10/28/2009

BLT Prime's Giant Popovers

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A restaurant on my "Must Try" list is BLT Prime, supposedly one of the best steakhouses in New York, featuring dry-aged steaks and mouth-watering sides courtesy of chef Laurent Tourondel. I saw him and his restaurant featured on After Hours With Daniel, and the giant popovers he serves as pre-meal bread looked amazing--huge and crusty, with a soft spongy inside. The recipe for these popovers is no secret, but I must admit that the recipe doesn't seem to quite live up to the real thing (as far as I can tell) since mine didn't come out quite as crusty-looking. (Anyone know the science behind crusty bread?) But they were delicious nonetheless, and I would make them again, with maybe a tweak to the recipe here and there to try to get them as beautiful as Laurent's. Also I added some grated Pecorino Romano and chopped rosemary on top instead of the usual Gruyere.

BLT Prime's Giant Popovers

2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
Olive oil to grease muffin tin
1/2 c grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tbsp chopped rosemary
  1. Grease a muffin tin with olive oil and place in an oven heated to 350°. Sift flour and salt into a bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, heat milk over medium heat until it begins to simmer. As it heats, beat eggs until frothy in a large bowl, then slowly add milk while whisking as not to scramble eggs. Then add flour and salt slowly until you have a smooth batter.
  3. Remove muffin tin from the oven and add batter about 3/4 full in each cup. Drop muffin tin from an inch or two off the table to tease out excess air (so you don't get a hollow center). Add a sprinkle of cheese and rosemary over batter.
  4. Place on baking sheet to catch drips and cook for 15 minutes. Then rotate pan for an even rise, and cook for another 35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and serve.
A light and airy--as well as dramatic--alternative to traditional biscuits or rolls for your Thanksgiving meal. I wish I added more cheese on top, since I didn't get enough cheese or rosemary flavor as I wished, but perhaps incorporating them into the popover batter could help solve that issue. Also, no deflating occurred because I cooked them sufficiently which allowed the egg proteins to fully set and support the structure of the popover. Which clearly failed to happen with my previous souffle, but lesson learned! To prove this point, I removed one popover a bit early, before the top had turned a golden brown, and it immediately started to lose its proud puffy structure. When I opened it up, the middle was mushy, hence the toppled top. Last time when my souffle fell, it was most likely due to the fact that I hadn't cooked it thoroughly enough (I had been afraid of overcooking). Time to take on the dreaded souffle once more!

Next up: Using what I learned to make a festive dessert (or side)!

10/27/2009

Brussels Sprouts Lardons with Cherries and Walnuts

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With Thanksgiving coming up so soon, I started thinking about what kinds of dishes I could make for the occasion, specifically sides and desserts (in my opinion, the most fun parts). Two Thanksgivings ago, I discovered my love for brussels sprouts. Before that day, I never tried a brussels sprout in my life, if you can believe it. My sister and I roasted them whole, with olive oil, salt and pepper. I loved the explosion of flavor as you popped them in your mouth and bit into them, a very earthy and rich flavor with some crisped up bits on the outside. Even more recently, I saw what they look like on the stalk--alien-like, even! How could so many people dislike such a great vegetable?

Turns out that most people overcook them and, as Russ Parsons describes, they are "high in chemical compounds that produce hydrogen sulfide when exposed to heat for a sufficient amount of time." What's so bad about hydrogen sulfide? Wikipedia responds: "Hydrogen sulfide is the principal odor of untreated sewage and is one of several unpleasant smelling sulfur-containing components of flatulence." Hmm, so now I see the potential downside of brussels sprouts...

But! If you cook them correctly, they will be a delicious side to your Thanksgiving meal. I riffed on this recipe for brussels sprouts lardons, also imparting some wisdom from Parsons on how best not to produce excess hydrogen sulfide. P.S. "Lardons" refers to the pancetta in the recipe (although actually it is supposed to be straight-up fat) used to flavor the brussels sprouts.

