Thursday, December 15, 2011

White Truffle Oil Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout

I have admired the picture of the completed custards over and over.  I've contemplated cutting the shells, how pretty the standing chive chip would be, how delicious double-truffle custard would be.

Well, at least I got one of those right.

Let's start with the eggshells.  I bought an egg cutter (against all instinct, because I thought I would be terrible at cutting eggshells).  The stupid, stupid thing did not work (what a waste of $10!)  But, I was right about the eggshells: I AM terrible at cutting them.

(and let us not even mention the number I broke.  Luckily, I needed a lot of eggs for the dinner overall).

I knew the chive chips would be a challenge.  I mean, i'm making chips out of potatoes squished together!

First, I prepped the sheets - two silpats, clarified butter, salt.  Hint: don't put a ton of salt.  The chips may have been pretty, but they were kind of like eating a salt lick.

I peeled the potato, cut it into a band-aid shape, sliced it thin on the mandoline.  I laid a chive between two slices, and baked on low low heat.

The recipe said they were supposed to take 20 minutes.  Um, more like an HOUR before they were golden brown and crisp-like - they never got crisp like a real chip, but at the least they were cooked.  Some of this may have been me, since I did confuse the instructions and think that I needed to sandwich those between two cookie sheets.  They were delicious, once I got past the salt lick thing.
Finally, a couple of hours before people were due, I made the custard.  It was actually simple.  There were only like four things in it - how could it not be??

I warmed the milk and cream to just under a boil, turned the blender on, and poured it in.  Yes, turned the blender on THEN poured it in.  I have to admit, I was scared - visions of scalding milk flying in my direction.  But Thomas Keller said turning it on first would actually STOP splashing, and who am I to argue with TK?  Unsurprisingly, he was right.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah, milk/cream, blending, then I added a couple of eggs, salt, pepper, and (at the very end) white truffle oil.  As i've said so many times, i'm not a huge fan of the smell of white truffle oil, so it didn't smell heavenly.  Pour it into a spouted measuring cup, into the egg shells, which went into a big glass pan that I filled 2/3rds of the way with water.  Baked for about an hour, perfect custards!
Finally, right before serving, I reduced some truffle-infused stock, a dash of vinegar, some truffles, and some brunoise.  Beautiful stuff.

The finished dish:

The chip is standing!  At least it did for a minute - it quickly wilted in the sauce/custard.  Eating it... well, lets just say this is the 'playfulness' in this meal.  I served them in these shotglasses (sake glasses?) I found when unpacking hubby's old high school pottery he made that had been boxed up for at least a decade.  Innocent high school times, i'm sure.  And to go with pottery shotglasses?  Baby spoons.  The only thing I could find that actually fit into the eggshells.  Well, I found one espresso spoon, which husband used, because he said there was 'absolutely no way' he was eating off a baby spoon.  Marked contrast to one male guest who told us about how he used to eat baby bananas and HIDE THE JARS and how eating off a baby spoon brought back memories.  Hilarious things that come out when you have co-workers over for dinner.

I think the fact that I talked about the container and spoon for so long tells how I felt about the custard.  I mean, it wasn't bad.  But it wasn't my favorite.  I was disappointed, after admiring the picture for so long.  With so few disappointments so far, though, it only seems fitting that something wouldn't be the most amazing thing ever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dinner 11: New House, New Kitchen, New Outlook

Well, maybe a readoption of an old outlook.  I'm simultaneously gaining and losing steam.  On one hand, I just planned and executed a FIVE course menu from TFLC.  Five courses!  And it wasn't even that hard (well, obviously this was due in part to the menu).  I yearn to spend more time in the kitchen, learning, cooking.  At the same time, i'm becoming less confident in my ability to do this.  By this, I mean make it through The French Laundry.   I've made it just shy of halfway (48% to be exact!), but, well, whole lambs are crazy.  And pigs heads and feet are gross.  Obviously, making it through The French Laundry will be the biggest challenge of the Keller collection (well, not sure how Under Pressure is, but Bouchon and Ad Hoc are both pretty simple after TFLC).  Does this mean that i'm going to spend my next decade cooking Keller for my friends, family, and co-workers?  I'm just not sure.

