Saturday, July 31, 2010

Late Night Snack - Elderlower and Juniper Pork Rillettes Omelette

A few days back I had a big hunk of pork belly that I needed to do something with. I wasn't quite feeling a braised or roasted pork belly main course, so I decied to make some pork belly rillettes. I've made rillettes before and had the basic concept down, so I tweaked it up according to my own whims.

St. Germain & Juniper Pork Belly Rillettes
1. Start with roughly 1 1/2 pounds skinless fatty raw pork belly
2. Cut into 1 inch cubes
3. mix with 2 tsp sea salt, 12 crushed black peppercorns, 2 crushed bay leaves, and 10 crushed juniper berries
4. Place in narrow terrine, ideally enameled cast iron
5. Pack tightly then cover with 1/2 cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur
6. Bake at 280 deg F oven for four hours, covered but vented a'la a traditional terrine
7. Remove meat/fat from terrine and shred with fork, draining off and reserving the liquid fat
8. Distribute the meat evenly across three or four ramekins
9. Pour layer of the reserved fat over top to preserve

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St Germain & Juniper Pork Belly Rillettes Omelette
1. Gently whisk 3 eggs until well incorporated but not foamy
2. Melt 1/2 Tbs butter in a medium pan over medium heat until almost glistening
3. Pour egg mixture into pan and let set, shaking gently and working the edges with a silicone spatula
4. Cover top of pan. Agitate frequently... Try to eliminate any runniness on the top of the omelette without allowing bottom to burn.
5. When the top is almost set (the bottom should have a gentle brown to it), fill 1/2 of the top with pork rillettes.
6. Flip the omlette over and let set for 40 seconds.
7. Transfer to a plate

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In my case, I garnished with fresh chives and tabasco sauce. I don't quite know to what extent my drinks tinged my judgement, but the flavor was spectauclar. Hard to quite pin it down, but the floral flavors of the St. Germain combined with the juniper yielded a clean/crisp taste that help cut through the fattiness of the pork. A gamble of a dish that came out quite well.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekday Quickie

Pork Tenderloin With Asparagus, Ginger, and Carrots
Organic pork tenderloin with Chinese five spice & orange dust rub. Quick blanched asparagus. Julienned carrot and ginger. Garlic tamari pan reduction sauce.

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Relatively quick and easy... Super delicious.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sockeye Salmon

Whole Foods had some amazing looking Sockeye salmon today. It was the last of the season and looked ultra fresh so I picked some up.

The color of the fish was a deep ruby red, and as I trimmed the filets their smell was fresh and crisp, not even remotely fishy. This was definitely some high quality fish.


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This time, I tried a different technique for cooking, namely Jean Georges Vongrichten's "Slow-cooked salmon" approach from his "From Simple to Spectacular" cookbook. The fish is cooked in a relatively low 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, skin side up, until a perfect medium rare. With this approach, the fish visually appears undercooked when it is done. However, you know it is ready when the skin peels off easily and the fish has just begun to flake. The salmon should be medium-rare, 120 degrees and slightly warm in the center.


I combined this technique with my own flavors and the results were astounding. Clearly, much of my success has to do with the quality of the fish, but just like his scrambled eggs technique, this yielded amazing results and made rethink my normal approach to cooking fish.

As a starter, I made a couple of gazpachos which both turned out very nicely. I very much enjoy gazpacho, particularly when it incorporates high quality very fresh produce. Ever since we got our Blendtec blender, I've been really into making gazpacho. These were both quite good.

Anyhow, I tried to be creative today and play with my own flavors. These are all basically self-created recipes with the exception of the fish technique which was from Jean Georges.


