Elephant Walk Cooking Class

All cooks find themselves in a rut from time to time. In those periods, the same dishes keep appearing on the dinner table week after week – in my case, momofuku noodles (post coming soon), pasta with meat sauce, and sauteed chicken breasts with rice. One solution to this would be to open up one of my million cookbooks and find myself a recipe, clearly.  A slightly more expensive — and certainly more entertaining — fix is to find a cooking class!  Even better, find a cooking class for a cuisine with which you are unfamiliar.  This will ensure both education and several new avenues for experimentation to keep you out of that rut for a long while!

Last weekend, my mother and I attended a cooking class at a local Cambodian restaurant, The Elephant Walk.  Their courses (and food!) were recommended to us by a close friend, and how right he was.  We had a fantastic time visiting a Cambodian market and then returning to the Elephant Walk kitchen to cook up a three-course lunch, which we promptly devoured with delicious wine to accompany.

We chose the class called “Doing It All on Market Day”.  This cost a little more, but was worth every penny.  We arrived at 8:30 at the restaurant and traveled from there to Revere, one of the three largest Cambodian communities in the United States (the other two are Lowell, MA and Long Beach, CA).  A little store market there carried produce and non-perishables from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Latin America.  As Longteine de
Monteiro, Elephant Walk’s head chef, explained, as property values in neighborhoods near Boston have risen, Hispanics have moved in to places the Cambodians can no longer afford.  Thus, the market showcased Thai basil next to cilantro, tamarind alongside tomatillos, and lemongrass sidled up to habaneros.  I wish I had taken more pictures of the various exotic vegetables, like banana blossoms, khmer eggplant, and string beans that measured two feet long!  Here is Longteine showing us a fuzzy melon (which is like a spongy squash):

Notice the cactus in the bottom right!  Another “melon” to which we were introduced was called bitter melon – although this one was more like a cucumber:

With each new vegetable, she explained to us how they would be used.  Most to all of them can go into sour soup, if you’re wondering.  If you want more than my memory can provide, fear not! There’s The Elephant Walk Cookbook too.

Once we collected everything we’d need for our class (plus Mom and I picked up bean sprouts, mushroom soy sauce, and tamarind paste to make some Pad Thai later), we headed back to the restaurant.  The 10 or so participants picked partners, and each pair was assigned a course.  Mom and I chose the Spicy Beef with Peppers and camped out at a station in the kitchen. Everything was very clean and organized, and our mise had already been put en place:

Much of the above you’ll recognize: salt, sugar, fish sauce, jalapenos and cubanelle peppers.  The odd ginger-like thing at the top is called galangal or a rhizome.  It is similar in look, texture and use-value to ginger, but tastes more peppery than gingery.  At the top left, you can see the base of a container full of the most incredible ambrosia… lemongrass paste, they call it.  To make it, blend the following ingredients together for 2-3 minutes until smooth:

2 Tblsp. thinly sliced lemongrass
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons peeled, coarsely chopped galangal
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/2 cup water

We spent about 35 minutes cooking, and then shared our dishes – green mango salad, sour soup with tilapia, and spicy stir-fried beef at a long table set for an elegant party.  I highly recommend the experience — very good food and definitely a departure from my norm.  The restaurant also offers courses in French-Asian fusion, Vegan & Vegetarian Cooking, and Pan Sauces, just to name a few.  The instruction wasn’t very comprehensive in terms of technique, especially given that in some cases the lemongrass paste was already made and the peppers already chopped, but we had a pretty well-trained group.  For me, the class was more about thinking through new flavor combinations and using ingredients I’ve never seen before.  Consider that rut a thing of the past!

I also enjoyed seeing the class through the lens of a world history teacher.  Since my last post, I have finished a master’s program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and have spent two years teaching and living at a boarding school.  No wonder I don’t have time for blogging!  But throughout my cooking class last Saturday, I couldn’t stop thinking about how none of our dishes would have been possible without the Columbian Exchange, the term used to describe the integration of crops and people from the Americas and the rest of the world.  For most of recorded history, these two hemispheres were separated by unnavigable waters.  They thus developed quite different species of flora and fauna.  In the Americas, people grew potatoes, peppers, corn, tomatoes, and pineapple – none of which had been seen before 1492 by farmers in Europe, Africa, or Asia.  Men from those continents brought wheat, rice, onions, most spices, and sugar — not to mention cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep — across the Atlantic to revolutionize agriculture in the Americas.  See how many Old World/New World interactions you can find in the below recipes!

