Even though I have not been posting I am still cooking on a very regular basis. I have, however, started a new blog that is more focused on photography. If you are interested you can find it at joshuafagans.com.
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A few weeks ago I started hearing a strange sound and smelling a strange smell whenever I fired up the oven. On inspection one of the gas burner ignitors looked like it was on fire. On closer inspection I noticed that one of the gas pipes had ruptured next to the ignitor. This caused it not to light and burn properly hampering the baking. I had worn out my Viking oven.
A web search, an order, and a few days layer this is what a new burner assembly is supposed to look like! I have to say Viking’s are fairly easy to work on. Within a few minutes we had this beautiful site!
The weekend wasn’t a total waste. I did get to help a friend with a party and made these cool rolls! Can’t wait to start the baking again next week!
Work sent me to Germany. I was attending a conference for most of the time though I did have a bit of time to kick around downtown a bit. On the advice of a colleague I took a side trip to Strasbourg after my professional duties were complete. If you are ever anywhere nearby I have to wholeheartedly recommend a stop.
Strasbourg is the largest city in the Alsace region of France. The historic downtown part of the city is actually an island in the middle of a canal system and is just wonderful to walk around and take in though I did find out the hard way that most of it is closed on Sundays.
One exception we Le Mains Dans La Farine which was opened for a few hours Sunday morning. I purchased a Croissant de Chocolate which was much lighter on the butter and the chocolate than I am used to. Quite wonderful.
Despite not knowing French (my German did get me through Cologne) my singularly biggest issue was not being able to eat all the different things I wanted to try.
I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to France until the last minute so I really didn’t have any plans. The only tip I had was Cooking in Sens who recommended Au Dauphin. They were full Saturday night and turned me away but I returned undaunted for lunch on Sunday.
I ordered up the Menu du Terroir or regional menu which was definitely very traditional and a good intro to Alsatian cuisine.
I had a lot of fun and hope to get back and sample the other local delicacies like the tarte flambée but it is also nice to be home. After recovering from jet lag I spent the weekend stocking the larder with chicken stock and tomato sauce. Hope you are all well.
Just finished a 16 hour trip from Strasbourg and am realizing that it is now 4 am where I woke up. More to follow but in short I enjoyed my time in Köln and Strasbourg and would highly recommend adding the latter to any European vacation. Here is my “last supper” in the Petite France part of town. Au revoir for now.
Wie Geht’s! I’m actually in Deutschland on business for the week but before I left a new acquisition moved into the garage. “Marital Aids” come in all shapes and sizes. We had a small 50 bottle wine fridge but there was just not enough room to store all the wine that had found its way to our house. Finally the cardboard boxes of wine that sat in the dining room became a source of marital irritation. My wife insisted that we needed a bigger storage facility. Who was I to argue? So after several weeks of hard work cleaning the garage we are now the proud owners of a new wine cellar that will allow me to park a good deal more wine that needs some maturing. Only “problem” is I realized there are a lot of bottles that need to be consumed soon…
First I need to give a huge THANK YOU to the staff at Flour + Water! My recent class has me on a bit of a pasta binge and I was eager to try my hand at tagliatelle. Chef McNaughton had mentioned during the class that they use a different recipe for their noodles so I contacted them to see if I could get it. Not only were they incredibly helpful and supportive of my efforts but they liked my entry so much they put it on one of their websites! Thank you again for all your help and welcome to anybody who found the blog because of them.
Any pasta recipe that tells you it can be mixed in a food processor is not “real pasta.” I have learned that to make pasta that has bite requires you to work dough that no machine can move. In fact, I can barely move it and my daughter required a chair to get enough leverage to take a turn. The crew at Flour + Water apparently works their dough for 40 minutes. Did I mention it gets stiffer as you work it? Did I tell you Chef McNaughton has forearms like Popeye’s? I’m sad to report my hands literally gave up at 30. The dough was incredible though. When I rolled it and cut it the noodles felt like silk ribbons. Amazing!
