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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Favorite Stuff

Discoveries and things I have learned lately I would like to share with you some of my new favorite food things. Since returning to the kitchens of NYC, I have encountered many new ingredients to add to my bag of tricks.

Elderflower presse

Elderflower Presse is something I originally tried in London. It’s a popular children’s drink, usually diluted with water, sometimes with seltzer. It is very refreshing and fragrant. It is made with Carbonated Spring Water, Sugar, Fresh Elderflowers, Fresh Lemon Juice, and Citric Acid. I like to mix it into my Lilet or some vodka. Or sometimes I just take a swig from the bottle. You can also reduce it and use it in a sauce for grilled peaches or pears. If you want the same flavor in an alcoholic base, try Saint Germain liqueur. The liqueur is made from the same elderflower, which blooms through the spring and summer. Still produced in an artisanal manner, the liqueur is made from flowers that are gathered from the hillsides in the French Alps during a short four- to-six-week period in spring. According to the company's website, the picked flowers are bicycled to a collection depot (really?) where they are immediately macerated to preserve the fresh flavors of the bloom. Extracting the flavors of this flower is not an easy process, and the Saint Germain company keeps theirs a family secret. Each bottle of Saint Germain ($33.09 for 25 oz) is individually numbered which says classy to me!

Chianti Vinegar

This is a much more flavorful and a less overused choice than Balsamic. The benefit of creating a wine vinegar from a single grape variety, is that the character of the grape is retained in the final vinegar. That means that Chianti’s rosy-purple hue and bright flavor shines through. This elegantly crisp, robust, and well balanced vinegar (taken from their advertisement) is the culmination of a centuries old Italian winemaking tradition. It reminds me of cherry and plum. Use it anywhere you want to add the flavor of Chianti. It can add complexity to marinades and pasta sauces, or reduce it to make a killer glaze for grilled meats.

Aleppo Pepper

This beautiful pepper is also known as the Halaby pepper. It starts as pods which ripen to a burgundy color and is then semi-dried, de-seeded, then crushed or coarsely ground. The pepper is named after Aleppo, a long-inhabited city along the Silk Road in northern Syria, and is grown in Syria and Turkey. It is excellent at added a little heat to meat, chicken and fish. Great on some nice homemade pizza. Kind of reminds me of Ancho chile, but more interesting.

Xanthan Gum

My first encounter with Xanthan gum was when I was experimenting with Gluten-free baking. It is often added to improve texture and make a better crumb. You must use it very sparingly, about 1/8 of a teaspoon to about 3 cups of batter but it does do the trick. It is an ingredient which has been on the industrial market forever. It is commonly used as a food thickening agent and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). All weird science to me! But now I have discovered it is the bomb when it comes to emulsifying sauces. I always used dijon to keep my salad dressings in suspension but it adds a flavor I don’t always want. Using Xanthan gum I can achieve a perfect texture and it never separates! Home made ice cream also benefits from a pinch (but do your research first to see the most effective way to incorporate it).

Vadouvan Curry

Vadouvan is a ready-to-use blend of spices that is a French derivative of a masala. It is an Indian curry blend with added aromatics such as shallots and garlic. The spice blend is thought to have originated from French colonial influence in the Puducherry region of India. Indian recipes for Vandovan blends vary but most contain at minimum, pounded onion, garlic, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek. The mixture is dried in the sun and then crushed, but still has large bits in it. (thanks Wiki). Vadouvan is sweet and just a tad smoky and is not heavy on cumin which I think can be overpowering. Great on roasted veggies like butternut squash, or in grains. Chicken loves it! Blend it into some butter to spread on your French radishes.