Duo of Gazpacho

Cucumber gazpacho with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, lemon, EVOO, and opal basil. Topped with shaved lemongrass and black pepper. Heirloom tomato gazpacho with cucumber, garlic, opal basil, lemon, EVOO, and champagne vinegar. Topped with brunoise of roasted red peppers and opal basil chiffonade.
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Slow-cooked Sockeye Salmon
Fresh wild sockeye salmon. Gently blanched ribbons of carrot and leek. Wilted spinach. Garlic Confit. Opal basil chiffonade. Chives. Lemon juice.

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We followed this up with a trip to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Inception, which was a brilliant and exciting movie that lived up to the hype. I'm always a sucker for a Christopher Nolan mind-bender.

Finally, I had some homemade mint-chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. Since I didn't use any fake green food coloring, the color was a little subdued relative to the store bought stuff. I really liked the natural fresh mint flavor, though.

Au Natural Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Fresh, farmer's market spearmint. Callebaut semi-sweet choclate shavings.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Duck Confit and Fig Crostini

Jessica was out running some errands this afternoon and I just happened to have some duck confit that I made about a month ago sitting in the fridge. I decided to make myself a lunch incorporating some things that I haven't been able to work with much recently because of her dietary constraints, namely bread and dairy and, to a lesser extent, duck fat.

Duck Confit and Fig Crostini
Baguette "buttered" with duck fat. Duck confit. Brown fig. Hudson Valley camembert. Micro arugula. Balsamic reduction. Carrot allumette.


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As you can probably imagine, this was decadent and yummy.

Saturday Breakfast: Venison Sausage Frittata

I had a wonderful morning this morning... Woke up bright and early at 6:30 AM and went for a run with the dog followed by a trip to the Farmer's Market.

After my run I was starving. After picking up various goodies at the Farmer's Market, I was in the mood to cook.

Farm fresh egg frittata with Dai Due venison breakfast sausage and wilted baby leek tops. Camelized mixed onions. Roasted heirloom grape tomoatoes. Freshly juiced vegetable juice with carrot, cucumber, beet, celery, ginger, and jalapeno.

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Wow... the Dai Due venison sausage was phenomenal. It was 80% venison, 20% pork. The gaminess of the vension worked very well for breakfast sausage. Those folks know what they're doing when it comes to artisan charcuterie.


All of the flavors in this dish worked quite nicely togther. The tomatoes and the sausage, in particular, had an amazing flavor synergy with one another. This is a perfect example of the importance of ingredients. In this case, it was the high quality, ultra-fresh, local ingredients that elevated a relatively simple dish to the next level.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Simple Weeknight Cooking

For reasons related to her health and food allergies, Jessica is eliminating starches, legumes, and high sugar foods from her diet for a little while. Since she already avoids gluten and dairy, this leaves a limited palette of culinary colors to cook with. As always, I enjoy a challenge and find that changing constraints provide an environment ripe for learning and creativity.

Usually, I don't cook that often on weeknights, as I am usually absorbed in work or errands or something productive like that. Given the lack of decent food that Jessica can find that supports her diet, I wanted to save her from another night of salad variation #127.

Since it was a weeknight, I kept it simple and took the opportunity to use some great produce that I'd picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend and not yet had a chance to use.

Pan roasted chicken breast with rosemary and garlic confit. Sherried crimini mushrooms with thyme. Ratatouille of pattypan squash, heirloom zucchini, and Italian eggplant with opal basil and parsley. Broccoli with crushed red pepper and garlic confit.

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I used Thomas Keller's ever-so-effective "big pot blanching" approach to the broccoli. As always it worked like a charm. I would rate big pot blanching up there with Jean-Georges' scrambled eggs as one of the great cookbook driven cooking revelations I have experienced. I would also say that Keller's "green salt" technique was quite valuable. Thus far, however, my most important cookbook revelation came from many sources all at once... The importance of homemade stock. Every serious chef you ever study will harp on it over and over. It simply cannot be underestimated. Without homemade stock, you are hard pressed to make real sauces. Without real sauces, your capabilities as a cook are severely limited. It is fundamental.