Musings aside, my five course menu for dinner!

Canape - white truffle oil-infused custards with black truffle ragout
First Course - tasting of potatoes with black truffle
Entree - Venison Chops with pan-roasted butternut squash
Cheese course - Perail de brebis with frisee aux lardons
Dessert - ile flottante

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sally Schmidt's Cranberry Apple Kuchen

We've established that I have gone literally months - *months* - without cooking.  Life is busy, deadlines, work, lawyer, blah, blah.  We all get busy sometimes.  Mine led to no cooking.

By November, I was really starting to have French Laundry withdrawals.  Four months without using my round cutters or chinois!  Four months without making a new flavored oil!  Four months without worrying about accidentally setting my kitchen on fire!  So, I insisted on having people over for Thanksgiving.  It was a long, hard fight; I won.  We had a small crowd (six people), so I stuck to traditions: turkey, mashed potatoes, grilled veggies, stuffing.  I threw in one unusual item: pumpkin-thyme rolls (which were a giant hit).  

And, I managed to seamlessly add a dessert from The French Laundry Cookbook.  Since we didn't have cranberry sauce, since no one coming over really loved pie (except me and angry toddler), I decided apple-cranberry cake would be a perfect way to end the meal.  It was.  And easy to boot.  I actually managed to prep it and cook it during the five hours that it took me to do all of Thanksgiving dinner.

The mis.  Notice something unusual about this picture? 

If you said 'granite counters, so that must be your new kitchen'... dingdingding!  Good observation skills.

Next I peeled, sliced, and cored some apples.

To make the batter, I creamed some butter, sugar, and an egg, then added flour and baking soda.

I spooned that into a cake pan (or in my case, really a cheesecake springform pan, which is nice because it releases easy but can turn out poorly for a bunch of reasons I dont understand.  I used it because it was the only cake pan I had that was anywhere near the right size) and arranged the apples in a pretty ring.

Sprinkling cranberries is fun!

With cranberries arranged around all of the edges and center.

Then I dusted with cinnamon/sugar/possibly nutmeg (I have no recollection of that, but looking back at my mis I see nutmeg and milk, which must have been in the batter)

Forty-odd minutes later, it emerged from the oven all beautiful.  And without any natural light to make a pretty photograph, and with people who had just finished dinner clamoring for a bite.

I whipped up the hot cream sauce - which was basically fat, more fat, and a different form of something that will make you fat (ie, cream, butter, and sugar).

The cake was delicious, although I wished that I had used a slightly smaller cake pan, since the batter part of the cake seemed a little thin.  It was a little tart without the hot cream sauce.  The dessert-hater crowd was happy about that, since (1) they could pretend like it was healthier and (2) it wasn't really sweet.  The hot cream sauce brought the sweetness up a tinge, and soaked through the batter to almost make it like a tres leches cake.

I thought it was delicious both ways.  It definitely reheated better with the cream sauces as breakfast (and maybe lunch... and dinner) the next day.  The combination tart-sweet seems like it would be a good holiday cake or like a nice cake in the summer, when its hot and you don't want to feel weighted down by something super sugary.  It just occurred to me that cranberries are near impossible to find in the summer though - so maybe its more of a September/October in San Diego cake (when its still hot, but we like to pretend its fall.)  Just find a time to make it.  It will take less than an hour, including cooking time, and will get rave reviews.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Staff Lasagna and Dressing

In addition to the gazpacho, I brought some lasagna along to whatever family gathering where I though lots of people would eat it (i'm thinking Father's Day, but not positive).  Despite being the "staff meal," it still required a lot more work than *I* put into an everyday meal!

 Mis - look at all those ingredients!

Now, part of the extensive work involved had to do with making my own tomato sauce.  To be honest, i'm not sure if I had ever done this before (there isn't much of a point, since marina affects me more than any other tomato product aside from ketchup).

First up, I cut little x's and blanched a trillion tomatoes (notice how I didn't bother taking the stickers off?  It was because I knew I had to peel them, so why bother!)

