We had just enough time for one drink before we had to make our way the few blocks to COCO500 - the restaurant was packed, but we had a reservation and they were ready for us right when we arrived. We decided right off the bat to share most of what we ordered, and Paul was tasked with the wine ordering - a job he handled more than adequately. The five of us went through at 3 bottles - with just the right amount for each of us per course. COCO 500 Squash Blossom Flatbread
We started out with a couple of appetizers - the truffled squash blossom flat bread from the wood burning oven, pictured above, a ceviche that was really more of a tartare, and some of the fried green beans, a signature dish and carry-over from the Bizou days. My apologies for the somewhat lame pictures, but I was working with the light I had. The photo really doesn't do the squash blossom flatbread justice though - for something so simple, it really was delicious. A thin crispy crust covered with a thin layer of melted cheese, and just enough truffle to give it that addictive flavor. The whole was definitely more than the sum of its parts. The beans were also good - with a very light crisp batter coating, but I was glad we had something else as well - too many of these would be too much, at least for me. The "ceviche" was fine as I recall, but to give you an idea of how unremarkable it was - I had quite honestly forgotten all about it until I looked at the receipt just a few minutes ago.
COCO 500 fried green beans
We also ordered two of the salads pictured below - grilled nectarines wrapped with bacon - served with tatsoi, pinenuts and cheese, in a light vinaigrette. Stonefruit salads seem to be everywhere this season, and this was a very good version. Tangy, sweet, salty, bitter - a little umami-earthiness from the cheese - it was all there.
COCO 500 Bacon Wrapped Peach Salad II
For our mains, Anita chose the braised pork sugo with pappardelle (at least I think that was pork, maybe she can set me straight!) a very rustic version of the dish. I liked the noodles, but didn't think the meat sauce had quite as much flavor as it should have.
COCO 500 Pappardelle
Cameron's flank steak with peppery greens was nearly perfect- the meat was nicely seared medium rare, as you can see. (I'm not sure it's worth going into too much detail about each of these dishes since they probably change fairly frequently - so I'm just hitting some of the highlights.)
COCO 500 Flank Steak
My beef cheek was a curious dish. The meat was fork tender and came apart in strings, as good braised beef should - and it had been coated in a crisp crust of panko - sealing in the moisture even further. I love horseradish, so I was expecting a nice balance of rich meat and tangy sauce. For the first few bites, it was indeed delicious - but the horseradish sauce was really strong, and there was a little too much of it - and I quickly got tired of it. I kept trying to give bites of it away - now my dining companions know why!
COCO 500 Beef Cheek
We scored again with the vacherin - a dessert made with meringue. This one was made with coffee ice cream, covered with a delicious homemade hot fudge, on a pool of creme anglaise and sprinkled with perfect toasted almonds. Everything about it was just right - we shared two between four people (Paul ordered a couple of the bites of chocolate covered frozen banana from a list of small bites for people who don't want a whole dessert) and we were practically licking the plates - it was that good.
COCO 500 Dacquoise
While the food was great, what I really enjoyed was the company. Anita and Cam are both dry and funny - as I have found so many foodbloggers to be (isn't it funny how these common threads seem to run through us?) and Sean and Paul are as sophisticated and gregarious as you'd expect if you've read their site. Sean has some connections down here, so I'm hoping he'll get in touch on his next trip. I love showing people that in fact there IS good food in San Diego - if only you know where to look. It's not like San Francisco, where you can fall backwards - team building exercise style - and it rises up to meet you, but isn't that part of the fun?? Can I get a hell yeah - Super Cocina fans?

I think this is it for San Francisco (unless you want to hear about my massage and soak in the Kabuki Hot Springs and the delicious hot chocolate I enjoyed afterwards at Bittersweet on Fillmore - oh wait, you just did) so it's on to some recipes and some local stuff next. Pickled carrots, chocolate chip cookies, and who knows what else - I'll have to go back through my photos to remember!

Gossip alert - or maybe this is old news to everyone else - but the buzz is that Jennifer Biesty and Zoi, her girlfriend (they co-starred on the last season of Top Chef) have split, and Jen will be leaving COCO500 soon - no news seems to be updated recently, but that's the scuttlebutt in and around town. Maybe someone "in the know" can update us here.

500 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 543-2222

Monday, July 14, 2008

I promised you gougeres...

and Banana Cream Pie - and Ajoblanco! So, let's get started shall we?