Nyuom Svay (Green Mango Salad), serves 4

4 medium green mangoes, finely julienned
1 large shallot, very thinly sliced
8 oz. cooked pork belly or pork butt, very thinly julienned
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut, roasted
1/2 cup julienned red bell pepper
1 Tblsp. salt
1 Tblsp. fish sauce
3 Tblsp. sugar
1 to 2 Tblsp. fresh lime juice to taste

In a large bowl, toss all the ingredients together. Garnish with fresh mint or basil.  [The recipe book we were given suggests you need 1 cup loosely packed mint, and the same amount of Thai basil.  But if you see the photos, I don't see anywhere near that much shown.  I think that the flecks of brown are the toasted grated coconut.]

Samalh Machou Trey (Sour Soup with Tilapia and Pineapple), serves 4
4 cups chicken broth
3 tilapia filets, cut into 2 1/2 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 Tblsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tblsp. fish sauce
2 Tblsp. fresh lime juice
8 oz. pinapple, julienned 1/2 inch thick
8 oz. fuzzy squash (see photo above), peeled and cut into the same size as pineapple
2 plum tomatoes, quartered (we used green tomatoes)
3 Tblsp. fried chopped garlic
1 cup sliced Maam, aka “French mint” or “Asian cilantro” (see image at right)

Put the chicken broth in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil.  Add the garlic, pineapple, squash, tomatoes, salt, sugar, and fish sauce.  Return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Gently stir in the lime juice and the fish and cook for another 8 minutes.

Add the fried garlic and maam.  Serve immediately with cooked jasmine rice in the individual bowls.

Saiko Cha K’dao (Spicy Stir-fried Beef), serves 4
3/4 lb. cubanelle peppers (about 3 large)
1/4 lb. jalapeno peppers (about 5)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 recipe lemongrass paste (see above)

1 lb. boneless sirloin, cut into strips 2 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/4 inch thick. [she told us we had short rib meat.  Not sure if that is the case]
1 1/2 Tblsp. sugar
1 Tblsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. salt
2 cups loosely packed fresh mareh preuw (aka holy basil) or regular basil leaves (see photo)

Slice the peppers very thinly lengthwise, removing seeds and veins.  Then cut into 2 inch lengths.  Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the lemongrass paste and cook until its aroma is released, about 1 minute.

Stirring well as you go, add the beef, peppers, sugar, fish sauce and salt, and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.  Remove from the heat and add the herbs.  Serve with rice.

 

Thank you, Nyep, for the great class.  Thank you, Mom, for inviting me to the great class.  Thank you, Eric, for the gift certificates that allowed us to take the great class!

June 12, 2012 at 9:52 am Leave a comment

Pan-Roasted Mussels in Miso Broth


I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I was not always the omnivore I am today. There was a time when only hamburgers and rice were allowed to pass through these lips, and anything collected from the ocean was categorically forbidden. In a stunning example of mind over matter, however, at 20 years old I determined that fish were good for my health and thus I WOULD LIKE THEM. Beginning with steak-y fish like swordfish, tuna, and salmon, I gradually incorporated the entire classification. From there, mollusks made their debut — mussels leading the charge.

The appeal of mussels for me was really their connection to European culture (moules frites…mmm…), the obligatory slice of buttered and toasted bread served alongside, and the endless variety of delicious broths they swam in. My first experience was a tomato based broth laced with white wine, fennel, and plenty of garlic. To this day, it is my favorite preparation. Purists may prefer the simple white wine, garlic, shallots, and creme fraiche version, aka moules marinières. More adventurous souls have probably seen mussels served with curry or, as demonstrated below, miso. These Asian preparations are a wonderful diversion and can truly impress at a dinner party.

While you have to buy and cook your mussels the same day, you can make the base of your broth early, and your dinner party will come together in an astonishing 5 minutes — faster than it takes to toast your baguette! Also, this is a mussels prep that few people have tasted before: Bonus!

