Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fava Bean Agnolotti with Curry Emulsion

The sweet potato agnolotti was one of the most delicious things i've made from The French Laundry Cookbook so far.  Given this, i've had high expectations for the remaining agnolotti recipes.  This did not disappoint.

First, let me mention: shelling fava beans is a gigantic pain in the you-know-what (i've been trying to curb my language, since toddler now repeats lots and lots of words.  The best when I told my husband about a dream where I was married to someone else, and I was cheating on that person with him, and it was "going on right under his nose" - and toddler points to his nose and yells "NOSE" then giggles.  Maybe you had to be there.)

What was I saying again?  Oh, yeah, fava beans.  You have to shell them once.  Then you have to peel this second skin off.  I got really really annoyed by how long this was taking, so I roped husband into helping.  This plus watching David Borneaz on my t.v. while the neverending shelling went on and on and on and on made the whole thing less painful.

Then I blanched the beans, pureed them with some mascarpone, bread crumbs, and a little stock in my food processor.

Pasta-rolling was significantly less eventful than my ravioli, thank goodness.  And the puree was finer than the agnolotti.  Both of which contributed to prettier-looking agnolotti.

See??  I could totally be the agnolotti-pincher at TFL.  This is probably all I am qualified to handle, but baby steps.

Curry-emulsion time.  It was pretty simple - toast the curry powder...

Add cream (and some other stuff from the looks of it?), and let simmer a bit

Then all done! 

They look a little sad and deflated... i'm thinking I need to make a thicker line for the filling next time.  They were yummy - light and refreshing, even with the curry sauce.  Amazingly, one of my guests could taste the mascarpone (well, he was like 'this has some sort of creamed-cheese in it, doesn't it?? - close enough in my book).  Husband was disappointed with the curry flavor.  It was admittedly a very delicate curry flavor, and he said that it "wasn't what he expected" from smelling the sauce.  I actually agree with that, but I still really liked it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shrimp with Avocado Salsa

This has got to be the easiest thing in TFLC to make. At the very least, in the top 5. But taste? Mm. Its ok. Not bad, for sure, but not fantastic.

Because it was so easy, there was absolutely no prep in the days leading up to dinner. Love. (Especially since the dessert was all-prep all the time).

First, in the morning, I prepared the court boullion.Basically just simmered water and aromatics, including my first bouquet garni!, and then added a ton of acid.

Check out the bouquet garni!

Next I tossed the shrimp in, and cooked for literally a minute.  Which was just enough time for me to wash my hands, take a picture, and put the camera back down.

Then I put the shrimp in bowl, covered in stock, and into the fridge it went! For future reference, I would not recommend putting the stock over the shrimp until it cooled a bit. I had a feeling it would keep cooking the shrimp, and they would be overcooked… and I was right. While cooling/chilling in the fridge, the ends of the beautiful, beautiful shrimp turned to icky mush. Not positive that was from overcooking – it could be the acid – but it was unappetizing, to say the least. (I ended up cutting the mushy ends off on all of the shrimp, a call I debated about but was glad to have done).

Right before serving, since I know my avocados (and their propensity to brown), I prepared the salsa.

I got lucky, and somehow manipulated my avocado into being absolutely perfect – soft enough to taste ripe, but firm enough to make a very fine dice (I won't go so far as to call it minced, even though it was supposed to be) and to stay that way, rather than turning into guacamole.

Then I speared each of the shrimp on a fork (using literally every fork I had in my house)

And spooned on some of the salsa and a tomato diamond.  Pretty, no?
Taste-wise, it was ok. The Avo salsa was amazing. I brought out some stale chips and everyone scarfed down the leftovers… the salsa totally made up for the gross chips. The shrimp was just lacking for me though. It was really bland, despite the high acid content of the court. It could have used a little more salt too (I'll call that user-error).

A survey produced mixed results, but nobody was like 'this is the best thing ever.' At the very least, everyone agreed it was an attractive (and for me, easy) appetizer, something that LOOKED really impressive. I can totally see myself bringing these to a party. That is, in my dreams, where I'm not too lazy/exhausted to just 'whip up' something like this while simultaneously getting dressed and made-up and trying to feed cranky toddler dinner.

I love my dreams.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dinner #5 - 20% DONE!

Dinner #5 marks the 16-20th recipes that I will have completed (ok, have completed... and actually a while ago.  And i've done dinner #6.  I'm a little behind in blogging, with losing my computer for a week, and generally being an associate life and impossible research projects that have no answers and take an entire week.  Harumph.).