The gougere recipe came from the New York Times magazine a couple of weeks ago, and I think it worked a bit better than the one I used the last time I made these. (Well of course it did, it's a Dorie recipe!) The trick with these is to let them dry in the oven for a few minutes after they're baked - so they are dry and crisp on the outside but tender inside. Choux paste is a wonderful thing - it can be baked into eclairs, cream puffs or gougeres, but it can also be fried as churros or beignets. It's not hard to make with a standing mixer - as long as you can use a piping bag.
french day piping

Actually, here - I can give you the secret on that right now. Put the tip in the bag and fold the bag down about half way, over your left hand (or right if you're a lefty.) Scoop about 2 cups of the paste into the bag, gather the top and and squeeze it down the tube like toothpaste - until it's near the tip. (Tuck a bit of the bag into the tip to keep anything runny or soft from going through.) Get all the air out, and twist the top of the bag tightly. Grasp the bag at the top, where the twist is, and squeeze the bulb gently - using your other hand for guidance. Keep twisting the top and squeezing from that same spot as you go. As long as you apply the pressure to the bulb and keep it twisted, you shouldn't have any problems. Cool, huh?

So, back to the choux paste. I've seen a few recipes that require you to rest or refrigerate it for a while before using (Suzanne's churro recipe in Sunday Suppers for ex.) but this isn't one of them - and I learned this the hard way when I made the dough an hour ahead of time and refrigerated it. When I took it out of the fridge to pipe the gougeres it was rock hard - so I had to let it sit for a while and thus the gougeres were served with the 1st course instead of passed with the cocktails. Once baked, they were airy, light and a bit crisp - with a nice sharp cheese flavor.

The recipe is below, and the rest of the permutations for choux paste from the article can be found here - and other posts where I've written about choux paste before here.
Ajoblanco (garlic and almond soup)

I'm having a bit of a technical problem here - because I can't actually find the copy of the Ajoblanco recipe I used - but I must say, I didn't follow it exactly, so I don't think that's a travesty. It's in the pamphlet of recipes they handed out at the Gourmet Institute, and came from the session on molecular gastronomy taught by Jose Andre's sous chef. In fact, the recipe calls for freezing it with liquid nitrogen - but they didn't even do that in the class, so we won't be doing it here! Below is a very close approximation of what I did. It's very flexible depending on your taste - the basic blend is bread, almonds, garlic and olive oil, with a touch of sherry vinegar.

And, at last, the pie...

I've posted about Banana Cream Pie before, but with a crumb crust and meringue. That was good, but the pastry crust and whipped cream top was unquestionably better. I baked the two crusts blind with pie weights until they were nice and golden brown (had to lower the temperature a a bit since I was using glass pie plates) and let them cool overnight. I also made the custard the day before, so on the day of, all I had to do was slice the bananas, whip the topping and assemble the pies. Easy as, well, ahem, pie.

Oddly, though I doubled the recipe, I didn't think I had quite enough custard for the filling - so if you're making more than one, or using a particularly deep dish - you may want to make double or at least 1.5 times the amount this calls for. The secret ingredient is a small amount of light (Neufchatel) cream cheese, which gives the pie more body while cutting the fat a bit. It came originally from a Cooking Light recipe, so the custard is lower in fat than you might think - but that's all made up for by the topping, which is pure unadulterated heavy cream whipped with creme fraiche. If you don't have creme fraiche though, don't sweat it - it's really not necessary.
5th of July 046

Banana Cream Pie

1 single crust pie shell, baked

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla paste (or half of a vanilla bean scraped, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 ounces "Neufchatel" or block light cream cheese, softened

2 bananas, sliced

1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons creme fraiche
1 heaping Tablespoon powdered sugar

caramel sauce

Combine the 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, eggs, 1 cup milk, vanilla paste and 1 Tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 seconds or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the second tablespoon of butter. Pass through a fine mesh sieve.

Using the whisk attachment to a hand blender or a standing mixer with the paddle (the whisk attachment will pick up too much of the cheese since it's such a small amount), beat cream cheese until light and smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the warm custard to the cream cheese, and beat just until blended. Stir in remaining custard. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Custard can be made up to two days in advance.

To assemble, cover the bottom of the pie shell with a thin layer of caramel, and dot the caramel with a layer of banana slices. Spread with custard to cover, add another layer of banana slices and fill the pie shell with the remaining custard.

With a standing mixer or whisk attachment to a hand blender, beat the cream and creme fraiche until foamy and thick. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat to soft peaks. Top the pie with the cream topping and garnish with some slivered nuts or banana chips. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8 - 10

Basic Choux Paste and Gougeres
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia and published June 29, 2008 in the New York Times Magazine

¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup whole milk
3 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
5 ounces Gruyère, finely grated
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water.

