Category Archives: Tips

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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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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The Perils Of Home Cooking (aka Flour + Water rocks!)

I love cookbooks. My bookshelves sag with the evidence. Alas cookbooks can only go so far. They cannot convey feel. They cannot convey smell. They have no way to teach intuition. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can try to follow a recipe and just be wrong. I have made pasta many times from many different cookbooks and based on these attempts I have developed a technique. It turns out my technique was wrong.

Flour + Water offers pasta courses. I found out about an upcoming series on sf.eater.com. Much to my dismay the beginner class had sold out before I got to the website. With some encouragement from my wife I decided to start with the intermediate course. The chance to go to a restaurant of this quality and learn technique was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

My daughter is the best cranker in the world!

I really didn’t know what I was getting into but the class ended with dinner so I figured I had nothing to lose. In short the course is fantastic. They have constructed it to allow people of all levels to get what they want out of the class, have a great time, and meet interesting people and none other than Chef McNaughton teaches the class which pretty much floored me. Oh yeah, did I mention they serve dinner and keep your wine glass full?! Suffice it to say I will be returning for the other courses.

“Make a well… lightly flour board… elastic… little sticky… smooth as baby skin” If you’ve ever made pasta from a cookbook these are familiar refrains. They are trying but until you’ve seen what it is supposed to look like and until you’ve felt what it is supposed to feel like it is hard to know what you are looking for. The single most important thing I learned in the class was to use as little moisture as possible to form a ball. Chef McNaughton recommends adding water with a spray bottle very slowly until you reach this point. When done right, no flour is needed for the board and no flour is needed later on in the process either and yes, after you are done it feels like baby skin ;).

I simply could not wait to try it at home so Saturday my daughter and I rolled up our sleeves and made ricotta agnolotti.  Actually I kind of made a beurre blanc with some shallots and added ricotta, parmesan, fontina, parsley and egg and seasoned until it tasted great. I won’t lie, making two half sheet pans of agnolotti took some time, actually quite a bit of time, but I could tell while I was working that it was turning out better than ever before.

I made them a day ahead so I froze them and stored them in some bags until boiling them for a few minutes in well salted water. I made a quick sauce with more shallots, dried porcini, my homemade tomato sauce, and some red wine. The results were amazing.  Finally, I had made pasta!!

P.S. All of the action photos were taken by my daughter! Thank You!

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A Family Affair

Last weekend my brother and sister-in-law were in town for a short stop on their way to Napa (jealous!).  This, of course, called for a special dinner (on top of birthday pizza of course).  A few weeks ago I managed to stop at my favorite meat purveyor, Prather Ranch, in the now famous Ferry Building in San Francisco.  They have humanely raised meat like the standing Berkshire rib roast I purchased frozen and tucked into my freezer.  If it was closer I would get all my meat there.  It is more expensive but I just eat less of it.

I’ve been seeing Italian Porchetta in a lot of places so I wanted to approximate those flavors.  I also wanted to try one last style of cooking on my now infamous Green Egg: roasting.  These “grills” are essentially ceramic ovens and as such can be used much like a wood fired oven.  Especially when you have the “plate insert” which acts like an oven floor protecting whatever you are cooking from the fire.  72 hours before cooking I followed a Zuni technique (cookbook review here) to season the roast.  The day before (while the children were partying) I prepped the Gnocchi so they would be quick to finish and the morning of I purchased some fresh corn that I roasted in the oven alongside the pork (wow, corn roasted in husk is awesome).

I don’t know if it was the 72 hour marinade, the ceramic grill, the heirloom meat, or the wine consumed during cooking  but this was unbelievably good!  Here’s a before cooking shot.

Tip: Season the roast at least 24 hours before, 72 wins you a prize
Tip: Pull the meat from the fridge one hour before cooking.  This gives the center of the roast half a chance of cooking before the outside gets over done.

Standing Pork Rib Roast (Porchetta style)

4 lb pork roast (happy pork is best)
4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp peppercorns
rosemary sprigs to taste
4 garlic cloves minced

If you have a mortar and pestle, crush the peppercorns, fennel seeds, and coriander and then add the garlic and rosemary (about 1 tbsp chopped) and continue working into a paste.  Add a bit of olive oil to make the paste something spreadable.  If you don’t have a mortar use a spice grinder to grind the spices and chop the garlic and rosemary as finely as possible and mix it all together with some olive oil.

Carefully bone the roast slicing as close to the bone as possible and working your way to the bottom without separating the bones from the meat and open it up carefully.  Salt the entire roast being sure to salt the thicker sections more.  Do the same with the spice rub putting 2/3 of the mixture “inside” where you cut and spreading the rest over everything else.  Using twine, tie the bones back onto the roast.  Tuck some more rosemary sprigs in if you like rosemary like me :).  Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours but preferably longer.

One hour before cooking pull from the fridge.  Heat your grill (indirect or green egg 🙂 ) or oven to 375-400.  I use a probe that can stay in the roast and attaches to something outside to decide when meat is done.  I placed the roast in a hot skillet and placed it into the grill which had a bit of applewood to provide a little smoke.  The roasting took about an hour to get to 135-140.  Pull it out and let it sit 15-20 minutes.  Enjoy!

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Dessert Cheating

This is the third thing I served at the Paella Party that I thought warranted a blog entry.  Believe it or not there is still one more!

I love strawberry and rhubarb together.  When eaten raw, a good strawberry is hard to beat but when you cook them they can get a little cloying.  Enter rhubarb, providing the perfect vegetal acidity to bring harmony back to the world.  And so every year I return to my favorite combo creating free-form pies that are so simple and so good it feels like you are cheating.

Tip: Make extra pie crusts and store them in the freezer.  They will keep when wrapped tightly in the freezer and you are only an hour or so away from a great dessert.

Tip 2: This is from America’s Test kitchen whose attitude I find trying at times.  Add vodka to your crust.  This way you can add a good bit more liquid than is called for and make a dough that is easier to work with.  The extra liquid is mostly alcohol so it simply evaporates in the oven leaving the crust crisp!

Tip 3: Make a galette instead of a pie.  It’s faster to make, it’s faster to bake and they just look cool!

Most of the recipe comes from CookWise which is a great book about the science behind cooking if you’ve never heard of it.  If you feel that you aren’t very good at making pie crusts here is some unsolicited advice.  Take my advice and add some vodka to make the dough workable, move the crust a lot while rolling making sure it is well floured, and make a lot of pie for practice!

Pie Crust (makes three, freeze the extras!)

1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c cold water
up to 1/3 c cold vodka
11 ounces all purpose flour
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 in cubes

If I have any purist readers I know I’m about to offend (sorry).  Put the flour and butter into the bowl of a standing mixer.  Mix a bit by hand with the paddle attachment and then put all of it in the freezer for upward of 30 minutes to chill.  It is important to keep the butter cold.  Dissolve the salt in the water and stick in the fridge.  Chill the vodka too.  When its time, mix the flour and butter (start slowly you will get a cloud of flour) until the butter is in small pieces.  People say it looks like cornmeal but I don’t usually get quite that small.  Add the cold water and if that doesn’t start to come together start adding the vodka a bit at a time until the dough starts to clump.  Try to make these decisions quickly since you don’t want to over mix and build up the gluten (this will make your crust chewy).  Turn it out and bring it together by hand if necessary.  Use your kitchen scale (you have one right?) to weigh into three equal pieces.  Wrap in plastic wrap flattening into a disk and put  in the fridge.  Freeze anything you don’t want to use right away.  I typically wrap again in foil to help protect it.  Don’t forget to label the foil!

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