Ever since I was in Italy my favorite sauce has been Bolognese. It is a simple sauce, but when it is done right somehow humble ingredients are elevated to amazing heights. I had some ground lamb in the freezer so I thought I would use some of it with the more typical beef and pork to make something a littler different. I thought the the lamb would integrate during the 4+ hours of cooking time. I also decided to it might be interesting to substitute some fennel in place of the normal celery. Oh and I’m a shallot guy
Handful diced shallot
Handful of diced fennel bulb
Handful of diced carrot
1/4 c diced pancetta
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 c dry wine
2 c broth
1 c milk
Melt the butter and and add the olive oil. Sweat the vegetables until soft. Add the pancetta and render. Add the meat and brown all over separating (this takes a bit of time). Add the wine and cook off. Add the milk and cook off. Add the stock and tomato and bring to a simmer and simmer for as long as you can (at least two hours but better three+).
Also found these blossoms at the market so I stuffed them with some sheep’s milk ricotta and fried them in a simple batter as a little starter.
Apologies to all for my not posting as much as of late. I’m still trying to figure out my schedule since school started up again. It is, however, a sad day for all of us who work at Apple. I count myself lucky for having the opportunity to work directly with Steve over my career. His presence will be missed in so many ways. The good news, however, is that he taught us all so much and we will carry the torch that has now, so tragically early, been passed to our hands. Godspeed Steven P Jobs.
When I returned from my cooking adventure at Bouchon I was excited and decided to offer a french bistro style dinner for six at our house in our school charity auction. We have never done this before, at least in part because dinners sometimes go for very low amounts of money and we always fretted that this might happen to us. Our dinner came up to bid and before I knew what was happening the price had soared over $1,000 which is rarified air for our auction. I just couldn’t believe it and was even more amazed to learn that the winners were a couple we didn’t even know and so for several months I’ve been wondering how to make a dinner worthy of this generous donation to the school.
It wasn’t long before I learned that the winners were an international couple from Belgium and Italy. The excitedly relayed that they would be bringing a bunch of French people including someone who is in the fine French foods business. In other words, little ol’ me was going to have to cook French food for people who actually knew what French food was <gulp>. And so the question of how to pull this dinner off lingered in my mind for months.
I corresponded with the winner over the course of a few months and a few interesting challenges came up along with the news that the guests were all adventurous eaters. Challenges in the good sense of course. He was intrigued at the notion that I might make my own charcuterie for one. A member of their party didn’t drink wine for another. And the last was the easiest: chocolate dessert. Slowly the menu took form in my mind until I found myself a week out. I did a full day of prep on Sunday and then got bamboozled by a roommate reunion on Wednesday and having to cook a midweek meal for an old friend and his family who were in town unexpectedly. So I wasn’t really able to restart until Friday and worked until late. I was up early Saturday and worked pretty furiously until about an hour before showtime and a funny thing happened. I was ready!
Our dear friends, who actually knew the couple, generously offered to come and help. They helped decorate the table outside, served, took photos!, helped entertain (us in the kitchen too!), and did a stunning amount of dishes helping make the dinner a success and the evening a lot of fun. In the spirit of serving our guests like a restaurant I served us all a staff dinner while we waited to start the evening.
I planned the menu to be one that capitalized on advanced prep and required the least amount of cooking during the dinner. They all arrived at once and we showed them to the garden where we could let them settle in and where I served the first wine. After hemming and hawing I opted to serve all California wine for my French bistro dinner. What can I say, it sounded fun and a little mischievous. We poured some Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose to go with the first few courses. At my Sunday market the week before I stumbled upon a Kabocha squash. I had made a Kabocha – Fennel soup before from one of my favorite cookbooks so I decided that with some creme fraiche, chives, and sherry vinegar it would make an excellent amouse bouche.
Next came a charcuterie plate. I found some nice olives which I marinated. I roasted some yellow beets fresh from the market that morning then tossed them with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette. If you don’t mind me saying they were quite good. I added some garlic sausage which I actually just purchased and then my first secret weapon Lapin (Rabbit) Rillettes with spiced prunes. I had had rillettes the last time I was at the Bouchon restaurant and since our guests wanted charcuterie and some daring dishes I couldn’t help myself. This proved to be one of the most popular parts of the whole meal!
Next was my other secret weapon and something I had practiced a few times: parisienne gnocchi. These are delightful pate choux dumplings with mustard, cheese, and herbs mixed into the dough. The mustard might sound strange but it turns out to be an excellent ingredient. I browned the gnocchi and added garden tomatoes, market squash, olives, homemade chicken stock, and butter. This turned out to be the second biggest hit of the night reminding some of the guests of home. I paired this with a Carneros Lioco Chardonnay. Which I had tried with the gnocchi earlier in the week.