Brussels Sprouts Lardons with Cherries and Walnuts

1 lb brussels sprouts, halved and with small cut down the middle of stalk
1/2 c dried cherries
1/4 c chopped walnuts
2 oz pancetta (or bacon), cubed
1/2 c low-sodium vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat, then add pancetta. Allow to cook until browned and crisp, then turn off heat and remove pancetta only (keeping the leftover oil and fat in the pan).
  2. Reheat pan over medium heat and add brussels sprout halves, stalk-side down. Cook for 8-10 minutes, then add stock to pan and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until stalk has become slightly tender.
  3. Then toss sprouts around for a few more minutes and add cherries, walnuts and pancetta. Cook until all components have evenly been heated, and the cherries have absorbed some liquid.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste, then serve!
What a simple recipe, and the components went together really well--the earthiness of the sprouts and the saltiness of the pancetta, along with the sweet-tart cherries and crunchy walnuts for texture. I also enjoyed this method of cooking brussels sprouts, as a good alternative to my usual roasting method.

Next up: Another festive dish!

10/25/2009

Eat Your Pasta: Handmade Pasta with Pancetta and Butternut Squash

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One meal I had in Rome that stands out was the signature dish of a family-run restaurant in Trastevere called Trattoria di Lucia. The dish is apparently unique to Rome, called spaghetti alla gricia, and only requires two main ingredients: guanciale (cured pork cheek) and Pecorino Romano cheese. So simple, yet delicious. I wanted to add more of a "fall/winter" spin on it, and found some good-looking butternut squash and brussels sprouts at the fruit market that I thought could go well with the pancetta (unfortunately I found no guanciale) and cheese.

Handmade Pasta with Pancetta and Butternut Squash

1 lb. handmade (or store-bought dried) noodle pasta
1 medium butternut squash, split in half and peeled
4 oz. pancetta, cubed
1 1/2 c of brussels sprout leaves
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  1. First roast the butternut squash: place in roasting pan with a little oil, roast at 400° for about 30 minutes or until soft. Cut into cubes and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, start boiling a pot of water for the pasta, making sure to salt and oil the water. Put the pasta in when boiling, remove and strain when al dente.
  3. Heat olive oil in saucepan, then add pancetta and cook over medium heat until slightly browned. Remove only pancetta from saucepan and place on paper towels. Add brussels sprout leaves to saucepan with oil, toss to coat and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add butternut squash to pan with brussels sprouts and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then add cooked pasta and pancetta to pan and toss for a few minutes.
  5. Plate and grate a generous amount of cheese over the pasta.
The pasta turned out quite good, although I would probably eliminate the brussels sprouts next time since they didn't provide much flavor. Also the noodles themselves were a bit too thick, as I mentioned in my last post. But overall, I thought the butternut squash provided a smooth and sweet counterpart to the salty pancetta and Pecorino Romano. P.S. In case you are wondering what the garnish is, I wanted to try frying some sage leaves that I had leftover from the ice cream of a few days ago. They looked nice, but I have to be honest, I didn't end up eating more than a bite!

Next up: Some holiday dishes!

10/24/2009

Make Your Own Pasta (By Hand)

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I recently visited Rome and must admit that, despite my dreams of heavenly Italian food at every corner, I had both good and bad food experiences there. Because I was doing all the typical tourist activities (Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican City, etc.), I frequently ended up at the more touristy restaurants selling the more mediocre food. But I did happen to have a guide book with me (an excellent one, by Rick Steves), which was great help in terms of sifting out the hidden gem restaurants, and the rest I found through walking around more neighborhood-y areas and outdoor markets.

So in the end, I did get a taste of some delicious and interesting foods: chocolate tiramisu from a store that sells nothing but different kinds of tiramisu (it was amazing), unknowingly buying and cooking horse meat (wasn't bad, but a bit too funky-smelling for my tastes), chestnuts roasted by street vendors on top of what looked like antique stoves, to-die-for panna cotta with "caramello" on top, the most tomato-tasting tomatoes I've ever had in my life, and on and on. Oh and one can't forget the once-a-day gelato quota, where I had some flavors that to this day I'm still not certain of ("cassata siciliana"?).

When I returned back to the States, I thought... why not try making my own pasta? I thought also of gnocchi, but pasta seemed easier to me and a good first step. I don't have a pasta machine, or even one of those pasta rollers (which now I know are probably very worth it to buy if you plan to make pasta often), but I found a recipe that claimed you could make noodle pasta without any additional equipment.