There are no peeled tomato pictures because my hands were burning.  My sister recently told me she broke out in hives from eating half a slice of tomato.  I know she breaks out in hives from touching ketchup (something hard for her to avoid being a waitress; I've avoided touching ketchup since hearing this).  I'm pretty sure the burning hands were related to the whole allergy thing, which means its getting worse.  Boo!

Burning hands aside, I cut them into chunks.

Next, I sweat some onions down with some tomato paste.  It smelled heavenly.

Then, I tossed all of the peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes into the mix, and cooked those down until it was sauce.  It took a long time to get something that smelled right - like 1 1/2 hours.  This may have been faster if I could have tasted it, though, since its a lot easier to adjust seasoning with tastebuds than, say, your nose.

While the sauce was cooking, I stirred some eggs and ricotta together.  I've made a lot of lasagna (mostly with white sauce instead of marinara), but i've never added eggs before.  I think that i'm going to use this in future lasagnas, since it made the ricotta a lot easier to spread evenly (plus, i'm pretty sure it held better once it was cooked).

Finally, lasagna!  Noodles, sauce, ricotta mix, and oodles of mozzerella - the way lasagna should be.

Because the sauce took so much longer than I guestimated, I was really in a rush and forgot to take a picture of it done.  Even worse (or better, says my body), we had two sets of plans, so we ran out before people had started eating -- so neither me or the hubby got to try it!  I heard it was delicious.  

Oh, yeah, what else... I made salad dressing and brought salad.

Here are the ingredients...

But nothing beyond that, whoops.  It was standard salad dressing - blend everything, add oil very slowly to emulsify.  I'm pretty sure the vitamix made fast dressing out of it.  It was good, but nothing to write home about.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The disaster that was the verjus sorbet was also the last of many dinners that I would have at my old house.  I knew this because... well, because the dinner was at the end of June, we were supposed to close on our new house in early July, and packing becomes ever more complicated as one builds a massive kitchen arsenal.  I decided that I couldn't leave my French Laundry dinner party project on such a well, utter failure, note, so I decided to squeeze a couple of recipes in (with the intention of bringing them over to big family gatherings).  The easy ones... like gazpacho!

Seriously, if you are looking for the easiest recipe to start The French Laundry Cookbook with, this is it.  There isn't even any cooking involved.  Well, unless you count the balsamic glaze, but I had some in my fridge, so no cooking!

The mis:

Basically, you cut everything up, put some tomato juice and vinegar in, and let it stew overnight.

The next day, I tossed the mix (minus the thyme) into my trusty vitamix....

And blended!

Now, wasn't that easy!  (pictured without balsamic glaze - I was waiting for it to warm up still)

Now, those of you that have paid attention might question how I ate this, since i'm allergic to tomatoes.  In truth, I only had a tiny sip.  I would have liked to drink/eat the entire serving.... but my body wouldn't have appreciated it, so I abstained.  The tiny sip was enough to realize the complexity of flavors, and that this would be a fantastically refreshing soup on a warm day.  So, to recap: hot day, feeling lazy, make gazpacho! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Verjus... uh, soup.. with Poached Peaches

There wasn't a lot to this dessert.  In fact, I was so intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb AND foie that I intentionally chose an "easy" dessert.

So, of course, I screwed it up.

The peaches went fine - I made pretty slices...

Then I poached them in liquid with a pretty parchment lid, peeled them, and put them in their poaching liquid.

For the sorbet, literally all I had to do was combine verjus and some simple syrup, and put it in the ice cream maker.  I didn't even take any pictures because it was so boring.

And I totally, completely, blew it.  Backing up... I couldn't find any verjus.  Anywhere.  I gave up and got some honey mead that was supposedly supposed to taste similar to verjus (and had a super low alcohol content).  Unsuprisingly to most, i'm sure.... the mead wouldn't freeze.  WTF?  I asked myself.  Then: 'DOH! Alcohol!'  So I boiled the crap out of it to get rid of the alcohol.  But the bowl had thawed a bit, enough to make only a slightly slushy, vaguely alcoholic mix.  (Slush that melted before I even made it to the table).

I present my poached peaches in "wine-sauce." 

