Category Archives: Cookbooks

Another year over

Joshua Fagans: Blog Photos 2012 &emdash;

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since the big birthday blowout but the calendar doesn’t lie. Since this was not a round number birthday the event was a good bit more modest but of course I cooked and shared the event with good friends. After some cheeses on my baguettes we had a first course of Delicata stuffed pasta in a brown butter sauce with dates and almonds. This is from the SPQR cookbook (local restaurant in San Francisco). I would have never put these ingredients together but wow what an amazing combo.

Joshua Fagans: Blog Photos 2012 &emdash;
Next up another SPQR recipe this time braised short ribs which were braised for 22 hours in the sous vide before being finished in the oven. Served these with roasted rapini and polenta.

Joshua Fagans: Blog Photos 2012 &emdash; For dessert I created a ricotta donut and served it fresh market plums and a marscarpone cream. Not bad for something I made up but somehow not perfect. Probably should have piped them out long.

Ricotta Donuts (using Bouchon Bakery Pâte á choux)

250 grams H20
125 grams butter
2.5 grams salt
138 grams flour
250 grams eggs
225 grams ricotta
25 grams sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste

Make standard Pâte á choux with first five ingredients. When cooled a bit add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Pipe into small rounds and freeze until ready. Fry for several minutes, until golden brown in 350 degree oil.

I got a number of awesome gifts (cooking related, go figure?) but this one is special:

Joshua Fagans: Blog Photos 2012 &emdash; I have been coveting this knife from a distance for a while but had so far managed to abstain. I made the mistake of picking on up at the cooking store and simply couldn’t put it down. I have never felt a knife better balanced and a handle better. I got some other interesting gifts as well but you will have to come back to the blog to hear about them ;)…

 

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Holding Court

Dungeness crab season began this week. I didn’t realize until I saw them at the farmers’ market stand. Suddenly I knew what we were having dinner. Dungeness is a crab not many have had off the Northwest coast of the United States. My understanding is that it doesn’t ship well which just means we get more ;). It is delightful if you ever get a chance to try. My favorite way to enjoy them is to cook them in a court bouillon, roll up your sleeves, and just be okay with the mess. We shared with some friends who chided me for “making stew” as I assembled the cooking liquid. I got the last laugh after we started eating…

Dungeness in Court Bouillon (adapted from Bouchon Cookbook)

1 Crab per two people works pretty well (I cooked four with below)
around 1 gallon water
one bottle dry white wine
two lemons cut in half and squeezed
two leaks cleaned well
bouquet garni (parsley, garlic, peppercorn, thyme)
handful of shallots cut in half
two fennel bulbs cleaned well and cut into quarters
some salt and pepper
some vinegar (maybe a cup or so)

I didn’t really measure much of the above so use as guidelines. Bring to boil and toss in the crabs. Boil for four minutes and then move pot of heat and steep for 30 minutes. Remove to platter. You can chill if you’d like but we just ate them when they were cool enough to touch. It was some of the sweetest, most delightful crab I have ever had and fortunately the children didn’t really eat their halves :).

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Mission Accomplished

A few years ago my wife and I were wine tasting in Napa Valley on a Monday. As often happens we got to talking with the tasting room staff and they asked us where we were having dinner. Ad Hoc we told them. “Is it fried chicken night?!” they asked. We told them we didn’t know. They looked it up for us. “It is!” Everywhere we went we heard the same thing: “Ad Hoc? Is it fried chicken night? They have the best fried chicken ever!” The excitement built. I was sure that no fried chicken could live up to the hype. It turns out I was wrong and to this day Ad Hoc serves fried chicken every other Monday night.

When the Ad Hoc cookbook came out I was excited to try the fried chicken out. It was good but not as good. The chicken came out a bit dry and somehow the coating wasn’t what I remembered. I was sad but fried chicken isn’t the kind of thing you can keep cooking until you get it right without repercussions so I put it on the back burner. This weekend felt like the right time to try again.

The market did not have the small chickens called for in the recipe which definitely made me nervous. I was worried that thick pieces would require cooking too long and burning the outside. I decided that rather than just cut the breast into two pieces like the recipe called for I would cut it into three or four based on its size and shape to restore balance. I remembered the pieces being fairly small at the restaurant. The chicken is then brined in a highly flavored bring for 12 hours (or 9 in my case) and then brought to room temp before coating with seasoned flour and buttermilk. The recipe has specifics for peanut oil temperatures and times that are different for the different cuts and then finish with a little salt and thyme. This time it was every bit as good as what I remembered. An amazing crunch that you can practically feel in your toes, moist flavorful meat, and a taste that keeps you eating long after you probably should. Mission accomplished. I was practically giddy.

