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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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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