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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Notes From Europe

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.

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Bon jour!

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.

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Marital Aid

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…

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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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Back to School (aka The Nasturtium Conundrum)

It was back to school week so it seemed appropriate to head back to Flour + Water for more pasta class, this time with a friend. I had jumped in at the intermediate class and quickly decided I had to come back for the advanced class. I heartily recommend these classes to anybody in the Bay Area interested in learning how to make pasta. The staff is great, you meet some interesting people, and you get to eat! You also learn and practice how to make pasta under the supportive and expert hands of the Flour + Water cook staff (this time Matt and Ryan aided by Stephanie thank you guys!).

We made two pastas: Cappellacci Dei Briganti and Tortellini. The Tortellini was a Nasturtium dough with more nasturtium leaves in the filling. It smelled fantastic. When dinner rolled around they served it in tomato water “brodo.” What an inspired idea! I was psyched to get home and try myself.

You can imagine how crushed I was to venture into the garden and find the thriving Nasturtium plant we had was gone. Never one to give up, I decided to use some herbs instead. I pulled out the dehydrator and dried fresh parsley and tarragon which I then ground into a fairly fine powder. I put close to 2 grams each into around 350 grams of 00 flour.

For the filling I roasted some chickens as I worked on my tomato sauce. The next day I made the filling and with some help from my daughter rolled out and made a crowded half sheet pans worth of tortellini.

Hen Tortellini Filling

1 Large Shallot chopped
4 cloves garlic sliced
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Half bunch Yellow Chard (or some greens you like)
1/2 tsp fresh toasted and ground fennel seed
1/8 tsp chili flakes
8 oz cooked hen (or chicken)
1/4 c grated parmigiano
2 Tbsp chopped chives
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
2 eggs

Sweat the shallots in the olive oil for a few minutes and then add the garlic. Rinse and tear the chard from the ribs and roughly chop, drain and add it with the fennel and chili. Throw everything except the eggs and herbs into a food processor and grind. Season to taste with salt and pepper adding the herbs. I let it sit in the fridge for a while to come together and then added the eggs.

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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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Low and Slow (aka an Atypical Bolognese)

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

Atypical Bolognese

Butter
Olive Oil
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
Tomato puree
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.

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Summer Lovin

For me, nothing is much better than perfectly ripe tomatoes sliced and prepared simply. All the better if those tomatoes come from your backyard and the weather is perfect for a dinner on the patio. Last year was not a great tomato year where we live so I got a little over eager and planted 19 tomato plants (yes, I’m crazy).  Part are for sauce making but many are heirloom varieties slated for the plate. At this point we are having trouble keeping up with the harvest so the sauce making will commence but tonight was time to enjoy some of my favorites including Pineapple, Pink Caspian, Cherokee Purple, and Stupice.  I just sprinkle on some salt, olive oil, and basil. I do prefer to salt a few minutes (at least ten) in advance since I think it works a bit better. If I am wanting to gild the lily, as I was tonight, a few slices of fresh mozzarella that I dry and salt separately. Here’s hoping your tomato season is going as well as ours!

 

 

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