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Bouchon Marathon

I have been waiting over a year for this cookbook to come out. Thomas Keller is of course the chef behind The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and the Bouchon Bakeries. Sebastien Rouxel, the pastry chef and Matthew McDonald, the baker have found a way to pass a lot of their expertise through the recipes which is simply fantastic. All of the recipes are given in weights as well as standard measurements which made me so happy since weights dramatically improves results. This book is definitely more on the advanced side but if that doesn’t intimidate you and you like baking this book needs to find a way into your home.

When my pre-ordered book arrived in the middle of the week I really wasn’t sure even where to begin. Every recipe looked like something I needed to try. As luck would have it events and the farmers’ market helped make up my mind for me. First we got invited to dinner. In California we can get pretty good strawberries almost year round. I found something called a Madeleine Cake that paired with fresh fruit so I gave it a whirl. It is a delightful, lemony, light cake that does pair wonderfully well with fresh fruit.

Next up a friend of ours was celebrating a birthday (I think 29). They had no plans so my wife decided they should come over for champagne and dessert. I found some Santa Rosa plums at the market as well. I had been wanting to make Tarte Aux Prunes ever since my side trip to France and was psyched to find a recipe in the book. Turns out Chef Rouxel is a mad genius. The Pâte Sucrée dough for the tart has almond flour and vanilla bean in it. It tastes and smells amazing all by itself yet alone with almond cream and market fresh prunes. Oh yeah, and Créme Fraîche ice cream I had made. Superb!

Then my wife decided that 15 other people should come too so I needed another dessert. This time I turned to the chocolate Oh Oh recipe. I didn’t have the right chocolate to coat them with so I had to wing that but these still got rave reviews.

Of course one of the reasons I’d been looking forward to this book was the bread. There are exhaustive instructions on creating bâtards (among other breads) from a poolish and I couldn’t wait to give it a try even though I had desserts to make. The directions are excellent and as the dough was coming together I could just tell it was going well. I definitely need more practice shaping and scoring but I’ve never gotten oven spring like I did with these and the flavor was great. Can’t wait for the second attempt!

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Filed under Baking, Bread, Cookbooks, Cooking, Thomas Keller

Dropping Acid (and Anise)

When it comes to cooking there is one thing I wish people knew more about: acid! When you are doing the final seasoning of a dish don’t just reach for salt and pepper. I’m lucky enough to have a lemon tree in the front yard. Lemon is nicely neutral in its effect on dishes but there is a whole palette of acidic options. Beans and lentils love red wine vinegar which brings a darker, more complex tannic flavor. Sherry, rice or cider vinegar also offer complexity that are super in a lot of soups. If you don’t have a lemon tree try Champagne vinegar which has a similar neutrality. And I haven’t met many things that don’t taste better with some thick, aged balsamic. Acid has a wonderful way of bringing out flavors and adding brightness all while reducing the amount of salt you need. Give it a try!

Red Kuri is an odd squash because the skin will actually soften as it cooks so you don’t even have to peel it. It also has a simply wonderful, rich flavor. This is a modification of a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s excellent Around My French Table (again!). I wanted to add a few more layers of flavor so I made a sachet with some herbs and spices.

Red Kuri Soup

1 Red Kuri Squash
1 1/2 large leeks white and light green parts only
sachet (bay leaf, few sprigs thyme, few peppercorns, few sprigs parsley, half star anise)
3 c milk
3 c water
Acid!
Pernod

Wash the squash then halve it and scrape out the seeds a fibery material. Take the pointy top and blossom nub off then cut into slices. Dump this in a pot with the well cleaned leeks and everything else and bring to a simmer. Add a bit of salt too. Cook until everything is soft (about 30 minutes) and puree (taking the sachet out first of course). After pureeing season to taste with salt, pepper, acid, and Pernod if you have it. Pernod is an anise flavored liquor which compliments the star anise nicely. I used some lemon juice and a little sherry vinegar. Enjoy!