A note on mussels: don’t freak out or anything, but it is important to note that mussels can die between their moment of harvesting and when you are ready to cook. Nothing ruins the memory of a good dinner party like a bad shellfish, trust me! To eliminate these evil-doers, throw out any mussels in the bag that have broken or cracked shells. Mussels that are open and do not close tightly when rapped against the side of the sink or a countertop should also be tossed. After cooking, if you have a mussel that still hasn’t opened up in the heat of the pan, chuck it. WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT! Prevent mussels from dying on your watch by keeping them in a mesh bag on a bed of ice in your fridge. Do not suffocate them in a plastic bag, or you’ll end up tossing a ton of them.

Pan-Roasted Bouchot Mussels with Os, from the Momofuku Cookbook
(serves 4)

1/3 cup denjang, or shiro (white) miso
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
2 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger
2 Tbs. sliced scallions (greens and whites)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 lbs. mussels
1/4 c. grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 c. dry sake (use dry vermouth if you can’t find sake)

Clean the mussels: Put them in a large bowl of cold water and let them sit for a few minutes to purge any grit, then scrub their shells clean of any debris, and rip off the ‘beards’ — the little fuzzy strands sticking out of the side of the shells. Smash together the denjang, sherry vinegar, ginger, sliced scallions, and garlic cloves in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pour the oil into a deep wide pot with a lid that will later comfortable accommodate all the mussels, and set over high heat. After a minute or so, when the oil is hot but not smoking, add the mussels. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the sake. Cover the pot and steam the mussels until they’ve all opened, about 4 minutes.

Remove the lid from the pot, scoot all the mussels to one side, and add the denjang mixture to the liquid in the bottom of the pot. Stir to incorporate it, which should happen rather quickly, then toss the mussels to coat them with the sauce and pan juices.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to four deep bowls. Discard any mussels that did not open. Pour the broth-sauce from the pot over the mussels, and garnish each portion with a heavy dose of black pepper and some of the julienned scallions. Serve at once.

June 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm 3 comments

Spring-y Saffron Chicken and Snap Peas

I am aware that this post is coming late: spring has long since sprung.  Morels, fava beans, and ramps – the heralds of the season in New England – have populated and then disappeared from the market shelves, making room for the first husks of sweet corn and mounds of heirloom tomatoes.  Nevertheless, I decided last night to peruse the “Spring” chapter of one of my favorite cookbooks with the aim of giving May a proper (though belated) send-off.

Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques is a truly wonderful volume for any cook who loves to entertain.  The recipes are elegant and intensely flavorful, though never overly complicated.  Their simplicity is juxtaposed brilliantly with their originality – I often ask myself, “why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?”  As an example, the meal I made last night involved thinly slicing sugar snap peas on the bias and sauteeing them quickly with onions and thyme, finished with saffron butter and lemon juice.  Surely, one need not prepare the snap peas this way to enjoy the delicious flavor combination, but I loved the way the peas separated from the pod, creating a varied texture and a far more interesting visual on the plate than the standard whole pod.

Another lovely feature of this cookbook is that it is organized around full meals.  For each season, Goin provides eight 4-course menus, including dessert.  I have had great luck cooking her recipes — her instructions are very clear and concise, and she always notes when some aspect of the meal can be done ahead.  Last night, I made just one course although it had three components: Saffron Chicken with Parmesan Pudding, Spring Onions, and Sugar Snap Peas.  RJ and I raved about the layered flavors of the chicken breasts, and I could not get enough of the green vegetables.  After an initially lukewarm reaction to the texture of the parmesan pudding, both of us came around to appreciating its subtlety when paired with the zesty chicken.  Only two things would have improved this meal: first, we should have listened to Suzanne Goin and used skin-on chicken breasts.  We missed the crispy goodness!  Second, in making this again I will definitely whip up a quick pan sauce to accompany the protein – why waste all those rich drippings?

Saffron Chicken, Spring Onions, and Sugar Snap Peas
Serves 6

1/2 tsp. saffron threads
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, separated
6 boneless chicken breasts, about 5 oz. each, skin on!
1 Tbs. thyme leaves, separated
2 Tbs. sliced flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested
3/4 lb. sugar snap peas, sliced on the diagonal into 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 c. sliced spring onions plus 1/2 c. sliced spring onion tops
4 oz. pea shoots

Toast the saffron in a small pan over medium heat until it just dries and becomes brittle. Pound the saffron to a fine powder in a mortar. Dab a tablespoon of the softened butter into the saffron powder, using the butter to scoop up about half the powder. Set aside.