1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the milk and ¼ cup of water over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Bring to a rolling boil, add the flour mixture and stir briskly for 1 minute. The dough should form into a ball, and a thin film should cover the bottom of the pan.

2. Immediately transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on low to quickly release the steam. Just after the steam subsides, add an egg and increase the speed to medium. The dough will break into lumps at first. Once the dough comes back together, add the second egg and continue mixing.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the third egg. Stop the mixer. When the dough is lifted with a spoon, it should detach and form a slowly bending peak. If the dough is too thick and doesn’t bend, mix in half of the beaten egg. Check the dough again; add the remaining beaten egg as needed. The dough is now ready to be used for any recipe calling for choux paste. It must be used while still warm.

for gougeres:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

2. Fold ¾ of the Gruyère into the warm dough.

3. Pipe or scoop the dough onto the prepared pans in tablespoon-size balls.

4. Using a pastry brush, glaze each ball with the egg wash, smoothing out peaks with gentle pressure on the brush. Top each ball with a pinch of the remaining grated cheese. Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the pans once. The puffs should be light golden brown.

5. Turn off the oven, crack open the oven door and let cool in the oven for at least 10 minutes before serving. Test one by taking it out and pulling it open - if they're hollow and mostly dry inside without strands of wet dough - you're good to go! Serve immediately. (Seriously, these things have about a thirty minute shelf life.)

Makes about 20 - 25 gougeres.

adapted from Jose Andres

1 cup raw slivered almonds
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
enough water to cover

3 oz (about 1 thick slice) crustless white bread, torn into pieces
3 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup fresh cold water

1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
more cold water

In a saucepan, blanch the almonds and garlic with enough water to cover twice - this will help soften the almonds and mellow the garlic. Drain and tear up the bread and stir it into the almonds and garlic along with the olive oil. Add the cup of fresh cold water, and stir to soak the bread. Ladle into a food processor or blender. Add the sherry vinegar and some salt and pepper. Start the machine and blend, adding more water until you get the consistency you want. (I prefer it thin and drinkable.)

Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil, vinegar or salt and pepper if needed. (You'll also have to taste it again after it chills so don't worry too much about it). Chill for about an hour, until cold - taste and adjust seasonings and thin with a little more water or even some Pellegrino (which gives it a little lightness.) Serve with olive oil. Serves 4-6 depending on the size of the servings. (A little goes a long way!)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oysters for Lunch at Hog Island - San Francisco

On our second day in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, we did something I've long wanted to do but never had the chance - we ate oysters (and just about the best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had) for lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building.
Hog Island Oyster Co.

It was James' first trip to the Ferry Building - hard as it was for me to believe, and we went down with the goal of just walking around and checking it out. We just had an hour or two before he had to leave for the North Bay for the start of the wedding festivities, and I had a date with a steaming tub at the Kabuki Hot Springs.
Carnitas pastry at Frog Hollow Farms

On our wanderings, we checked out the new (to me) Salumeria Boccolone, browsed the goods at the Gardener and a few other specialty shops - poked our noses in Boulette's, and picked up the above pictured "carnitas pastry" at Frog Hollow - as well as some "meat sticks" at Prather Ranch.
Seating at Boulette's at the Ferry Building

Just passing through, we decided on the spur of the moment to sit down and have a light lunch at one of the few tables left outside at Hog Island. Isn't it great when things work out that you haven't even planned? I love it when that happens. And yet I'm a planner by nature...
hog island oyster co

We started with a dozen assorted oysters - half Kumamotos and half Sweetwaters. The Kumamotos were tiny and sweet, and the Sweetwaters were larger and mild - both were excellent - some of the best oysters I've had in a while. Wonderful with the two glasses of Roederer we ordered and some nice sourdough epi bread and butter.
bread at hog island oyster co

Since we were keeping it somewhat light (or so we thought!) so for our second course we ordered a grilled shrimp starter that came with a nice little tart salad, and a grilled cheese sandwich to share.
Grilled Cheese at Hog Island Oyster Co.

The grilled cheese was made with cave-aged gruyere and fromage blanc - and was perfectly crisp on the outside and oozingly melted on the inside. It was huge and oh so rich - sharing it was definitely the right thing to do. The pickles on the side were perfect with it, but the salad was a good match too - it really should be served with one. I also saw the clam chowder and it looked excellent.

Hog Island also has an oyster farm in Tomales Bay, where they sell oysters for picnics on site (reservations required) and offer a "traveling oyster bar" - a truck that travels around for parties. How cool is that? More information about Hog Island and the restaurant can be found here.