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Dinner for 6 (aka the importance of a larder)

Hen tortellini with nasturtium in consommé

We had some first time visitors for dinner Saturday. I never quite know how people are going to react to their first dinner. I never know how many times my wife will have to apologize for her crazy husband’s cooking. I’m happy to report we did well on both fronts. The dinner was complicated by us being out Friday night, me participating in a running event Saturday morning, and my son acquiring a remote controlled airplane which, of course, required spending some time in a field trying to get it in the air.

As a result the dinner required dipping into the strategic reserves. One of the guests is French so my mind landed on featuring lamb and flageolets in the main course. I love lamb and thought about doing racks but they are just horribly expensive. If you move down a touch you can find the chop. I’ve started buying the whole cut that turns into chops and then taking both pieces of meat off the bone and tying them together to form a roast. I did this Thursday night seasoning with rosemary, salt, pepper, and anchovies (yes try it!) then left them to cure. Before the guests arrived these got dropped into the Sous Vide machine to cook to rare over two hours before browning on the stove. One of the guests claimed it was the best lamb they had ever had. Who am I to argue ;)?

The rest of the menu fell in to place after consulting a few more cookbooks and the larder. A nice make ahead is the Comte crackers from Dorie Greenspan’s excellent Around My French Table.They can be made ahead and then sliced and baked as your guests arrive. With the crackers I served some bread with roasted Piquillo peppers and sheep milk cheese. I had roasted and frozen these a few weeks before not knowing when I would use them. The first course was the tortellini that I had learned to make at Flour + Water in a consommé, both of which were also in the freezer. With the lamb and beans (which were also cooked and frozen) I served a Heston Blumenthal inspired salad of radicchio, greens, shaved blue cheese, hazelnuts, and pears. And since my wife won’t eat lamb I did butter basted chicken for her.

On the list of things to try was a cake from Miette, a local bakery that produces some killer cakes. I had just read an article that put their Tomboy cake on a short list of best cakes in the country so how could I resist even though I have limited experience with layer cakess. Not as pretty as their versions but quite tasty. It is a rich, double chocolate cake with a raspberry buttercream.

I am pleased to announce that we were also able to consume five bottles from the wine fridge over the course of the long evening! I chose a nice creamy Benovia La Pommeraie Chardonnay to pair with the tortellini. The Selyem Rochioli and Beuhler Cabernet accompanied the main course. The sparkling cider is what we call “kid’s wine” and the sparkling fermented juice was served at the beginning of the evening. The pairings were quite successful.

It was a fantastic evening. There is nothing quite as satisfying as cooking in front of an appreciative audience and our friends were that and more. The meal has left a lingering glow in the house even after the last of the wine glasses was cleaned and put away.

 

Sous Vide Lamb Roast

kosher salt 3/4 tsp per pound
few sprigs of rosemary
freshly ground pepper
one anchovy fillet per pound
touch of lemon zest
olive oil

Chop the rosemary and anchovies and then rub together with the salt and lemon zest. Add olive oil until you have a spreadable “paste” and rub all over the lamb roasts (I trimmed some of the extra fat as well) and marinate for 24-48 hours. Tie the roasts and vacuum seal. Warm the sous vide to your desired doneness in my case 130 F (54.5 C) for the bottom end of medium rare and cook for around two hours. Pull and dry the roasts while you heat a pan. I added some garlic, thyme, and butter to some olive oil and seared the roasts while basting them. Slice and enjoy!

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Filed under Baking, Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food, Napa, Russian River, Sous vide

An Update!

I spent the weekend working on a school fundraiser so unfortunately I didn’t have much time to cook this weekend. I do, however, have an interesting update. Over a year ago I wrote a post about local favorite Charles Phan and my desire for him to produce a cookbook. Chef Phan’s Slanted Door restaurant is a local institution that brought some exotic new flavors to the bay area many years ago. I am happy to report that last week Vietnamese Home Cooking  came out (the first of several cookbooks I am excited about coming out this month!). I don’t actually have it in my possession but all signs point to this being a must have for anybody interested in Vietnamese cooking. Can’t wait!

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Brutti Ma Buoni (aka Ugly But Good)

My recent forays into ice cream and pasta have left a lot of egg whites lying around. Add to this a pressing need to conjure a dessert for a neighborhood party and I turned to my well worn copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. In it are these Piedmontese cookies which provide a nutty crunch that is a nice counterpoint to the things you will find on most dessert tables. They also go well with your morning coffee, or so I’ve been told ;). I’m not sure I think they are all that ugly but I do think they are good. They would be a great accompaniment for ice cream as well.