The peaches were fine.  Most of us felt a bit more drunk after eating this, even though I contended (over and over) that there COULDN'T be any alcohol in it.  I was validated in that it did finally freeze, after 12 hours in the freezer.  I am currently 0 for 2 on sorbets, which are seemingly the easiest thing to make.  Pox on your house, sorbet... I *will* conquer you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The French Laundry!

I was talked into running a half marathon back in San Francisco this past April.  Well, technically talked into signing up for the lottery to do it, since the half marathon was so big that you can't just sign up.  We got in.  Ever since I heard, i've been planning on taking a couple of days and going to Napa/ The French Laundry after the race.  Of course, I knew that it was near impossible to get a reservation, but I am persistent.  I vowed I would find a way to get it.

I didn't.  Darling husband and I both tried (each of us with two phones) for two days in August, as reservations opened up.  [ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention my loyal secretary.  She tried one day too!]  The third possible day, I had a conference call and wasn't able to call.  I was dejected.  Adding to the dejection was the fact that I had planned on being nearly done with cooking my way through the book by October (rather than the halfway I am right now).

And then... we got a reservation!  Party of 4, the last seating (not ideal), two days after the half (even less ideal, but it would work out nicely - spa day, wine tasting, sleeping in, fun times!).  I got a babysitter for the three days.  We had a plan!  A plan for the French Laundry.

But, like so many other things, the couple of weeks before, it fell apart.  Someone couldn't go, bringing it down to three.  Another person might not be able to go because of trial schedules.  And then... five days before, my HUSBAND found out he couldn't go because [well, there are a lot of things that could be said, but it sums up nicely with 'his boss is an evil witch.']  Back to dejected.

As with so many things, this got worked out.  Friend with trial issues was able to make it.  Her mom was going to come.  The table was full enough.  Then the morning of, her mom couldn't go.  Back to two.  Except... my husband found a way to make it!  He got a friend to take angry toddler, he got a flight, a car, and dashed up to Napa.  He didn't exactly surprise me, since he told me 7-8 hours beforehand, but I was still on cloud nine (particularly after all the on-off stuff).  I worked in the morning, went to Mumm and had a flight of champagne (while listening to a group of four long-time friends sitting around talking -- making me realize that I NEED to do a trip like this with my friends!), drove around, had a snack at Bouchon, walked the French Laundry garden.  It was a perfect day.

Why the long story?  Because this set up the night to be truly amazing.  And with that, our dinner!  I was the tacky person who took pictures of each course (with my phone, since I wasn't all ready to bust out the big DSLR). 

First up, the cheese gougere - as our table-mate said, 'There is a party in my mouth!'  I can't wait to make these.

Second amuse, the cornet.  I was thrilled to see that my cones were perfect!  The salmon was a much much finer dice.  On one hand, it looked prettier.  But on the other, I like the texture of salmon tartare a little better when its not quite as finally diced (the salmon prep here and my finished ones here, halfway down).

Third, the real first course!  Oysters and pearls.  Much MUCH better than the oysters and pearls that I made.  I don't know what about it was better (maybe the lack of gags around the table), but it was.

Fourth, a "salad."  It was a salad in that it was mostly vegetables.  But it sure didn't look like one. (somewhere on that plate is a potato... and I bet you would never guess which one).* 

Fifth, a sashimi - loved the chili oil.

Heading into the "real" meal... I was getting full!  Despite having nearly starved myself all day.  I think that lunch is really the way to go for a nine-plus course meal.

Sixth, a lobster ravioli.  I went into Toddler mode - mmmmm..... was all I could say.  It was fantastic.

And as a bonus, one of my table-mates (who got the veggie menu) had agnolotti.  My agnolotti looked just like it!  (ok, maybe you can't tell from the picture, but it did)  Validation!

Seventh up, a rabbit rilette.  It was the first time I had ever had rabbit, but I dove in without hesitation (to be honest, it was because it was wrapped in bacon, and there is NOTHING bad wrapped in bacon).