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Come for Cocktails and Fancy Dinner in the Backyard - Part II

For the main dish for Saturday's dinner party, I chose to cook the thyme glazed baby back ribs from Michel Richard's "Happy in the Kitchen." It's a gorgeous book, but I'd never cooked from it before, so I had no idea how accurate or comprehensive the recipes were. I did a Google search to see if anyone else had made it, and came up with one entry on a blog called Little Bouffe. Ms. Bouffe suggested glazing the ribs with something a little more substantial than honey and thyme, and I agreed that that sounded like a wise idea - so I planned a modified version with the ribs poached and then glazed in the oven with a tangy bbq-like sauce.
Vande Rose Baby Back Ribs
I procured some some lovely (as lovely as meat can be!) ribs from Hamilton's Meats, eight full racks to be precise, and portioned them out into three pieces per rack. I decided as I put them in my giant pot (I used the enamel pot that came with my Ball canning set - with a thick diffuser underneath it) that I had enough with the eighteen portions I made from six racks, especially considering that two guests were vegans, so I saved two of the racks in the fridge still wrapped.
Poaching the ribs
I then poured in the ingredients for the poaching liquid - enough water to cover the ribs, three pounds of honey, an entire bunch of thyme sprigs, coriander seeds, a tablespoon of pepper flakes, two tablespoons of pepper corns, loads of salt, 5 or 6 bay leaves, 2 roughly chopped onions, five leeks and several carrots - and turned the heat up to get the water going. It was a lot of liquid, and I knew it would take a while to come to temperature. The instructions said to bring it to a very low simmer and cook for 45 mins. I was busy doing other things, but kept checking it periodically - at exactly 12:45, it started to bubble, and I turned the heat to medium low to keep it to a low simmer, and made a mental note that at 1:30 it would be time to turn it off (the instructions say to let the meat cool in the broth, rather than taking it out.) The instructions also say to let the ribs cook until the meat is tender, but not yet falling off the bone.


I couldn't see in the pot because of all the seasonings in the poaching liquid, and when I pulled the first piece out to check on it after turning off the heat 45 minutes later, it disintegrated before my eyes. I started fishing around in the pot, and discovered that a good amount of the meat had completely fallen apart - nothing like feeling that graveyard of bones clinking around at the bottom of the pot. I then started pulling the intact pieces out in order to stop the cooking and survey the damage.

The two sheet pans of meat I pulled out were missing most of their end bones, and what was left was a little tattered. I salvaged the best ones - which amounted to about half - and sent James to the store for more meat. Luckily I still had those two extras - and plenty of time to poach more. I left the second round in the poaching liquid to cool - as per the instructions - and then had a momentary panic attack a couple of hours later, when I realized the poaching liquid was still very hot and thought surely the new ribs had met the same fate as the old. Luckily they had not. It turned out, in fact, that the pieces I salvaged were more tender and a little more tasty - clearly there is a happy medium in there somewhere.

My glaze was made with more honey, red wine vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, apricot jam, worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, thyme and a couple of smashed but intact garlic cloves - based loosely on the recipe supplied by Little Bouffe - I brought it to a boil and simmered it for about 20 minutes, and then put it in a bowl for use basting the ribs. I glazed them about four or five times during the 30-40 mins they spent in the oven before serving (at 350 degrees.)

Sadly, I didn't get any photos of the cooked ribs or the salads because I was too busy getting everything on the table, but the recipe for the potato salad is here (and it's delicious) and the green salad was based on this one but I subbed pine nuts for the cheese and left out the prosciutto, since we were entertaining vegans (they eat honey, so they had firm tofu glazed with the sauce.) The salad was further enhanced by the addition of arugula from our friend Jora's garden - the sharp flavor was a nice match for the sweet stonefruit. (Incidentally, these stonefruit salads seem to be popping up everywhere lately - I just had a good one for lunch yesterday at Wet Stone, a winebar in Bankers Hill, and we also enjoyed a nice one at COCO 500 in San Francisco - more on both of those adventures coming soon!)
Blackberry Caipirinhas
Before dinner we poured Blackberry Caipirinhas (pronounced cay-pur-een-yas) based on a pineapple version I tried a few weeks ago at a garden tour and tasting at the Mistral herb garden at the Loews Coronado Resort (more on that also coming soon.)