In my correspondences with the winner of the auction it came up that he liked Mango Lassis. I couldn’t bring myself to pour him this filling drink with the likes of rillettes but I wanted to work it into the menu. I opted to turn it into a sorbet and serve it as a palette cleanser between the first and main course.
The main course was the trickiest because it required the most cooking during the dinner and tricky timing because I didn’t know how long it would take them to eat the first courses. I ended up “firing” it when they started the charcuterie platter. I wanted a protein course and settled on lamb. The Bouchon cookbook has a roast leg that requires you to cut the leg into different pieces, remove connective tissue and then make small roasts. Note: this is a lot of work. I browned the lamb on the stove and then snuck it out the Big Green Egg to roast away.
I served the lamb over flageolet beans that were finished with shallots, garlic confit, thyme and a lamb jus I had made the week before. The guests didn’t say much about it but back in the kitchen we thought it was pretty darn good!. I served the Bedrock Lorenzo’s Heirloom Red Wine with this course.
The final course was dessert. The Bouchon bakery makes these wonderful chocolate bouchons. I thought they with some homemade vanilla ice cream would be a great way to end the evening
Despite my self imposed high standards (I won’t blame these on anybody) and the fact that we were serving complete strangers a complex multi-course dinner, the meal was a grand success! At least from my perspective. The guests seem to have a great time. There was a lot of lively chatter and laughter and they said some nice things when we chatted a bit at the end of the evening. Our friends had worked so hard cleaning as we went along that there wasn’t even a mess at the conclusion of the meal!! We ended the evening with our friends chatting over a few more bites of food and savored pulling off the $1,000 dinner!
In the Bouchon cookbook there is something called Parisian Gnocchi. It didn’t shout “give me a try” as they had mustard and no potato in them so I moved along. They were clearly not normal gnocchi. But during my short stint at the restaurant I saw them making them, prepped the ingredients for somebody to make them the next day, and even got to try them so they are now forever added to my repertoire. They are not your normal gnocchi in that they are actually påte á choux based with herbs, mustard, and cheese mixed in. They get quickly poached and then finished with seasonal ingredients. They are a bit of work but worth it! Above are my not-so-even versions after their dunk in the simmering water. Here’s a video of St Thomas doing it himself!
Tip: Make ahead and freeze after poaching!
Tip: You can measure ingredients out (even water and flour) ahead to save time later. They do this in the real kitchens!
Herb Gnocchi (Bouchon Cookbook)
1 1/2 c water
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
2 c flour
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tblsp herbs (I used fresh tarragon, prasley, and chives)
1 c grated Comté
5 – 6 large eggs
Combine 1 tsp salt with butter and water in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the flour at once and stir rapidly until glossy and the smell of cooked flour comes out. In other words standard choux dough. I put it in a mixer and started adding the eggs one at a time allowing each to fully incorporate. You can interchange with the other ingredients and only add the 6th egg if the dough is stiff.
Put the lot into a pastry bag and let it sit for 30 minutes while you bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Push the dough out through a large nozzle lopping off equal lengths with a knife or kitchen scissors. Try not to splash yourself. They only need to cook for a few minutes until they float. I dry them on towels and then arrange them on a tray that I can cover. Alternatively you can move them to a freezer.
When it’s show time take half the recipe and divide into two hot large skillets with 1 Tbsp butter. After they start to brown add your veggies, in this case two-three sliced and seeded squash that had been cooked already with some tomatoes and more fresh herbs. Save the other half for another time!
I have boiled many a potato over the years. This was often on the way to mashed potatoes and if I may say so people usually liked my mashed potatoes. I learned a while back that making sure the water was well salted led to good results and a heavy hand with the butter and/or cream/buttermilk finished off the job. In other words, I though I had mashed potatoes down.
Enter the sachet.
I think I first read about cooking potatoes with sachets in the Ad Hoc cookbook though it is not for mashed potatoes. It turns out that if you drop a sachet (some cheesecloth packed with flavorful ingredients) into the water along with the salt and potatoes you will be surprised at the results. I typically put some garlic, thyme, bay, peppercorns, and parsley (if it’s handy) into mine. Since you know what you put in you can taste a hint of thyme, garlic, and bay but for the most part it just comes across as another layer of flavor and nuance which is hard to place but delicious to eat. Give it a try the next time you are cooking up mashed potatoes!
Oh, and if you haven’t tried buttermilk in your mashed potatoes you should definitely try that as well!