Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rum dinner, part deux

Last year, a rum tasting dinner at Elliott's Oyster House got me thinking about beverages other than wine to match with food. This year, Elliott's once again had a dinner with rum pairings. This year, instead of shots of rum (a challenge not only to pair with, but to drink 5-8 shots of rum and navigate the walk home) the five courses were paired with custom rum cocktails. So along with Chef Jeremy Anderson, the beverage team got into the act. With wonderful results!

First, the appetizers featured the return of "salmon candy," cured with brown sugar and Mount Gay rum and smoked. We also had oysters on the half shell with a Caribbean-style essence of salsa: mango, jalapeno, mint, and other flavors combined and juiced, then sauced on the oysters. That's one flavor I have to replicate here at home; I think it would be a great compliment to a ceviche. With this course we had a Bacardi Limon cosmopolitans and Caribbean margaritas.

Next we get a seafood "mojito" with scallops, rock shrimp, calamari, and ahi marinated in mojito. Very refreshing, and though I thought the delicacy of raw ahi was a little lost in the mix it did contribute a nice texture. The cocktail with this course was rum with blood orange juice, Grand Marnier, and sparking wine. A striking red contrast to the seafood.

Our favorite course came next: smoked black cod with a black rice cake and mango-papaya vinaigrette. The smoked cod was rich and silky, and had just the perfect touch of smoke. The chef said it only took 15-20 minutes for the black cod to take up all the smoke it needed, after marinating in ginger, coconut milk, habaneros. and rum. This course also had the best cocktail pairing: "Le Petite Fleur," with white rum, Cointreau, grapefruit, and lime served up with an orchid. Just the right tanginess to cut through the richness of the fish.
For the main course, we had something I'd never tried: veal cheeks, braised in root beer and dark rum. It was served over a sweet potato cake, with a sour cherry chutney. Somewhat leaner and not as rich as beef cheeks, but very good just the same. The cocktail? A rum Manhattan with Mount Gay Extra Old rum, Vya vermouth, and a rum-infused cherry. I really liked the cherry.
(During this course, I told Dave that I wished that ducks had cheeks -- they'd probably be terrifically good!)

Finally, individual banana tart tatins with a rum-infused ice cream. I don't know why I've never thought to make a banana tart tatin - it's a great little dessert, and there are so many tropical flavors you can then match with it. This was a nice time for "Rhuba Coffee" with Bailey's Irish Cream and Bacardi rum.
Great dinner, and this year it seemed a little easier to walk up the street and roll into bed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It ain't easy being green

I have no idea why my husband's office decided to have their "green" event on the 19th instead of the 17th, but I'm just the cook, not the organizer. He had to bring a green dessert to be a good team player. I figured everyone would opt for something with lime Jell-o. But we all know that I just can't do what everyone else was going to do. So I made green mint marshmallows. Marshmallows are just gelatin and hot sugar syrup with flavoring. Quite simple *as long as you have a powerful stand mixer.* Because you have to whip it for about 15 minutes at 90 mph to get a good fluffy product. Then handle it with powdered sugar and cornstarch because that stuff is STICKY! Pour it into a prepared pan and let it sit overnight. I used a pizza wheel and some scissors to cut it up into bite-sized squares, dredged them in more of the sugar-cornstarch mix, and they were very cute and minty. Actually, I used a mix of peppermint and butter flavoring to get a bit of a buttermint thing happening. I felt a little like I used to when Mike was in Little League, making cupcakes for the team party.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Homemade Corned Beef (and other cured things)