Stir 4 tablespoons olive oil into the mortar, scraping with a rubber spatula to incorporate all of the saffron powder. Mix with 2 teaspoons of the thyme leaves, all of the parsley, and the lemon zest. Pour this into a large ziplock bag with the chicken breasts, coating the chicken well. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil and wait a minute. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the pan (you might need to cook the chicken in batches). Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the skin is crispy and golden brown. Turn the breasts over, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook them a few more minutes, until just cooked through and springy to the touch. Transfer the chicken to a resting rack.

Return the pan to the stove over medium heat for a minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and when it foams, add the sliced spring onions, sugar snap peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and the remaining teaspoon of thyme. Cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes stirring, until the onions are translucent. Add the saffron butter and 1 tablespoon water. Swirl the pan, and when the liquid comes to a simmer, toss in the pea shoots and onion tops. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and squeeze a little lemon juice over the vegetables. Taste for seasoning.

Arrange the chicken on a large warm platter and spoon the vegetables over it. Serve with the hot parmesan pudding.

Parmesan Pudding
(obviously this part of the meal is not gluten free)

3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. whole milk
2/3 c. heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat a medium pot over medium heat for 1 minute.  Add the butter; when it foams, whisk in the flour, 1 Tbs. at a time, and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown.  Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate it.  The butter and flour will seize up and get pasty at first.  Continue whisking vigorously as you add the liquid, and the mixture will become smooth.  Cook a few more minutes, until warm to the touch.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg and egg yolk together in a small bowl.  Slowly drizzle the eggs into the cream mixture, whisking continuously until combined.  Stir in the cheese, and season with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Pour the mixture into a 8×6 inch (or equivalent) baking dish, and cover tightly with foil. [I used individual ramekins instead, and cut the cooking time to 40-45 minutes which seemed to do the trick!]  Place the baking dish in a roasting pan, and add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the outside of the custard dish.  Place the pan in the oven and bake about 1 hour, until the pudding is just set.

(You can make and bake the pudding ahead of time and refrigerate it, covered.  Bring it to room temperature about an hour before serving, and rewarm it in a 400 degree F oven, 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until it’s hot and begins to brown slightly around the edges.)

June 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm 4 comments

Back with a Vengeance: Momofuku-style

Hellloooooo, everyone.  I can barely contain myself, I am so happy to be back.  After a year of having my nose in a book, I can finally pull it out and put it to a better purpose: smelling the delicious aromas of caramelized meats, yeasty doughs, and rosy wines.  For my comeback tour, I am resuming the cookbook challenge, and am starting with a fabulous one: The Momofuku Cookbook.

As many of you may have heard, David Chang is the lauded proprietor and chef behind the Momofuku empire of the East Village.  A trip to visit my brother in New York last year included a dinner at Momofuku Ssam, followed by a return to the attached “Milk Bar” for this cake.  The dinner, though, was the highlight.  Ssam is known for several specialities, but none more famous than the pork buns.  From the first bite, we were soulmates.  Wrapped in an airy, tender bun is a slab of slow-roasted pork belly, slathered in salty-sweet hoisin sauce and punctuated with lightly-pickled cucumber slices.  I truly could have eaten 15.  RJ, too, was enamored.  I think his comment was, “you better take notes.”  Unfortunately, I had no clue where to start with making the white, spongy, slightly sticky buns.  I had never attempted anything like them.  But when the Momofuku cookbook came out, I no longer had any excuse.  I rolled up my sleeves and started kneading.

The results?  Incredible.  The buns tasted just as good as those from the restaurant.  Yes, the recipe is labor-intensive.  And, if you’re going for the full experience, you’re going to want to make up some of Ssam’s awesome condiments too.  I pickled some fennel and shiitake mushrooms.  Damn, they make for a good bun.

Momofuku’s Famous Pork Buns

FOR PORK
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 lb skinless boneless pork belly

FOR BUNS
1 1/2 c. warm water at room temp
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. active dry yeast
4 1/2 c. bread flour
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons nonfat dried milk
1 Tbs. kosher salt
Rounded 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 c. rendered pork fat or vegetable shortening at room temp.