Handmade Pasta

2 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp olive oil
  1. Sift flour and salt onto cutting board, and create well in the middle. Break eggs into well, and also add milk and olive oil into well.
  2. Using your fingers, mix liquid and dry ingredients together carefully until you form a ball of dough. Dust your surface with flour and knead the dough for several minutes, then wrap in plastic and let sit for 15 minutes.
  3. By now the dough should have a nice, slightly elastic texture. Dust your surface again, more generously, and roll out the dough as flat as you can (I would even suggest working with half or a quarter of the dough at a time), less than 1/8 of an inch, to a rectangular shape.
  4. Flour some more, then pick up the rectangle and fold it loosely into thirds. Using a large knife, cut thin strips to make your noodles (I would recommend about 1/4 of an inch thick).
  5. Hang them over something (I used a laundry basket) to dry for at least 3 hours. Then cook as you would your regular dried pasta.



Overall the dough was quite easy to work with, although I definitely broke a sweat rolling the dough so thin (which in the end wasn't quite thin enough, hence I say thinner than 1/8 of an inch). That's the crucial part, I think, in making a decent pasta. Because I didn't roll mine thin enough, the texture was not as enjoyable as a store-bought kind, and plus some noodles had tiny air bubbles trapped inside. Perhaps next time I'll try a ravioli or a simple hand-torn pasta rather than the effort of noodles.

Next up: What I made with it!

10/21/2009

Honey Sage Ice Cream

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It has been awhile since the last interesting ice cream, so I decided to post a quick and easy ice cream with ingredients I already had--and it turned out to be my favorite one yet! The other day, I bought a whole bunch of nice-looking items from the fruit market (hopefully to be used in a recipe to come), fresh sage being one of them. Just the way sage smells is intoxicating (according to Dr. Martin Lersch, sage may have common odorant molecules with chocolate!), and I'd gladly take any excuse to use more sage in cooking. I originally had something else in mind for its use, but I had a bit of an "Ah-ha!" moment when I thought... sage and honey flavors in ice cream--I have to try this!

Honey Sage Ice Cream

1/2 c heavy cream
1 1/2 c whole milk
About 8 large leaves of sage
3 egg yolks
1/4 c honey
  1. Combine cream and milk in saucepan with sage leaves (squeeze them to bring out their oils for more flavor) and bring to a simmer. Then remove from heat, cover and let infuse for 1 hour.
  2. After infusing, remove sage leaves and put back on low heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and honey until they turn pale yellow and fluff a bit.
  3. When mixture is simmering, turn off heat and pour 1 c very slowly into the yolks, making sure to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. Then add back to saucepan and turn on medium-low heat.
  4. Keep stirring over heat until custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Then take off heat, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Freeze in your ice cream maker.

This ice cream really blew my mind! First off, even the custard smelled heavenly, but tasted a bit too sweet. Freezing tempered the sweetness and it turned out much better than I expected. The contrast of sweet honey and refreshing sage in a cold, creamy form (along with the crunch and spice of a gingersnap cookie that I ate with it) was to die for. A winning recipe for sure, that I can see myself making again and again. Next time maybe I'll even put a gingersnap cookie crumb swirl into the ice cream itself.

Next up: Inspiration from Italy!

10/17/2009

TGRWT #19: Round-Up Posted

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After every TGRWT ("They Go Really Well Together") challenge, to which I submitted my Black Tea Souffle, a round-up of all the entries is posted by the host blog. The full round-up of TGRWT #19: Tomato and Black Tea can be found on Medellitin here. All in all, a really fun experience! It definitely got the mind and senses churning to try and come up with something. I'm really curious as to what the next pairing will be. Whatever it is, you can guarantee I'll be entering!

Next up: Now I know!

10/15/2009

Food Place: Chincoteague Island, VA

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My family and I recently took a trip to Chincoteague Island off the coast of Virginia, a beautiful vacation spot with beaches, wild ponies, and plenty of seafood just waiting to be plucked from the ocean and eaten. There are opportunities to fish, crab, and pick fresh oysters, mussels, and clams. We caught blue crabs, oysters, and mussels (pictured above)--all were delicious. I'd say my favorite was the fresh raw oysters, although it was a shame we didn't catch more of them.