For this particular dish, I tossed a few homemade frozen cubes of 4x reduced chicken stock into the saucepan after I took the chicken off to rest and deglazed it with sherry... just before I tossed the already sweated mushrooms in. I let the mixture reduce to a thin syrup to where it was thick enough to coat the mushrooms.

The dish came out very well indeed... Sometimes it is the most simple dishes that, when done well, can be quite stunning. In this case I was able to check all the technical boxes... chicken cooked to perfect temperature and correctly rested, bright green perfectly cooked broccoli, very nicely seasoned ratatouille, excellent mushroom sherry sauce... unison... harmony... simplicity.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pictureless Post

Another dinner party tonight. When cooking for a group, I tend to focus less on taking pictures and more on the group. Some sort of weird proper host instinct in me.

Anywhow, we served the following for six:

  • Salad of roast baby heirloom beets and microgreens with honey, lemon, sea salt, and black pepper.
  • Pan roasted halibut. Sundried heirloom tomato and zucchinni risotto. Roasted baby leek hearts. Roasted fennel sticks. Baby heirloom cherry tomatoes. Lemon butter sauce. Balsamic reduction. Parsley.
  • Dessert: Watermelon and St. Germain Fruit Gelee. Meyer Lemon and Pisco Fruit Geleee. Carbonated berries (blueberries and raspberries). Pistachios. Balsamic reduction. Mint concentration.

The halibut came out a little overcooked, but generally the dish worked well. The risotto came out quite nicely in terms of texture, though the dried tomoatoes didn't pop quite as much as I would have liked them to have. The salad of beets was excellent... I halved the roasted baby beets, leaving the top stem part on to give the dish added visual context.

The dessert was highly experimental and thereby a little unfocused. The gelees came out a little sloppy and didn't lend themselves to clean slicing. That said, the flavors were good, especially the meyer lemon. The watermelon worked well too, but was a little subtle relative the numerous flavor fireworks going on around the plate. Carbonated berries are a straight up wonder of science. Without a doubt, I will be heavilly experimenting with carbonating all sorts of things going forward. The sauces were good exercies in flavor extraction. The balsamic reduction was a sweet 4-6x concentration of 10 year balsamic vinegar and very yummy in many situations. The mint concentrate sauce had a nice flavor, but I really wanted something with a better color/texture along the lines of a sweetened mint pesto. Overall, I tried a ton of new things in this dessert and ended up with what could be considered a hodgepodge of a few desserts. I easilly feel that more focused play off of any of the key elements in the dessert, but especially the carbonated berries, would yield a truly memorable dessert.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Caramel Corn Panna Cotta with Blueberry

Sweet corn and caramel panna cotta. Fresh blueberries. Blueberry reduction. Caramel sauce.

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Frankly, not my best dessert ever. Panna cotta was a little too soft. Blueberry reduction was a little too thick. Flavors were generally quite good, though the caramel overpowered the corn a little bit. Sweet corn is such a delicate flavor in a dessert... I need to figure out how to concentrate it.

Overall, this has promise, but definitely needs some work.

Cucumber Mint Sorbet with Gently Curried Coconut Foam

Cucumber mint sorbet. Coconut foam with lime and curry. Macadamia nuts.

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This dessert was fairly minimalist for me. I was trying all sorts of things that were a little outside of my comfort zone. It was intended to be light and delicate, but to flirt with some bold flavors such as mint and curry without compromising the lightness of the the dish.

I had my doubts as to whether this would work until the very last minute. Boy, did it. The sorbet and foam were both very complimentary and subtley surprising. However, they needed a counterpoint. The macadamia nuts did the trick in that respect. As far as desserts go, this one is light as air... almost ethereal. The flavors came out well balanced, with some subtle unexpected complexity... particularly the curry in the foam. I was quite pleased.

Short Rib and Scallop Surf-N-Turf

Slow-braised beef short rib with red wine reduction. Colossal scallops with carrot sauce. Sauteed zucchini and summer squash.