For the Pork:
Stir together kosher salt and sugar, and rub all over the pork. Discard excess. Nestle in a shallow dish that fits the meat snugly and cover with plastic wrap. Let brine, chilled, at least 6 hours but no longer than 24.

Heat oven to 450 F. Discard any liquid that accumulated. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown. Then turn oven temp down to 250F and cook for another hour until belly is tender (not falling apart but it should feel like a down pillow when firmly poked).
OR: Pour in 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly with foil and roast until pork is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours at 300 F. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 450°F, then roast until fat is golden, about 20 minutes more.

Remove pan from oven and transfer belly to a plate. Decant fat and meat juices from the pan and reserve (fat can be used for cooking later, and juices can be used to flavor a sauce). Cool 30 minutes, then chill, wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil, until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

For the Buns:
Stir together warm water with yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and fat and mix on the lowest speed possible for 8-10 min. The dough should gather together into a neat, not-too-tacky ball on the hook. When it does, lightly oil a medium mixing bowl, put the dough in it, and cover the bowl with a dry kitchen towel. Put it in a warmish place and let rise until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 min.

Punch down dough, then transfer to a very lightly floured surface and flatten slightly into a disk. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces. Gently roll the pieces into logs, then cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total. They should each be the size of a Ping-Pong ball and weigh about 25 grams or just under an ounce. Roll each piece into a ball. Cover the 50 dough balls with a draping of plastic wrap and allow them to rest and rise for 30 min.

Meanwhile, cut out fifty 4x4inch squares of parchment paper. Coat a chopstick with whatever fat you’re using.

Flatten out 1 piece of dough into a 6- by 3-inch oval, lightly dusting surface, your hands, and rolling pin with flour. Pat oval between your palms to remove excess flour, then fold in half crosswise over the greased chopstick (do not pinch). Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper. Stick it back under the plastic wrap (or a dry kitchen towel) and form the rest of the buns. Make more buns with remaining dough, then let stand, loosely covered, until slightly risen, about 30-45 minutes.

Set a large steamer rack inside skillet (or wok) and add enough water to reach within 1/2 inch of bottom of rack, then bring to a boil. Carefully place 5 to 7 buns (still on parchment paper) in steamer rack (do not let buns touch). Cover tightly and steam over high heat until buns are puffed and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer buns to a plate with tongs, then discard wax paper and wrap buns in kitchen towels (not terry cloth) to keep warm. Steam remaining buns in batches, adding boiling-hot water to skillet as needed. Use buns immediately (reheat in steamer for a minute or so if necessary) or allow to cool completely, then seal in plastic freezer bags and freeze for up to a few months. Reheat frozen buns in a stovetop steamer for 2-3 minutes, until puffy, soft, and warmed all the way through.

Return buns (still wrapped in towels) to steamer rack in skillet and keep warm (off heat), covered.

TO SERVE:
Slice pork thickly against the grain. Reheat in 350 degree oven or in skillet until warmed all the way through and tender/jiggly (about 20 min in oven or 5 min in skillet). If you have any pork juices, warm them in the same container.

Brush bottom half of each warmed bun with hoisin sauce, then sandwich with 1 or 2 pork slices and some accoutrements: fresh scallions, sriracha, or the below:

Pickled Fennel
Cut a fennel bulb or two in half from root to stalk. Cut out the core, and cut the halves in half (along the same axis as before). Slice the fennel into thin strips, less than 1/8 in thick. Combine 1 cup of piping hot tap water, 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, 6 Tbs. sugar, and 2 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, stir to dissolve sugar. Place the fennel in a quart size container, and pour the liquid mixture over the fennel. Cover and refrigerate. Tastes best after a couple of days, but can be used immediately.

Soy Sauce Pickled Shiitakes
Steep 4 loosely packed cups of dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1/3 oz) in boiling water until softened, about 15 min. Lift the shiitakes from the steeping water, trip off and discard any stems, and cut caps int 1/8 in. thick slices. Reserve 2 cups of the steeping liquid and pass it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove grit and debris.
Combine the reserved steeping liquid, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. light soy sauce, 1 c. sherry vinegar, two 3-inch knobs of peeled fresh ginger and sliced shiitakes in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium, bring to a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally for 30 min. Let cool.
Discard the ginger and pack the shiitakes (and as much of the liquid as necessary to cover them) into a quart container. These pickles are ready to eat immediately and will keep, refrigerated, for at least 1 month.