I don't know why 20% feels like a big milestone, but it does.  I think it has something to do with the obsessive way I stare at the "percentage completion" whilst on the treadmill... as I tell myself 'keep going keep going.'

But, I don't feel that way about this at all, I swear.  It's more like 'I can't wait to see eat what's next!'

The menu:

Shrimp with Avocado Salsa
Fava Bean Agnolotti
Pan-Roasted Jumbo Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Puree
"Candied Apple"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pan-Roasted Striped Bass with Artichoke Ravioli and Barigoule Vinaigrette

Ok, so i've talked about the canape, the first course, and the dessert from dinner #4... so I suppose its time to explain the many, many ways I screwed up this dish.  And talk about how dinner #4 is The One with the Ravioli.

But at least none of them involved setting the kitchen on fire.  So this could be seen as an improvement.

I already wrote about the barigoule, aka artichoke butchering, here.  If only the produce section had a butcher like the meat section...  And back to topic.

Artichoke ravioli.  The first step (well, after making artichoke barigoule).  Oh, ravioli.

First, the pasta: mis, make a well, knead, pat yourself on the back for the days arm workout.

After having spectacular success with my first attempt at agnolotti, I was full of confidence about the ravioli.  I've actually made ravioli before, I though, it won't be that hard.  Rolling the sheet of dough: check.  Filling... started to encounter some technical difficulties, when I couldn't remember how to correctly use my ravioli-making-filling-thing-a-ma-bobbers.  In my defense, I hadn't use that thing in years.  So, I did *something* with it, which may or may not have been the correct way to use it.  And then I tried to push the mold thing to cut them.  The ravioli stuck.  Like a bi-atch.  (not coincidentally, I have no pictures of this)

I literally had to pry the dough out of the cutter, destroying it.  And getting ravioli filling everywhere.  So.. those were a no-go.  Naturally, I was out of dough.  After going into hysterics about how I didn't have enough time to make another batch, my (seemingly) brilliant husband suggested going to a store and buying some.  Fresh & Easy and Whole Foods both sell pre-made pizza dough, so it was a reasonable suggestion.  Alas, 10 stores later, no one had pasta dough (and lots of people didn't understand why I wouldn't just come and BUY PASTA at the store.  People, I swear, with their rational behavior - sheesh!)

Ok, so I determined that I was going to make my half-cut, mangled dough work.  I literally shook the artichoke filling away - like I was shaking a rug (my trusty floor-cleaners took care of the clean up for me!. Then I scraped it away, until I eventually had a sopping mass of pasta speckled with artichoke.  I added a shitload of flour to it, kneaded, kneaded, and kneaded... and eventually I had something resembling pasta, albeit with tiny flecks of artichokes throughout.

We decided to call them "artichoke-infused ravioli."

I managed to scrape together enough dough to make 6 ravioli, just enough.  The second go-round with the cutter worked a lot better; probably because I coated the crap out of it with flour and pam.

While screwing around with all of this, I was busy reducing barigoule braising liquid, which naturally took forever but didn't require attention, so it didn't matter that I was futzing around with the ravioli.

So, artichoke ravioli and vinaigrette down, it was time for veg garnish (ps, i've decided to exclusively use 'veg' in place of 'vegetable' because (1) I watch too much Top Chef, and they talk about the 'veg' all the time and (2) i'm too lazy to type the whole word each time.)

This consisted of cutting a bunch of carrots into 'batons,' peeling a bunch of red and white pearl onions, and cooking them EACH IN THEIR OWN PAN even though they ALL END UP TOGETHER AT THE END.  I mean, I get it with the carrots, but why do I need to separate the red and white onions?  Whatever, Keller's boss.  (another aside: this is such a big deal because I only have two little saucepans, one of which was busy doing something else.  After this, I decided to go and buy more little saucepans).

(waiting to be put on a plate)

Ravioli done, veg done, something resembling vinaigrette done (it had two layers - a sort of oily one and a more viscous brown layer - which I don't think is right).

All of those things held pretty well (I mean, the ravioli was in the freezer, but everything else was cool over low heat/in warm places), so all I had to do when we were ready for the main was cook the fish and the ravioli.  This took maybe 10 minutes, which seems like a good amount of time between courses to me, so it worked out nicely.

Like the not-black bass, this fish also had skin on.