An update on the "Great Corned Beef Experiment" and other adventures in preserving: It worked! I spent a lot of time trimming the fat from the brisket. I just didn't think it needed that thick coat of fat, so where possible I left just a very thin layer. After a week of sitting in a bucket of brine in my wine fridge I took out all the pieces, cut them into meal-size portions, and vacuum packed them. I cooked one for my mom, who had never had a corned beef dinner before. For comparison, I also cooked a commercial corned beef. I also sent a piece over to my ex-husband, who has always loved corned beef and knows how to cook it, to get his feedback. Overall conclusions were consistent: richer flavor, better texture, good color. For a twist, I turned one corned beef flat into pastrami. (A flat is the flat half of a whole brisket; the other half has two pieces of meat separated by a thick layer of fat and is called the point. The top piece of meat on the point cut is called the "deckle" and it is much more marbled than the other muscle in the brisket.) I never knew that pastrami was just smoked corned beef with a pepper/coriander crust. That turned out with a flavor about as good as any pastrami I've had, once more much leaner so a healthier choice. The bacon also turned out well, though quite mild in flavor. I am turning part of the belly into pancetta, the non-rolled version. That requires some drying time in addition to the time in the cure. So we'll get to taste that in another week. But it smells really good! With the aforementioned pastrami in a sandwich, we had some of the home-cured sauerkraut. It smelled rather funky when I opened the crock, sort of like sour milk, but I knew that was just the lactic acid concentrating on the cloth on the top of the cabbage. The sauerkraut also turned out quite mild. In fact, I think it would be a great substitute for coleslaw on a pulled pork sandwich. Because it is fresh, the cabbage isn't that beige translucent stuff you get at the market; in fact it still has some of the green color and is quite crisp. Now I can hardly wait for August and cucumber season so I can try curing some kosher pickles. Now, since today is St. Paddy's, I'm making a corned beef for my husband to try. He was out of town for all of these curing chores, but is very happy to be eating the results.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Another great "underground" dinner

I've written before about "underground" dinners I have known. Last night, one of the best -- chef Joseph Conrad of Qube in Seattle, who's been in the city for just seven months. Boy, am I glad he's here. A combination of a finely tuned palate, a playful attitude towards food, and an amazing calm efficiency to his kitchen equate to seven+ courses that surprised and challenged my mouth and made it very, very happy. Photos and a little bit of description. Bet it will make you hungry!

An amuse-bouche of cured salmon and pickled cantaloupe inside avocado. Great array of textures and tastes - creamy/salty/ tangy.

This "seaweed" salad was comprised primarily of fennel fronds, with hijiki seaweed and tangerine, dressed with a nicoise olive viniagrette. Honestly, I never thought about cooking fennel fronds to serve; I just use them under fish when I roast it.

This was truly cool: yellowfin tuna "ramen" noodles with minced Asian pear and edamame, and a white soy broth/dressing. the radish sprouts added a nice spicy note, almost like having some wasabe alongside.

How about a little chorizo, made with shrimp instead of pork? The sausage rounds were topped with croutons and had a frisee salad hiding yummy pancetta cubes. The chorizo had some coarse-chopped shrimp integrated with the ground meat so in texture and appearance it looked like the fat you see in the pork sausage.

About here I was beginning to wonder if I'd make it through the entire meal! This is Maryland wild striped bass, over a fennel puree garnished with hearts of palm, pomelo, and trout roe. I usually don't care for fish skin, but I polished this one off.

Now for the pasta course, of course. But nothing ordinary about brioche gnocchi with black truffles and fois gras foam.

You almost can swing a cat and hit someone serving braised pork belly -- but with orange and sambal chile styrofoam and a tangerine jus? I think not. No, that's not a chicharrone on top, it's the styrofoam.

Dessert? Chocolate, of course. A Vahlrona chocolate cake with dulce de leche, Mexican hot chocolate emulsion, chicory coffee syrup, and "chile sugar."

With coffee I got a nice surprise. (When is a second dessert not a nice surprise?) This one was a mind-bender. Foie gras shortbread topped with fleur de sel, and some ethereal marshmallows that looked like chocolate truffles coated in cocoa, but were pretty much the exact opposite in texture.

The final amazing thing about this meal? I didn't have the wine pairings, so it was a little easier to waddle out to my car!

Bacon and corned beef

I've now got about 18 pounds of pork belly under cure -- six pounds for pancetta, with juniper and nutmeg added to the mix. One reason there's only six pounds for pancetta is that I have to skin the belly for pancetta, and it's a lot of work and time. For bacon, you leave the skin on and then remove it after the smoking/heating to 150 degrees, and that's a lot easier. Before I could get the cure on, I had to run out and buy some more tinted curing mix (TCM) because making the brine for the corned beef took more than I expected, or maybe I thought I had more than I did. Either way, the brine for the beef is now nice and cold, so my next task is to trim the briskets. Yes, I bought two whole briskets for this. I have NO IDEA what I'm going to do with 25 pounds of brisket. But it will keep longer than a regular roast, especially since I'll vacuum pack the finished product. Later today: pictures and descriptions from the "underground" dinner I attended yesterday. An amazing meal... .....but for now, back to the kitchen with me!