The most basic recipe is to muddle your fruit (any fruit, really) with a little sugar and a generous squeeze of lime juice in the bottom of a glass, top it up with some Cachaca (pronounced ca-sha-sa) and sip away. Since I was making a pitcher, I did it a little differently.
Blackberry Caipirinhas and Champagne
I made two cups of simple syrup (boiling 2 cups each of sugar and water until dissolved) and squeezed about six cups of lemon juice and two cups of lime juice and mixed the two together with the simple syrup and about 1 cup of plain water. When I was ready to serve, I stirred in a bottle of the Leblon Cachaca and added some torn mint leaves. The blackberries and the muddler were on the table, so everyone could mash a couple up in the bottom of the glass, fill with ice, and top with the cocktail. I've also made a good version of a margarita with a similar method - based on a Hungry Cat recipe. That formula can be found here. These can also be made to taste - depending on how sweet or how strong you like your drinks.

Notes and recipe links:
Cachaca is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from sugar cane, about the same strength as vodka - with a little bit of a sweet flavor to it. The most common brand I've seen is Leblon - which is finished in Cognac casks for a little extra flair. It's what we were served at Mistral, and what they have at BevMo - it should be reasonably easy to find.

The sparkling wine we served was Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, which we try to keep on hand (not too difficult since they ship it to us monthly!) We also had a magnum of Roederer, which I like pretty well for a good medium priced sparkler. Other inexpensive favorites are Piper Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, and Schramsberg - though it's a little more. Dampierre Champagne is also very nice if you can find it - we've had it out at restaurants, but I have yet to see it in a store - might want to keep an eye out for it at the local specialty wine shops.

For a close approximation of the rib recipe, see this entry on Little Bouffe - the original recipe is printed here on Serious Eats. Sam from Becks and Posh has also written about cooking from Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen on her blog here.

More Caipirinha recipes (and even an instructional video!) can be found on the Leblon website.

Coming up - the Ajoblanco (chilled Spanish garlic and almond soup), Gougeres and Banana Cream Pie!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Come for Cocktails and Fancy Dinner in the Backyard...

5th of July Dinner Party

the invitations read, and I wish you all could have been there. I honestly wish everyone I know could come to every party we have - but alas I only have two arms, and to be honest, I barely made it out of this one alive. This was the largest dinner party I have tackled singlehandedly, and despite one major cooking disaster and a few small ones, I think we pulled it off. Everyone seemed to have a good time - and most of the plates came back to the kitchen clean but for the bones.
The Drinks Table

Above: Sparkling Wine (Roederer and Domaine Carneros) and Blackberry Caipirinhas made with Leblon Cachaca
Pre-Dinner Appetizers
Below: left to right - Crostini, Pickled Cherries, Andante Triple Cream Cheese, Fra'mani Salumetto, White Bean Hummus, olives, and fried capers (that didn't turn out so great.)

After cocktails and appetizers, everyone was given a cup of chilled Ajoblanco - Spanish almond and garlic soup, and encouraged to find a place at the table, where their wine pairing - a Portuguese Vinho Verde - was waiting. Around that time I also pulled the gougeres from the oven, so they were paired with the soup instead of passed with the cocktails, which worked out well, actually.
Ajoblanco (garlic and almond soup)


The main course was served family style - James took the platter around and doled out portions of baby back ribs (Vande Rose Duroc pork procured at Hamilton's) while bowls of greens with grilled peaches and pine nuts (including arugula from a friend's garden) and French potato salad were passed. Dessert was Banana Cream Pie - probably my favorite part of the whole meal - the ratio of cream to custard was a little high (I'd quadruple the recipe next time instead of doubling) but it's kinda hard to complain about too much whipped cream and creme fraiche. The crust was smeared with a little of Will's Chile Burnt Caramel Sauce - which gave it a little Bobby Flay flair - in the best way of course
Banana Cream Pie

After dinner - there were fireworks - literally! We were lucky enough to be in Sebastopol last weekend for a wedding, where it's legal to sell "safe and sane" fireworks from June 28 thru July 6. They shoot sparks ten feet in the air, and don't leave the ground - but put on a surprisingly good show. (I'm sure the neighbors were THRILLED.)

Here, for your perusal, is the menu. I've gotta get a move on right now - but I'll be back later with more about those cooking disasters and some recipes.

Blackberry Caipirinhas
Roederer and Domaine Carneros Sparkling Wine
Andante Picolo triple cream cheese
Fra'mani Salumetto
Bread and Cie Crostini
Pickled Cherries
White Bean Hummus
Black Olives
Fried Capers
Vinho Verde
Thyme and Honey Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Greens with Grilled Stonefruit and Pinenuts
Barefoot Contessa French Potato Salad
Tempranillo Rose and Cote du Rhone
Banana Cream Pie

More photos can be viewed here.