Unlike the not-black bass, I did nothing to try and keep it on - very nonchalant about the whole thing (because, well, I knew everyone would forget any screw-ups after having dessert).  ALSO unlike the not-black bass, it kept its skin while I was cooking it!  10 points for me!  I don't think it looked pretty and "pan-roasted," though, so maybe its only 5 points.

Wanna see?

The garnish and veg and everything was rather pretty.  The vinaigrette pooled with the basil oil, probably because it wasn't quiiite right.  The fish looked ok, or at the very least, not mangled.  The ravioli LOOKED ok, but it tasted like ass.  I mean, it would have been fine, except the dough was tough and overworked and just a weird texture.  I don't recommend making 'artichoke-infused' dough to anyone who tries this.  Also, I chose not to put the artichoke strips on at the last second.  Even though I knew they were fine to eat, the browning just made them look unappetizing to me.  Overall, it was decent.  I don't love fish, and the striped bass was a little fishy.  I really liked the veg in the basil oil and vinaigrette.  But that's definitely not enough love to make it a keeper.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pictures...

They are back!  Woohoo!

And now I have renewed blogging enthusiasm.  But only enough to insert pictures into the things i've blogged about from dinner #4 so far.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No Words: Chocolate Veloutes Come Together

now alternatively titled: Saturday's Dessert - The only picture I have of this dinner 

At this point, pretty much everything was done: ice cream, cookies, cakes.  I pretty much just needed to put everything together and make chocolate sauce.

First, I took my cakes and put them on my cookies.  Easy enough, right?  The cakes didn't want to come out, so I was trying to push them without mangling them.  What ended up being the MOST annoying part of this, though, was that my biscuit cutter - which I measured, because I had no idea how big it was - ended up being 1/2" smaller - not bigger, like I thought - than the supposedly 2" ring molds that I bought for the veloutes (which are actually 3").  So the cookie really wasn't big enough to do its jobof holding the cake.  But, the cookie was sticky enough and the cake was cold enough for the cookie to stick to the bottom, and it held, so it was cool.  After finally getting the cakes dislodged from the rings, I tossed them in the oven.

While the cakes were baking, I made chocolate sauce - basically a bunch of chopped chocolate, some cream, and some corn syrup, melted together.  This took like 2 minutes.

I took out the ice cream and used my real 2 1/2" round to make ice cream rounds (which I stuck into the freezer to stay cold until the last possible second).

With about a minute to go on the cakes, I plated the chocolate sauce, grabbed the ice cream rounds and put them in the bowls, and then slid the cake onto the top of the ice cream.

And it worked!  They stayed!  (for the most part)  Even though the cookie wasn't big enough!!

The taste: amazing, as i'm sure you could imagine.  Hot chocolate, cold cinnamon cream, chocolate sauce, chewy cookie... mmmmm...drool.  Pretty much unanimous, even from chocolate-hating husband.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

(Not-so Pictureless) Post 2: Sweet Potato Agnolotti

The saddest part of my second picture-less post is that my agnolotti came out so well on the first try!  And now everyone will just have to take my word for it (well, that plus see my second batch of agnolotti, which came out even better)  Everyone check out how pretty my agnolotti are!!!!

Excluding the fact that pasta making is a giant pain constituting an entire workout for me (you knead dough for at least 20 minutes then tell me your arms don't hurt!), this was pretty easy.  And very do-ahead-able.

Thursday night: filling night.  First, I roasted some sweet potatoes with some nice chunks of butter in them.

They were bright orange and very pretty after I took them out.

After they cooled a little bit, I pressed them through my potato ricer.  (ETA: woohoo, found a second time and place to use it!)

I started browning some bacon while the potatoes were cooling... then remembered that one of my guests is a vegetarian.  Whoops.  I decided to press on, and just tell her that she'd have to pick them out.  Sorry Rebecca.  Luckily for her, I hadn't diced them all that well, so they were easy to pick out.  And looking into the future, a word of advice: dice your bacon well.  It really makes a difference later in the process.

Anyways, bacon browned [just imagine a pretty picture of sizzling bacon here], I stirred in the sweet potatoes and spices, mixed well, and cooled/stuck in the fridge.

Friday night: Pasta Time!
I've made pasta before.  I didn't remember it being too hard.  It wasn't really, although it made a damned big mess.  Mostly because I didn't make a great well, and started spilling the eggs everywhere.  Whoops again.  And then I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded.  And then it was done, woohoo!

