Category Archives: Sous vide

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!



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

Sous Vide Vegetables?

Fennel has shown up at the farmers’ markets here.  I have always wanted to love fennel but I have always found it to be incredibly finicky.  You can shave it raw for a nice refreshing salad but to get fennel cooked so that it is firm without being too crunchy or too soggy is something that has eluded me.  Thought of perfectly cooked fennel, deeply caramelized keeps me coming back to try.

I have read a lot about the merits of sous vide for cooking meat and fish.  I haven’t, however, read a lot about sous vide and vegetables.  It turns out that cooking sous vide allows for better retention of vitamins (I even found a study) and allows you to force desired flavorings into the food in a remarkable way (edible cocktails anyone?).  In the case of fennel you can cook it until it is done but still firm and then quickly sear it in a pan and enjoy some of the best fennel I have ever had.

Carmelized Fennel (Borrowing heavily from Keller’s Under Pressure)

Sachet: Bay leaf, thyme, pepper corns, star anise
Two medium fennel bulbs
Olive Oil

Chop off the fennel tops.  Remove any damaged leaves from the fennel leaves and/or peel the outside.  Slice the fennel into 1/2 inch sized wedges trying to keep a piece of the core for each wedge.  Toss the fennel with some pernod, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.  Vacuum seal with a sachet.  In my case I used two bags each with a sachet.  Cook at 85.5 C for 40-60 minutes until tender.  I was closer to 60.  Pull them out of the bags and pat dry and then sear in a skillet with some canola oil.

I added them to a “no kids eating dinner” salad with beans and radishes from the garden, lettuce from the market, bread toasted in butter, tuna, olives, and a little cheese.  I tossed all the ingredients separately with a champagne vinegar and honey dressing to taste adjusting salt and pepper accordingly.  The fennel had the wonderful deep flavor I’ve always wanted with just the right texture.  Wonderful.


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Gardening, Recipe, Sous vide, Thomas Keller

It’s my party and I can blog if I want to (Part 2)

This is part two of my Turning Old Birthday Party.  If you haven’t read part one you might want to start there or even with the Turning Old intro.

Several years ago I was in a small restaurant in Bologna where I had Ragu Bolognese.  The restaurant looked old enough that Galileo may have frequented it.  The ragu was a revelation.  I was pretty sure they were practicing witchcraft in the kitchen.  How else could something so simple and humble be so good?  As a result ragu is something I am always returning to at home and at restaurants though the latter usually meets with disappointment compared to the memory.  Because of my fondness for this dish I decided it had to be part of the party.  I wanted something a bit more elegant so I thought I would wrap it inside a ravioli.  Of course I couldn’t do a regular ragu so I made duck confit and then used the confit in place of pork/beef and substituted fennel for celery because it just sounded like a superior match to duck and looked so good at the farmers’ market.

The pasta dough was parsley, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano from The Glorious Pasta of Italy cookbook by Domenica Marchetti.  I admit it took a lot longer to fill these than I had anticipated!  I made a duck consommé to serve them in, an homage to another Emilia-Romagna classic: tortellini en brodo.  I topped the ravioli with a little Parmigiano and a splash of special 50 year old balsamic purchased on that same trip to Italy.  I clearly need to figure out how to make this kind of dish look a little better but the flavor was everything I was hoping for and I don’t think I saw a bowl with a drop of leftover consomme.  I paired this with the 2009 La Pommeraie Benovia Chardonnay because when I made a test ravioli the week before I was struck by the sweetness of the duck and I wanted to complement it.

A year ago we were lucky enough to dine at The French Laundry near my birthday.  This is Thomas Keller’s three Michelin star restaurant in Napa wine country.  It was white truffle season and we had two courses that included this very special ingredient.  It was the first time I ever had white truffles and I was blown away.  It is simply like nothing else in this world and I can still close my eyes and return to that revelatory moment.  Because I enjoyed the truffle courses so much I very much wanted to share this experience with my guests to whatever ability I had.  Through a very special contact I was able to procure the truffle pictured above.  I let the table take a whiff  of this special ingredient that had traveled so far before serving, a step I recommend.

Yet another photo of yours truly (surely a record), truffle in hand, adding as much truffle slices as I could before people stopped me.

I’m somewhat proud to say that this recipe was the only one actually taken straight from a cookbook.  In this case The French Laundry Cookbook.  The nice thing is the directions call for par-cooking the risotto and then finishing it quickly right before serving which is great because risotto typically takes so long to prepare.  I paired this with a 2006 Hirsch Vineyard William Selyem Pinot Noir.  A sublime match to a sublime dish.  Truly everyone should experience white truffle risotto once in their lives.  Please add this to your list or, as a good friend at work said, get me to invite you over for me to make it for you ;).

For the final savory course I opted for braised short ribs.  Braised short ribs are something I look forward to making when the weather turns “cold” in California.  I wanted to serve braised ribs but I wanted to do them in a special way.  Enter a sous vide.  I’ve been torturing myself over getting or not getting a sous vide for at least a year.  Turning old was as good an excuse as I was going to get to take the plunge so I did.  David Chang calls for braising short ribs for 48 hours sous vide in his Momofuku cookbook.  The trick is that you can braise them at a medium-rare temperature (60-61 C).  The long cooking tenderizes the meat but rather than melting into tiny pieces as braises usually does it has the “firmness” of a ribeye steak.  At least that was the theory though I felt like I was rolling the dice trying this for the first time for the big dinner.

I usually use a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques so I took the flavors from that recipe and paired it with the new technique.  I decided to sous vide the heck out of the plate so I paired the beef with potatoes sous vide in duck fat and young red onions sous vide with herbs and olive oil.  All three were browned right before serving and then plated with some horseradish creme fraiche, pickled mustard seeds (these were a surprise hit!) and some peppercress which was assuredly not just for show.  It is delicious with a horseradishy bite.  This was paired with a 2005 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cabernet.  All in all it was a very successful plate.  The short ribs are very different than what you are used to but this was the favorite dish of at least one of our guests which, if you don’t mind, is saying something :).

One more entry coming…


Filed under Cooking, Family, Food, Sous vide, The French Laundry, Thomas Keller, Wine