May 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

Scallop Gratin

Given that no one in my household is making any income at the moment, Christmas was necessarily a smaller affair this year.  My family held ourselves to stocking stuffers and a couples Secret Santa, and RJ and I agreed that we would not exchange gifts (not that he listened, the bastard!).  One of my favorite gifts I gave this year was a Christmas Eve feast for my mother-in-law, Patti, and her partner Roger.  I planned out a multi-course menu and RJ and I worked out wine pairings from some of the bottles we brought back from Napa.

The menu included whipped brie from The French Laundry Cookbook and various bruschetta toppings from the A16: Food + Wine cookbook, paired with a 2005 Schramsberg Blanc des Blancs.  This was followed by a bite of scallop gratin (see below) and a square of crispy roasted pork belly with apple compote from the The River Cottage Meat Book, paired with a 2006 Cakebread Napa Valley Chardonnay.  We then had the FABULOUS arugula, beet, and fennel salad with olive dressing from A16 and Gordon Hammersley’s Roast Chicken (recipe to follow soon), paired with a 1997 Shafer Merlot (to die for!).  Dessert was the vanilla walnut soup from the French Laundry (if you are skeptical, read this post from Carol Blymire) and crepes which failed miserably, though fortunately we were not hungry at that point!

Not all of our pictures came out very well – we were too busy cooking, eating, and enjoying one another’s company.  However, the stars of the show have already become regulars in my kitchen, so if I don’t have pictures from Christmas Eve, I will share photos from other evenings when I made the same dish.  For example, during our holiday feast, I made the following recipe using just one large sea scallop per person, rather than a handful of bay scallops, but below I have reproduced the full-size recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.  I actually have never made it with bay scallops — usually I will just chop up the large ones, but I have since found out how much cheaper the little mini scallops are, and will certainly try them the next time!

Bay Scallop Gratin, from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium shallots, minced
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, minced
4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons Pernod (In absence of Pernod, you might try adding minced fennel bulb to the butter mixture to add the anise flavor)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup panko
6 tablespoons dry white wine
2 pound fresh bay scallops
Lemon, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place 6 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

To make the topping, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt, and pepper and mix until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise, until combined. Fold the panko in with a rubber spatula and set aside.

Preheat the broiler, if it’s separate from your oven.

Place 1 tablespoon of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. With a small sharp knife, remove the white muscle and membrane from the side of each scallop and discard. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and distribute them among the 3 dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the top of the scallops. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the topping is golden and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. If you want the top crustier, place the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes, until browned. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty French bread.

January 10, 2010 at 10:18 am 3 comments

I Want Chocolate!

Chocolate brownie

I realized over the weekend that my first blogiversary came and went with no fanfare, public or private.  Indeed, it has been over a year since I started detailing my eating habits online, posing my food for pictures, and attempting to cook my way through an entire cookbook library.  It has been a wonderful experience thus far, and it is sad to me that only a year into the project my posting frequency has fallen off so dramatically.  I can keep explaining to everyone that grad school is frickin’ HARD, but that’s boring and obvious.  With the holidays coming up, cooking and eating will no doubt become a priority again, and you will see it all here!  Until then — we must celebrate with chocolate.

This amazing recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up in Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris.  Whether my French language skills were advanced or pitifully wanting at the time, I could understand the cover photo of a pan of brownies with multiple spoons digging in, and the simple exclamation that makes up its title: Je veux du chocolat! (I Want Chocolate!) with little effort.  So when I figured out that my blog’s one year anniversary had been achieved, I decided that I, too, wanted chocolate.  Though the book contains myriad iterations of chocolate confections – mousse, cake, cookies, ice cream, etc. – this one has always been a favorite of both mine and my mother-in-law’s.  It is quite simple to pull together, and is surprising in its rich cocoa flavor and dense, moist center.

All I ask is that once you unmold the perfection that is this dessert, and grab your fork and vanilla ice cream, you dedicate your first bite to the perpetuation of FromMyTable.com.  A votre sante!

