Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mmm, homemade bacon

If I had known how easy it is to make bacon, I would have started doing it years ago. Well, technically it's pancetta I make because I don't have the gear to cold-smoke the pork bellies after I cure them. But I have a solution for that, more on that later. I was feeling kind of blue this morning, because I came in second in a thing on the forum to go a housewares show and report on it for the forum. But I think I am happy just to have had my essay selected as one of the three finalists. And I learned some things along the way, like that I have a lot more friends than I thought I did! Anyway, my cure for the sadness was to get back into the kitchen, of course. I'd finished the bacon on Thursday, the last step after curing it for a week is to bake it at a very low temp until it's 150 degrees, then cut off the rind. This time, I added maple syrup to the cure and, to get that smoky flavor, a couple of drops of Liquid Smoke. Since it's made from the same stuff that makes the smoke flavor when you smoke something, the taste is genuine. This morning I sliced up some of it (this might be the hardest part of using homemade bacon) and cooked it to go on bacon and avocado sandwiches (made with my own homemade sourdough bread, baked last night while I waited for that @*&#$@ contest voting to be over). The sandwiches were very good, and comforted my bruised ego ;-)

Friday, February 23, 2007

One more entry about foie gras (for now)

The last thing we tried with the foie gras was a sandwich with kalua pork and seared slices of foie on brioche. I read that it's something that Chef Alan Wong serves, and since I had kalua pork in the freezer, it seemed like a good thing to try. It was very good. We toasted thin slices of brioche and just piled the stuff together. My mouth waters thinking about it again.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making bresaola

New project this week -- taking eye of round roasts and making bresaola, Italian dried beef. The process really is simple, from Charcuterie by Ruhlman, but you have to be careful. It requires a special curing salt so that when you hang it for three weeks, there is no bacterial growth. So I've also been very careful with sanitation overall, using rubber gloves when handling it. I'm using the same cure on some pork loins, to get something analogous to prosciutto though it won't have the same marbling. It's a five-week process before I have product to taste, so I'll have to get back to you on how it turns out. But I have high hopes. Oh, and the foie gras torchon (salt-cured with cognac) turned out GREAT! Sprinkled with a little fleur-de-sel, it was as good as anything I've had in a restaurant. The brioche was exellent, as well and a great accompaniment to the foie. We'll be doing that again.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Working with foie gras

So the great experiments began on Friday. I picked up the foie, but of course wanted to wait to play with it until Dave was home to share in the adventure. I pulled out more than a dozen cookbooks with references to and recipes for foie, so I felt like I did a pretty decent literature search and research. I settled on two apps to begin: a salt-cured torchon of uncooked foie, to be served with brioche, and seared slices to be served with pomegranate molasses and an apple-rosemary compote. For the first app I used a recipe from "Jacques Pepin Celebrates" but I only used the small lobe of one foie, not an entire 1-1/2 pound liver. The second app I pulled together from several sources, getting the idea of rosemary with fruit from two different recipes and the idea of using the pomegranate molasses from having had pomegranate seeds with a raw foie app in my class. But first came the cleaning of the foie. I am *so* glad that I got to try this in class last summer, because it can be really scary how the thing is just ragged after you pull out all those nasty tough veins. And it did make Dave stop and do a double-take, I could tell he was wondering if this was the way it was supposed to be. But then you just sprinkle it with salt, white pepper, and cognac and roll it up in plastic wrap. A day in the fridge and the salt-cured lobe is nice and firm. That's for eating on Sunday after the brioche is cooked. For the seared application, I just rolled the big lobe back up after the cleaning (not as thorough for this one, as the small veins just shrink up when cooked) and wrapped it in plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge overnight for prep on Saturday. When Saturday dinner time gets here, I start getting nervous. This is very confusing to me, as I know exactly what I am doing. And I've even seared this stuff in class. But for some reason I have a significant panic reaction, I can feel it in my gut. Annoying as all get out, I must say! So I screw my courage to the sticking point and move ahead. The "surf and turf" was the seared foie and seared sea scallops. So I got the sea scallops seared off and put them in a low oven, then the foie slices went into the very hot skillet for about a minute and a half total. I think I would slice them even thicker, on the thick side of 3/4", next time I do them. But they turned out just fine. The plan was to serve baby greens with a vinaigrette of dijon, shallots, sherry vinegar, and walnut oil, and at the last minute I decide to candy some walnuts to go in it. That was a good move, there were too many soft things and not enough texture in this meal without that. Three scallops and three slices of foie on each chop plate, the salad at one end, a little of the apple-rosemary compote on the other, and a little of the pomegranate molasses drizzled at the side of the foie. Looked very nice, and tasted even better. Served with a Quady Essencia wine, as I didn't have a bottle of Sauternes. The sweetness worked well. And the apple compote was absolutely great with the scallops as well as the foie. I'll do that for another scallop meal another day, I think. Time to go, the brioche smells done...

Duck-fat poaching of potatoes and mushrooms

Last November, when I made my first batch of pancetta, I took some of it and made a confit of it in duck fat. There was still some left on Friday night when I was looking to do some kind of a side for steak. So I took the rest of that and put it and the duck fat into a saucepan. Then I added tiny fingerling potatoes and some crimini mushrooms that we halved. Poached them for about 45 minutes, very low heat, while I did other stuff in the kitchen. Poured it through a sieve, broke up the pork and served small tenderloin steaks beside the "ragout," sprinkled with coarse salt and minced chives. Not bad, not bad at all!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sous Vide: not that hard

Sous vide: under vaccuum What it really means is that if you have a FoodSaver, you can cook sous vide. You don't need one of those fancy Japanese or French vaccuum boxes, and you don't need some fancy immersion cooker as long as you're willing to pay attention a little bit. I have a FoodSaver, and I finally realized that sous vide cookery is just a fancified version of boil-in bags! My approach? I bagged up some duck breasts with salt and herbes de provence. In fact, the duck ended up in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Then into the pot they go, bring the water up to a simmer at 140 degrees. Use a big pot with a lot of water, the mass of the water means the temp stays more stable. You can pretty much keep it there indefinitely, but it does require watching if you don't have something with a thermostatic control. I put a probe thermometer into the pot, with the alarm set to go off if the temp got a few degrees too high. What do you do with something you cook sous vide? Well, consider the texture. Proteins cooked that gently are very soft -- they don't have the "trauma" of heat that makes them get springy. So go for either a big contrast with something crunchy, or complimentary. I took the latter route, and served the duck breasts sliced over Shanghai noodles, with duck stock flavored along the lines of pho. Added some steamed baby bok choy on the side of the bowl along with some shiitake mushrooms, and it was a very nice meal. Up next? I will try my hand at foie gras preparations. I just read about chef Alan Wong's kalua pork and foie gras sandwiches, and so I need to make some brioche before Dave gets home from his trip tomorrow so we can try that out!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fancy brownies

We wanted something sweet, and I knew we had dried cherries and toasted hazelnuts. So now our new favorite dessert is chocolate brownies chock full of chopped dried cherries and hazelnuts, topped with a chocolate ganache. It's really easy, use a brownie recipe that is made in a 9x13 pan, put in about a cup of each add-in, then when cool pour over a ganache made with equal weights of bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. Even better, make a cream cheese swirl to marble in (1/2 c sugar, 8oz cream cheese, 1 egg, 1 t vanilla) before you put it in the oven. Yummy!