Brutti Ma Buoni

11 ounces slivered almonds
1 c + 3 tbsp sugar
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
salt

Turn the oven to 300 and run to the market to get slivered almonds (or anything without skins). When you get home start the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the standing mixer. Dump the almonds and sugar into a food processor and grind until as fine a powder as you can. If you are crazy, like me, finish your egg whites to stiff peaks with the vanilla in a copper bowl (they really are better!) and dump the almond mixture into your the now empty mixer bowl. Add some of the egg whites to the nut mixture and stir until well combined. Add the rest of the whites and mix until combined as gently as you can. Scrape into a piping bag with no tip and pipe 1 tbsp sized cookies. They will spread a bit in the oven so give them 2 inches of space. Place in your oven and turn as necessary to get a nice brown over 30 minutes or so. Take your shower so you look decent then put the still cooling trays of cookies into the trunk of your car and get to the party.

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Smoke In The Water (aka layers of flavor)

Every time I make lentils I wonder why I don’t make them more often. They are so simple and quick to make and yet have such a great flavor and texture. My current favorite preparation comes from Heston Blumenthal. The self-taught chef has accomplished a great deal and his Heston Blumenthal At Home cookbook is one I find fascinating and recommend to any advanced cook. Chef Blumenthal prepares his lentils with smoke which was something I had never thought to try. In the book he calls for smoking your own water and though I am not one to take shortcuts it was hard for me to justify the effort when a bottle of liquid smoke was stashed in the pantry. Here is my take on the recipe which delivers some of the most complex flavored lentils I have ever tasted.

Smokey Lentils (adapted from Heston Blumenthal At Home)

400  grams water
100 grams Puy Lentils
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
carrot
celery
onion
garlic clove
10 peppercorns
thyme
bay
5 cloves
shallot
Sonomic Vinegar (or reduced balsamic-honey)
chives

Add the smoke, carrot, celery, and onion to the water and bring it to a boil. I cut the carrot and celery into big pieces that will be easy to fish out later. Make a sachet with the pepper, thyme, garlic, bay, and cloves and add to the water. When it is at a boil pour the lentils in and then cook at a simmer covered for 15 minutes or so. Taste the lentils to see if they are at the doneness you want then drain. Heston calls for boiling some balsamic vinegar and honey to a syrup but I had some vinegar given to me as a present that tasted a lot like what I thought Chef Blumenthal was aiming at so I used it. Finely chop the shallot and warm it with some olive oil and the vinegar. When it is at a simmer tip the lentils in (having removed the veg and sachet) and mix.  Keep cooking, covered until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the chives and then season with salt (smoked if you prefer), pepper, and brighter vinegar (don’t be shy this is important!) to taste. The cookbook calls to make a salad with mustard vinaigrette, radishes, peach puree, and warmed goat cheese. It is divine with these but the lentils taste great by themselves too!

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Double Trouble (aka how to trick kids into cooking)

A few years ago Buy Rite ice cream opened up in San Francisco. The flavor that got the most excitement was salted caramel. As soon as I tried it I knew I had to figure out how to make it at home. The trouble was the salt in the recipe lowered the freezing temperature. My ice cream maker (the kind you put in the freezer) churned its heart out but could only deliver slush. So, of course, I “needed” a freezer with its own compressor. The problem was I was never satisfied with the results! And so every now and again I would pull the machine out and try again but it was always the same: icy texture.

 Recently both Buy Rite and Humphrey Slocombe (another local ice cream place) came out with cookbooks. It was time to try again. This time I had a thought. What if I let the ice cream maker get fully cold before I started? When it was good and frosted up I poured the base in (which had spent 10-20 minutes in the freezer) and viola perfect texture! Why the instructions don’t tell you to do this I don’t know but please, let your machine get good and cold before you pour!


Of course I needed to make a lot of ice cream to practice. I thought it would be fun to have the kids each pick a flavor and then help me make it. Connor chose Mint Chocolate Chip and Annabelle chose White Chocolate Raspberry. It is interesting to note that I would not have personally chosen either of these but they were both fantastic! And what do you do with all those egg white? How about homemade ice cream cones made in a Pizzelle machine!

You can find the recipe for the salted caramel ice cream here at Serious Eats although I will say that unlike the poster I always use the dry caramel method. I would also recommend the Buy Rite ice cream cookbook. I have yet to be disappointed!

 

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