Gateau au Chocolat Fondant de Nathalie (Nathalie’s Melting Chocolate Cake), from Je Veux du Chocolat
(serves 8 at least!)

Please excuse the irregular measurements — I am translating from the French here!
7 oz. (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate (I used 70% cocoa)
1 stick plus 6 Tbs. (200 grams) butter
5 eggs
1 Tbs. flour
1 1/4 cup + 1 Tbs. (250 grams) sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees (190 C.) and grease an 8- or 9-inch diameter springform pan or tart pan with removable base.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a microwave or double boiler. Add the sugar and set aside to cool slightly.

One by one, add the eggs, stirring well with a wooden spoon after each egg. Finally, add the flour and stir until smooth.

Pour mixture into the prepared baking pan and cook for 22 minutes. The cake should be still lightly trembling in the middle. Take out of the oven, unmold quickly, and let cake cool and rest on a rack until ready to serve. Bon Appetit!!

November 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm 1 comment

Old Bay Shrimp Pasta

Old-Bay-shrimp pasta

I have a new book called The Flavor Bible.  It is very cool — it is an index of ingredients, cross-referenced with complementary ingredients.  For example, if you were to look up “Cabbage”, you will get a list like this:

apples and apple cider
BACON
bay leaf
beef
bell peppers, red
butter, unsalted
CARAWAY SEEDS
carrots

celery: leaves, salt, seeds
Champagne
cheese: cheddar, feta, goat, Parmesan, Swiss, Taleggio, Teleme
chestnuts
(etc.)

The flavor pairings are ranked by how many chefs and food experts mentioned the pairing.  Capital letters with an asterisk (*) are the “holy grail” pairings, like mint and lamb or white chocolate and raspberries. Capital letters are very strong, familiar pairings.  Bolded are well accepted pairings, and the rest were mentioned by one or more experts.  The book also supplies flavor affinities — several ingredients often used together such as mustard + shallots + oil + vinegar — and combinations to avoid, such as coffee and lavender.

I haven’t yet used the book as a reference for my improvisations, though I did use the principle.  I was staring at some great looking shrimp and wondering what to do with them that I hadn’t tried before.  The only thing I could think of, however, was Old Bay seasoning, since regardless of how I decide to cook shrimp, my dear husband always douses them with Old Bay anyway.  Rather than fight his system, I embraced it.

I decided to use the cooking method for my salt-and-pepper shrimp and replace Chinese 5-spice with Old Bay, and the chiles, garlic and ginger with, um, more garlic.  Then I used the same pan to make a shallot and white wine sauce  The result was fantastic.  A little spicy, but rich and buttery too.  As it happens, when I looked up shrimp in the Flavor Bible, Old Bay seasoning appeared in bold letters.  Definitely some wisdom in the new tome!

Old Bay Shrimp Pasta for 2

3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1-2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning (to taste)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 lb. spaghetti-like pasta
Butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 shallot, chopped fine or sliced thinly
1 Tbs. flour
3/4 c. white wine
chicken broth (optional)
1 lemon
1 1/2 Tbs. chopped parsley

Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. In a small saucepan, bring oil and garlic up to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Set aside.

Old-Bay-garlic-oil

Dry the shrimp on paper towels. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the cornstarch and Old Bay. In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbs. of the garlic-infused oil, reserving the garlic solids.  Toss shrimp in the Old Bay mixture to coat. Immediately place the shrimp in the oil, one by one. Cook shrimp until brown on one side (about 2 minutes), then flip to brown the second side (about a minute). Remove shrimp to a pan or bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

Old-bay-shrimp

Add pasta to boiling water. In the same pan used for the shrimp, add a tablespoon of butter and let melt over medium heat. Then, add the shallots and garlic and cook until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the shallots and stir over heat for about a minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Let boil until reduced and slightly thickened — should be pourable but also thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If you don’t seem to have enough sauce to coat the pasta, add in a half cup of chicken stock and let boil for a minute or so until proper consistency is regained. Swirl in butter to your taste.

Old-bay-sauce

Add cooked pasta to sauce in the pan, and toss to coat. Add shrimp and sprinkle with parsley and squeeze of lemon juice. Plate and serve.  Delicious!

October 23, 2009 at 9:56 am 5 comments

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