We went crabbing first, which I thought consisted of simply putting a trap in the water and waiting, but the woman at the bait shop said we could lure them towards the water's edge with a piece of fish on a string. Then you net them, which actually turned out to be the most difficult part. Getting them to take the bait was fairly easy, and there were plenty of them lurking around the bottom although some were too small to take. The crabbing area itself (photo below) was actually in Assateague Island, directly east of Chincoteague Island.


We caught a total of nine blue crabs, and killed them first by placing them in boiling water very briefly. This caused their pretty blue shells to turn a typical red--as for why this happens, look here. A simple question, a really complicated answer! But essentially it seems a protein that is one of the main components of many crustacean shells normally is bound to a molecule called astaxanthin, but when this protein is denatured by heat when the crustacean is cooked, the change in configuration releases its bond with astaxanthin and this molecule then causes the red color.


We opened them up, removed the upper shell, then chopped them in half and put in a large pot for a crab kimchi stew. Along with the crab halves, we added water, onions, kimchi, tofu, and various other spices (my parents made it so I don't have exact ingredients).


Also bought some shrimp for the grill, which was delicious even with no seasoning, but a little hard to peel.


As seen in the first picture, we also caught tons of mussels (a huge netful, to be exact). We steamed them in beer, with some onions and garlic. Delicious! Actually we originally went to the area for clams, but couldn't find any, but my mom did find tons of mussels! Plus a few oysters, which tasted amazing straight out of the shell with no accompaniment.


All in all, a great vacation and highly recommended spot. Make sure to stop by Woody's Beach BBQ for fried chicken and ribs!

Next up: Not sure yet!

10/05/2009

Make Your Own Slow-Poached Egg

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According to my parents, I was such an egg fan when I was a baby that I would laugh and point whenever I saw anyone even cooking an egg. But somehow over the years, I started to dislike eggs--well mostly, I despised the egg whites. I would always pick out the chalky yellow sphere from any hard-boiled egg I was given, or spoon out the runny innards of the over-easy egg, much to the outrage of my parents. What happened? Did my taste just change over the years? I still love egg yolks (but only runny ones, except for in egg salad), but my taste for egg whites diminished after years of rubbery and/or netty whites, improperly cooked.

Those unnatural textures made me lose my appetite, not the "flavor" of the white. For instance, I love a poached egg where the white is slightly fluffy and soft. So when I read and saw about how one can slow-poach an egg, I thought I would give it a try.

The science behind the slow-poached egg (as written by chemist and molecular gastronomist Herve This) is that the proteins in white and yolk begin to denature, or lose their structure, at different temperatures (white at 63° C and yolk at 65° C). When you place an egg in boiling water (100° C), it is an easy and thermometer-free way to take the temperature of the egg up enough to denature the proteins and thus have your cooked egg. But the timing (usually "4 to 6 minutes" for soft-boiled) is inexact because it will vary from egg to egg depending on its size. So theoretically, to get your perfect egg (runny yolk, set but not rubbery white), you must keep your egg somewhere between 63° C and 65° C until all white proteins have fully denatured.

Experimentally, it takes some practice. For instance, how long do you keep the egg at the given temperature? Various sources state times ranging from 20 to 60 minutes. It all depends on how you like your eggs (and how accurate your thermometer is). Wylie Dufresne, who popularized the slow-poached egg on his menu and on Top Chef Masters, prefers his yolk with a fudge-like texture and says to heat to 64° C for 55-60 minutes.

Because I do not own a circulator, I used a plain oven thermometer and a pot of water over very low heat. I tried to maintain temperature at about 150° F for 40 minutes.



When you crack the egg open, make sure to do so over a bowl because basically a poached egg comes tumbling out! Very weird. It worked out fairly well, probably more in a Wylie-style than my own--I would have liked a more runny yellow, but it was more fudgey. Next time I might try a longer period of time at a lower temperature, because I want the white slightly more set and the yolk more liquid. Still delicious though, and no rubbery or netty white part! I'm thinking of many accompaniments to decorate this new kind of egg!

Next up: Some food photos!