Malt Vinegar powder

This ingredient could change your world. One of the problems I have when trying to up the acidity in a mayo or aioli is it gets too thin. In catering, that can be an issue because when making elegant little hors d’oeuvres we try to put our sauces in squeeze bottles or pasty bags for fast delivery at on site events, so viscosity is an issue. Malt powder does the job and actually acts as a thickening agent. Besides sauces, it can add a nice tangy, vinegary flavor to your snacks and dishes. Use it on vegetables, salad dressings, chicken wings, pork, fish, popcorn & potato chips! Use it for to add a salt & vinegar flavor to your fish & chips. Add to your fish prior to breading to infuse the flavor into the fish without making it soggy. Careful when opening the package as the powder will go right up your nose like Wasabi!

Calamondin Marmalade

I first had Calamondin jam when my parents brought home small jars of it from their adventures on the Jewish Riviera, Miami Beach. It was like orange marmalade but better and more interesting. Then I never saw it again. Recently my friends were in Florida and asked if I wanted anything and it hit me! Bring me the jam. Calamondin oranges originated as a cross between a tangerine and a kumquat and they grow in the South. They smell sweet, but are surprisingly tart. Despite its outer appearance and its aroma, the taste of the fruit itself is quite sour, although the peel is sweet. Calamondin marmalade can be made in the same way as orange marmalade. Like other citrus fruits, the calamondin is high in vitamin C. The fruit can be frozen whole and used as ice cubes in beverages such as tea, soft drinks, water, and cocktails. The juice can be used in place of lemon juice. It makes a fantastic glaze for ham, and is excellent on duck. You can buy it online. My friends brought me all natural calamondin marmalade made by Pelican Bay Ltd. And of course it’s excellent on toast.

So, what's new with you?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best Potato Gratine Recipe Ever (and some other stuff)

Seasonal Recipe of the Week
This past week my family enjoyed a small, intimate Christmas dinner at home. Instead of the usual Chinese food, we decided to go old-school and do ham, green beans, and potatoes gratine. Now I don't know about you guys, but I have found previous attempts at this dish to be always just not right. It's either too fatty, or too dry, or not cooked enough (even after what seems like days in the oven). So I started to do some research and immediately turned to the Food52 website which has never let me down. And what do you know, their featured recipe was for potato gratine! Fate has handed me a gem, and I am passing it on to you with some options to make it your own. Favorite part, is it only takes 30 minutes to cook and you can prepare it ahead of time!

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 garlic cloves
6 large waxy potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as red bliss, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 cups half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère

Preheat oven to 400° F. Rub the inside of an 8 × 8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Smash the garlic with the side of a knife and sprinkle generously with salt. Chop and scrape the garlic into a mushy paste. Combine garlic paste, potatoes, half-and-half, and remaining 4 tablespoons butter (cut into 1/2-inch pieces) in a pot; stir. Season with salt and pepper and grate in a hint of nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture with a spoon. After 8 to 10 minutes, the potatoes will be a little tender, and the sauce will thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like. Dump the mixture into the prepared dish; smooth the top as much as possible. At this point you can hold the dish until you're ready to bake, even overnight in the refrigerator. 

Cover the gratin with Gruyère and bake until deeply golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes (longer if chilled overnight). Let the gratin cool and set a little before serving.

So this is the basic recipe, now here are some things you can do to customize this dish. Why not
use 1/2 sweet potatoes, or add some zucchini, or thin slices of butternut squash? You can also change the cheese, try cheddar, or goat cheese, or Stilton. Rosemary, thyme or sage would be interesting and you could also take it in another direction with some sautéed mushrooms or a dribble of truffle oil.Go ahead and explore your options but keep the procedure the same.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Tips 2014

Darlings! Rula is here for you! I know, I know, for some of you, cooking for Thanksgiving can be very stressful. That's why you should go check out my surefire hints to improve the evening's meal:

Rula Gives Good Bird

Yes, fellow Pilgrims, these are the same tips I post every year, but — like me — they never go out of style!

Now since she's moved back to New York New York, Stacy will not be on the Radio Café with Mary-Charlotte this year. Those of you who are used to hearing her on KSFR the morning before Thanksgiving will just have to content yourselves with listening to the eight years of Radio Café podcast archives that feature Stacy's Thanksgiving tips. Maybe next year they can work out some sort of high-tech, satellite hookup or something. It's beyond me.