Saturday morning: Time to fill
My lovely lovely husband (have I mentioned how lucky I am to have such a lovely husband) helped me roll out the pasta.  Apparently my pasta roller doesn't attach to any of my counters, so we strapped it to a cutting board and hubby held it and cranked while I fed the pasta through.

After we have nice sheets of pasta, I piped a line of the filling onto the sheet.  This is where the fine dice came in - the pieces were too big and kept sticking/spitting out big chunks of filling (rather than the nice even line I wanted).  After reading the directions 20 times, and STILL not quite getting how to fold them so they looked like little pockets, I just went for it.  And it worked!

In case anyone else has a hard time with the directions, here goes: (1) pipe a line of filling about an inch from the bottom along the length of the sheet;

(2) fold that inch on the bottom up and over the filling, so that the dough overlaps along the top edge of the filling; (3) pull the edge closest to you up just a little bit, then pinch the dough along regular 1 inch intervals - pinch it tight, so that it seals well;

(4) cut along the top of the dough with a pasta roller (or knife or something - I got my pasta roller for $3 from Amazon); (5) cut into the middle part of each pinched section, rolling away from your body and letting the agnolotti roll away from your body a little.  This seems like a pain, but once I got the hang of it, it went really quickly.  (and maybe i'm the only one who felt like the instructions were a little patchy, so ignore these if you understand and/or will never make agnolotti)

As I finished each sheet of dough, I tossed the completed agnolotti onto a sheet with cornmeal on it and stuck it them in the freezer.

So, after all of that description, you have to think its time to eat, right?

NOPE!  There are still sage things to be done!  I blanched some sage, fried some sage leaves for garnish, wrung out some sage, infused some cream with the blanched sage.  Lots of sage!  And there are lots of pictures that are no more of these steps. 

I vaguely recall making some sort of sage cream sauce out of the butter that wasn't particularly hard (or memorable, apparently).  I also vaguely remember that it needed creme fraiche, and I realized I forgot to buy it right before people were supposed to get there, so I send B out to the store to get it.  And he did a fabulous job of being quick like bunny, so that the cream was able to infuse/cook/whatever I did with it for a sufficient amount of time (while we had our first course).

Time to plate: toss the agnolotti in boiling water for five minutes, toss the agnolotti in the cream.  Drizzle a little bit of brown butter over the top.  (not pictured: I put some sliced prosciutto on top of the agnolotti) (except the vegetarian - no need to waste perfectly good prosciutto), and served.  But I forgot to put the fried sage on it.  I have no idea what it would have added, but I hate it when I waste effort!

The verdict: yummy yummy yummy!  I loved it.  Everyone loved it.  It was sweet, with a little smokiness from the bacon, richness from the cream.  And my strategy of giving the smallest agnolotti to the vegetarian worked out pretty well, since she only got one or two (large) pieces of bacon.  And everyone else got more bacon - win win!

Resources: pasta cutter - Amazon

Saturday, April 2, 2011

English Pea Soup

Mac boot drive's death is permanent.  So sad.  Still trying to recover photos, though, so maybe i'll add them in at some point.  This dinner will be brought to you by... totally boring inadequate descriptions!

Other than the delightful hour and a half I spent shelling english peas, this soup was super fast and easy (and, seriously, the hour and a half shelling peas was delightful - I spent it watching tv).

First, I shelled peas.  

[here is where a picture would go if my computer hadn't died and eaten them]

After shelling the peas, I blanched them, plunged them in cold water, dried them, them put the food processor.

Then I pushed the puree through a tamis, added some stock, seasoned, blended some more.. and it was ready!

I also made parm crisps while I was blanching the peas - which I have pictures of from the first time I made them.  Except this time I didn't have to shove them in egg crates, so they were a lot quicker.

This was so easy to make that I was actually able to set the cups out for the soup, set the table, pour glasses of wine - it took way less than the hour I set aside.  Probably the first thing ever that took LESS time than I thought.

(this is what we call a leeeetle back-focused.. but the color is pretty cool, right?)

The soup was nice and stable, too, so I was able to leave it over low heat on the oven until my guests arrived.  Right before serving, I stirred in the truffle oil, and covered with the parm lid.

It was pretty, even though I can't show anyone.  Boohoo.  Maybe i'll make it again just to take pictures because it was delicious.

Specialty Produce - english peas
Venissimo Cheese - super delicious parm
Whole Foods - truffle oil