Eight... is when I started to have the 'good lord, i'm still eating' shakes.  I got past it.  Snake River Farm Coelette be Boeuf Grillee.  I also was a little squicked out from the gel-looking thing on the left (it totally reminded me of aspic, which is no bueno).  Then I flipped it over, let the heat from the meat and plate warm it up... and it became Ah-mazing.

Ninth, the cheese course.  This was the only thing that I didn't like.  I LOVE cheese.  I don't love olives and cheese - the olives in the dish just made the cheese taste rancid and competed with the artichoke in a bad way.  I left most of it.

Tenth, a verjus sorbet.  Obviously it was sorbet, so it was far superior to mine (oh wait, I think that is still to come).  There was a candied cashew that was spectacular, even for a nut-hater like me.

Eleventh, (seriously, there is more!) the first dessert - Pommes Anna.  Is there anything better than funnel cake?  It's a close call, but Yes.  It is called salted caramel ice cream.

Twelfth, nearing the end... Coffee and Donuts!  Husband and I disagreed about this (a little), but I actually liked mine a teensy bit more.  Mine were slightly lighter in texture.  Plus, they only served the holes, and the whole donut is the better part.

This wasn't really an 'thirteenth' course, but there were also mignardises.  I dove in for the chocolate-PB one (favorite combination).  By that point I was so food-drunk (I had one glass of wine, but I felt woozy from eating so much!) that I couldn't bring myself to eat another.  In hindsight, I wish I had asked for them to-go.

At the end of the meal, we got a "souvenir" menu, and some shortbread cookies.  The kitchen had pretty much shut down, and I was absolutely exhausted, so no kitchen tour for me.  Another time (you know, in a decade when I can go again).  The price?  I tried to forget.  Then last week, I found the receipt in my wallet...and tried to bury it.  Strangely, I can't bring myself to throw it away.  It can hopefully be the occasional find, something that reminds me of the most amazing day.

* Somewhere around the salad course, I think, we were also served some pain au lait made at Bouchon.  It was the most amazing bread i've ever had.  I've been searching for a pain au lait recipe since then, but nothing had come anywhere near the amazingness of that bread.  I cannot wait for the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (and hopefully a recipe for the pain au lait!!!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Double Rib Lamb Chops with Cassoulet of Summer Beans

It's funny how the simplest dishes can cause the most stress.  Take this, my first 'real' meat dish (the first one out of the meat courses).  I read the directions, a couple of times, and thought: this seems too easy.  Then I went to the local awesome meat market (Siesel's Meats), and the guy looked at me like I was an idiot when I asked for double cut rib lamb chops (in my defense, I was asking for exactly what the book said to get!!).  Apparently, you can have lamb chops, or you can have rack (or rib) of lamb, but you can't have both, at least according to this butcher.  He also was in disbelief that I wanted two racks (i'll be straight: it was $140 for them) - he asked me like 5 times if I was 'positive' that I could spend that much.  I think it was related to the fact that I couldn't give him a straight explanation of what I needed (THANKS a lot Thomas Keller).  It could have also been that I was wearing yoga pants, a t-shirt, no makeup, a ponytail, and chasing a toddler around, and may have looked like a teenage mother as opposed to an attorney.

So, anyways, back to the rack: it was pretty easy.  In fact, I think the hardest part was the injuries incurred while making the "quick" lamb sauce (hint: its not).  The lamb bones were fresh, and still wet. So they splattered - a lot.  Once in my face/all over my arm, leaving several actual burns.

The mis:

And... no other pictures, since I was too busy ducking the constant splatter from roasting/deglazing the bones.  (And plus, looking at pictures of stock isn't really all that exciting).

Next I made the rosemary oil... but again, no pictures (doesn't all green oil look the same?)

Next up: the beans.  I soaked some marrow and cranberry beans overnight, cooked them in some stock, leek, onion, carrot.  They... were still rock hard.  So I cooked them longer.  And longer.  Ultimately, I think I cooked them for close to two and a half hours.  A bit longer than the instructions said.

The morning of, I blanched the beans - yellow, green, fava.

I couldn't find any fresh soybeans, so I ended up buying edamame - just had to pop them open and toss them into the mix (along with some bruniose).