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Wow, what can I say... Easilly the most photogenic dish I've ever made.

I was cooking from intuition with this one. Sans the fundamental braised short rib recipe which I tweaked to my liking, I was running unscripted. This dish was a study in contrast. The wintery braised short rib with a thick red wine sauce. The summery, citrusy scallop. The carrot sauce, squash, and parsley to tie it all together. Somehow I made this work and it worked really well. Everything was seasoned correctly and the portions were controlled and well balanced. This was a good lesson for me about the importance of balance as a compositional element in cooking. I must say, this was a phenomenal dish, probably in my top five meals I've cooked this year.

I'll try to post an approximation of the recipe at some point.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Whole Lot of Duck

Jessica and I dropped Bella off at the dog groomer and had some time to kill. We meandered around, got some lunch, and went to the bookstore. We then swung by Central Market with the intention of getting something for dinner. We had been thinking about fish, but the dreary rainy weather pushed us towards something more warming in function.

They had whole fresh duck that looked quite nice. Duck seemed like the perfect compliment to a rainy evening in.

This was the first time I'd actually broken down a whole duck. I've done countless chickens, but duck is a bit different. Tonight, in particular, we were mainly interested in the breasts. At the same time I wanted to use all of the animal productively. I won't go into the details of breaking down a duck here. While the angles are a little different than with a chicken, it's not rocket science.

After a little bit of work, I had my duck down to the following components:
  • 2 breasts, skin/fat on one side
  • 2 legs, skin and fat retained, but trimmed within reason
  • 2 wings
  • 1 carcass
  • 1 liver
  • 2 kidneys
  • some other muscular organ, heart perhaps

I started with the breasts and dry rubbed them with a freshly prepared ancho-pasilla-garlic dry rub. I then allowed them to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Next, I deep rubbed the leg pieces with a traditional salt, garlic, thyme, bay rub and refrigerated in preparation for a future duck confit.

I next cubed all of the fatty pieces and slowly simmered them in a saucepan covered by about 2 inches water to render the duck fat so that I could add it to my ever utlilized collection of duck fat.

I sliced the liver up into about 1 inch strips and pan fried it along with some shallots, garlic, and herbs in about 3 ounces of duck fat I already had laying around. Next I threw the whole mixture into the Blendtec along with a splash of cognac. I pureed for awhile until smooth and then pressed through a tamis to make extra smooth. I then refrigerated the small amount of yield to resulting in what is effectively a duck fat based duck-liver butter. The stuff tastes phenomenal. My mind is doing cartwheels thinking of all the awesome things I could do with duck fat liver butter.

I bagged all the bones and the carcass and froze them. I will certainly be making some duck stock in the not too distant future.

I grabbed the kidneys and seared them with some garlic slivers in olive oil until they were golden brown. I next poured in a couple of inches of homemade chicken stock and simmered covered at medium low for awhile. The result was slow braised duck kidneys. I'm still sort of squeamish about eating offal, particularly when I prepare it. That said, Bella, my dog, is my fearless taster. She liked the braised kidney well enough, so I tasted a few slices and they were actually damn good... Slightly tough, not magicly transformed like the rabbit kidneys we got at French Laundry, but still very nicely flavored. I'm starting to get comfortable with basic offal preparation. I expect to be serving it on the dinner table more often soon.

OK, so now I think I have offically used the whole animal in some capacity or another, or at least frozen/refrigerated planned to.

Having dotted my i-s and crossed my t-s, I prepared tonight's actual dinner:

Ancho-Pasilla Rubbed Duck Breast with Maple Fig Pinot Noir sauce. Mixed Wild and Brown Rice. Garlic Wilted Leeks and Spinach.


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This dish worked quite well, especially the sauce!The leeks and spinach worked very well together and tied back nicely to the duck and sauce. Thanks to Jessica for coming up with the ancho-maple-fig-duck pairing which worked very nicely.