Well, my little Sweet Potatoes, it's back to Brooklyn for me — I have some cranberries to grind! Ciao!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adventures in Molecular Gastronomy, Part 2

As promised, I went back to the kit I got from Uncommon Goods, read the instructions more carefully (I put down my cocktail first), then re-tried the failed yogurt ravioles and made three new recipes.


The first thing I tried was a re-do of the yogurt thingies I tried last time. Guess what? Everything works better with the right equipment! The recipe is in the previous post, so I won’t bore you with the details, but this time I used full-fat yogurt and milk and I think it gave them more strength. I also used the round spoon provided (which looks like a tablespoon) and dropped them very close to the liquid so they held together in a round ball as opposed to a series of gross, squid-like forms. I still can't think of a good application for this item, it's just weird for the sake of being weird.

basic spherification - cantaloupe purée

They suggest you can create a sort of faux sushi roll using Prosicutto as the wrapper, a bread crouton in the center topped with Cantaloupe balls which look sort of like fish eggs. Why is this a good idea? Anyway I could not resist so I tried the cantaloupe part.

diced cantaloupe, puréed in blender to get 1 cup of strained purée
15 grams sugar
2 cups water
Sodium Alginate 1 gram (1/2 sachet provided)
Calcium Lactate 2 grams (2/3 sachet provided)

Take the one cup purée and mix with the sugar and Sodium Alginate. Use your burr mixer to combine and then let sit 1 hour. Dissolve the Calcium Lactate in the water stirring with a spoon. Fill the provided pipette with the cantaloupe mixture and drip droplets into the Calcium Lactate mixture. Let them sit in there for 3 minutes and then drain using the small spoon with holes in it (provided). Rinse the balls in warm water before serving.

So here is the problem, no matter how hard I tried they looked more like little sperm them balls, and they were gross, enough said. Oh yeah, they also did not taste good.


Gelification - Edible Margarita

I tried this recipe because it sounded like a high-end Jello shot but cooler. I used the half-sphere silicon mold provided but had very poor results. Perhaps they forgot to tell me to lightly oil the mold? They did not come out well (see photo). Fortunately I had lots of extra mixture, so I poured it into a dish and was able to cut it into squares and serve it that way. Not bad and they had quite a kick!

After tasting the basic recipe mixture I found it was way too strong for me, so I added the Pomegranate molasses and the Agave. Yummy!

1/2 cup Tequila
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
1/4 cup Lime juice
2 tablespoons Pomegranate Syrup
1 tablespoon Agave
4 grams cold-soluble gelatin (1 sachet provided)

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix with your Burr mixer till smooth. Pour the stuff into the lightly oiled mold or flat-bottomed dish. Put in fridge and let set for 3 hours. Unmold and serve. Or why not just make yourself a damn cocktail!


Gelification - chocolate spaghetti

My final experiment was the funnest one. I made chocolate spaghetti! I used all the right equipment and it worked perfectly. But what should I do with this stuff? Make a nest and put it on top of my head?

1 cup milk
3 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons Tia Maria, or another liqueur
20 ice cubes
1 large bowl cold water
2 grams Agar Agar (1 sachet provided)

Bring milk and 2 grams Agar Agar to a boil. Add the chocolate and stir till it melts. Remove from stove and mix in the liqueur (Shout out to my friend Teri, and her homemade Kahlua!). Place ice cubes into large bowl of water. Using the syringe (provided) siphon off some chocolate mixture and then attach a piece of silicon tube (provided) and inject it into the tube then submerge it into the ice water for 4 minutes. Next, use the empty syringe to force air into the tube, squeezing the chocolate spaghetti out onto a plate, or into your mouth, maybe?


Ultimately, I thought this kit was lots of fun, and there are more things I want to try because I love weird science, but for now I am going back to real food. Thanks again to Uncommon Goods!