Finally, I prepped the lamb - tied them up, wrapped some foil around the bones

After we had the cheese course, I cooked the chops.  I browned them for about 4 minutes on one side, another three, then turned them to brown them all over.  Then I tossed some garlic, butter, and thyme in the pan, then roasted it for a few minutes in the oven.  Each minute desperately praying that I wasn't screwing up $140 of meat.

I didn't.  The lamb was beautiful.

The overall dish was amazing.  I love beans, and the mix of beans was awesome.  The lamb sauce was rich and lamb-y, but not too gamey.  And the lamb was perfectly cooked!  (suck it, judgy butcher!)  This was easy enough to actually make again.  Overall: keeper.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Foie (Done Well) With Apples and Black Truffles

As opposed to 'well done.'  My biggest fear when I was reading the directions was burning it and wasting a $100 piece of meat.  (Is liver meat, even if it comes from poultry?  I just don't know).  A gigantic piece of meat that felt like the fake wax fruit my grandma has in her "fruit bowl."  Not a fan of how foie gras feels.

So imagine my debate about the 'picking out the veins' thing.  See, The French Laundry Cookbook has this whole set of instructions about soaking it, cutting it down the center, following veins with a small knife, not being afraid of really digging them out because foie is like play-doh and it all comes together at the end.

But these instructions are with a different foie recipe.  It's not at all clear whether you are supposed to go through all of these hoops when you cook it in other ways.  I looked at it.  Thought about it.  And decided that it's probably best if I did it that way.  If anyone knows any better, please tell me.

Elaborate pre-step #1: Soak it in milk.  For like an hour.  And more than once.  But the time you are done, the foie resembled slightly soggy wax fruit.

Elaborate step #2: deveining.  This is way way too messy to even contemplate photographing.

Elaborate step #3: put it back together.  I really REALLY butchered the foie trying to get veins out (this is definitely not my forte).  So after salting and peppering the foie, I wrapped it as tight as I could in some saran wrap.  Then I wrapped it the other way.  And the other way again.  A roll of saran wrap later... i'm left hoping that it really does stick back together like promised.

So, you know the apples and truffles thing?  Couldn't get any truffle.  Unlike the last time I needed them and just was too cheap to go and buy them, this time I had the promise of a truffle.  I had someone promise to set one aside for me.  I had that someone leave work, apparently with the truffle not set aside for me.  Then I had someone else sell my truffle.  After discovering that I wouldn't have a Bristol Farms truffle after all (thanks a bunch!), and knowing that I didn't have a way to get one in time, I just decided to substitute an onion.  Because clearly onions = truffles, right?  (You don't need to answer that)

I basically just diced/sliced this all up and made a type of relish with it.  People loved it.  It was rather ugly, so I didn't take any pictures.

Time to cook the foie.  I don't think I can portray how nervous I was.  I mean, i've never eaten or even SEEN a whole lobe of foie, so I had no idea what it was supposed to look like (except for the picture in the book).  And, again, $100 chunk of meat.  I cut a little piece off, and melted down in the pan (pretty much all fat)....

Oh, yeah, wait: I made some little dry brioche croutons first.

Now, back to the foie.  I unwrapped it.  It stayed together.  I scored it.  It still stayed together.   It was fantastic to score, since the scores stayed so nicely.  Maybe this stuff really IS like play doh!

Then I got the pan really really smoking hot, and slid it in.  I bided my time.  i was patient.  And when I flipped it over.... SUCCESS!!!!

Seriously, check out that gorgeous, gorgeous piece of foie.  I cooked it more on the second side, slid it onto a platter, and brought it out.  Forgot to take a final picture, but I really really think this will do.

So, how was it?  Good.  Not quite as squicky as the chicken liver toast my law school roomate made me try at ABC Kitchen (which tasted good, I just couldn't move past the texture).  The texture here was luxurious, smooth, rich.  It was good.  Rich, oh so rich, that I could only finish maybe 2 toast points.  And I was constantly a little squicked out by what I was eating.  But, luckily, my husband and two other (male) guests just inhaled the rest.  Thank goodness none of the $100 piece of meat went to waste!