Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mission: Foie Gras Pizza

Everybody loves pizza! You do! We do! The Ramones did! We mean... it's pizza. Everyone loves it.

Everybody loves foie gras, too. You do! We do! The Ramones did! It's foie gras, people! It's heaven!

(What's that you say? Some people may have serious ethical concerns regarding foie gras, you say? Bah! Consider this: if those people were to eat foie without knowing where it came from what would they think? Would they want more? Or would they not?

You know what they'd think. They'd love it and they'd ask for more. And if it were us, we'd serve it to them. And if they asked, we'd call it meat butter.)

So this week we're going to put two great tastes - foie and za - together. Let's see what happens.

Mis en place!

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So there's some salted foie we made a week or so ago, and pizza dough, and prosciutto (the book calls for lonzo, but we weren't able to source it easily: and the book does suggest going with prosciutto if needed). And figs!

Wait, figs?

Anyway, first we put the dough in the pan:

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And then we sauce it up, adding figs and goat cheese:

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And then we fired it for a while. When we were satisfied that it was about done, we put arugula (which we cannot spell correctly) on it and fired it again for 15 seconds or so to wilt it. Then we laid the prosciutto on top of that, just so:

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And then we put the foie on top. Here's a slice:

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And then we ate it up.

And the only word that came to mind was... meh. This wasn't an epic fail or anything (unlike, say, a certain cotton candy machine) but the dish was somehow a little less than the whole of its parts. We both got the feeling that the foie was added here because it could be added, not because it really brought anything to the party. Oh well.

Note to selves: We sure did have a good time at Melissa and Alex's wedding last week! Wahoo Melissa and Alex! Congratulations! Yay! Also, when salting foie, be sure to wrap it in plastic to keep it from drying out.

Time, mis to eat: About 45 minutes or so.

Next time: Fish and chips.

Blast from the past: Who cares where it comes from? It's good!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mission: Maple Ice Cream with Maple Cotton Candy

This week we continue Jacob's maple education with a dessert that was redonkulously easy on one hand, and redonkulously frustrating on the other. We're going to make some ice cream (easy!) and cotton candy (frustrating!) and put it all together in a bowl. Let's see how that works out.

First, the ice cream - or, more properly, custard - meez:

Meezing the cream

Simple, eh? The first thing we do is put the maple syrup on heat and start to reduce it. While we've done a little bit of this kind of thing before, this was the first time we realized that Maple Syrup is essentially sugar, and heating it is essentially candy making - an action that both of us have been alternately fascinated by (ain't it cool that small differences in heating can have such an impact on the cooled product! That's super awesome chemistry!) and terrified of (ain't it scary that small differences in heating can have such an impact on the cooled product? I'm scared now!) for some time now. Anyway, here's the syrup coming up to temperature:

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Once we got it to the right temp, we took it straight off the heat and started mixing the rest of the custard ingredients into it, stirring vigorously the entire time. We added the eggs last:

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From here we did some more stirring to combine everything, and then we took the whole thing and put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, we invited two of our favorite test subjects friends over and they JUST HAPPENED to bring their ice cream maker along with them. So we poured the custard into it:

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And then we set it and forget it for 45 minutes or so. What could be simpler? This recipe has everything going for it: chemistry! Sweetness! Eggs! Sugar! Simplicity! Our expectations were soaring! We couldn't wait to try it! All we had to do now was make cotton candy - and how difficult could that be?

Oh.

Yeah... about that.

The cotton candy aspect did not turn out quite the way we hoped it would.

So for this dish we bought a cotton candy machine. We're usually not into unitaskers - in principal at least, we agree with Alton that the only unitasker one should have in the kitchen is the fire extinguisher - but we thought that in the spirit of the project! We should! Make our own! Cotton Candy! We MUST!

(And where would we find maple cotton candy, anyway? It's hard enough to find maple sugar around here! Clearly, we HAD to make it ourselves! That is what Chef Picard would want us to do!)

We did research and found a very cute (and pink! hello!) cotton candy machine on Amazon. It seemed reasonably priced, and seemed to promise a certain... level of performance, lets say. It came in the mail the day before we were going to use it, and we read through the instructions, which made still more promises regarding a certain level of performance:

What our cotton candy should look like

I mean, look at Figure G!! What a massive quantity of cotton candy! I'm getting a stomach ache just looking at it! Not that I won't eat it up and ask for more! Gimme!

And here's where the wheels, as it were, started to come of the wagon. Maybe we should have expected that, considering this warning label:

Important instructions

We had read that the machine's performance gets better the longer it was on - that is, the first batch was kinda sucky, but the second would be great. So the first thing we did was add just pure granulated sugar to the machine. Just to warm things up, you see. Just to make sure it worked, you know. So we added a tablespoon of sugar to the machine, and then another, and then another, and after about 20 minutes we had this much cotton candy:

Plain cotton candy

Okay. Well, the second batch will be better, right? So now we added the maple sugar to the machine. And then we added more. And a little more. And got no candy. NONE. So we went back to the computer for more research. It seems that the machine likes granulated sugar the best. The maple sugar we had was very finely granulated, so at this point - as a last gasp - we mixed up a batch of half maple and half plain sugar, like so:

1/2 maple, 1/2 regular sugar

And after three scoops (tablespoons) of that we took what we had and compared it to the plain cotton candy we had made earlier:

What it actually looked like

Epic, huh? Well, we did have enough for one dish, and so here is the final product:

Mission: Maple Ice Cream and Maple Cotton Candy

Then we split up the candy into four teensy little bits and ate up our portions.

And holy cow. This was good. The cotton candy added a nice dryness to the ice cream. The ice cream was very sweet, but not cloying, and we all enjoyed it. So maple ice cream? Great! Maple cotton candy? Super, thanks for asking! However...

Note to selves: Cotton candy machine? EPIC FAIL. Seriously. We're returning it. If we ever make cotton candy again we'll just rent an industrial version.

Time, mis to eat:
Not including the overnight chill on the custard, about 90 minutes for the ice cream. The cotton candy took about 45 minutes or so.

Next up: We're going to throw together a little thing called Foie Gras Pizza!

Blast from the past: We've loved foie for a long time... and this was truly two great tastes that went great together.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

OOS: Respect the Tip Jar

Ripped from the headlines of our neighborhood, we have a sad tale to tell about something we bore witness to - kinda - at our favorite butcher.

Last night we went to Avedano's to pick up some sausage and steak for dinner. We drove up and came right in - and the butcher locked up the door behind us! Turns out that they had just - just! - been robbed. Well, the tip jar had been stolen. (Yes, our butcher has a tip jar. And yep, we tip - they're really good to us, and are great about sharing knowledge and butcher lore, and... we're food bloggers, for god's sake, what do you want?) Apparently, some drunk came into the shop, asking for money, and then produced a knife and ran off with the tip jar.

So while one butcher was explaining it to us, the other one was calling 911. And the cops were there within about 30 seconds. Some response time, huh?

Anyway, we ended up getting our sausage (one pork, one lamb; we ate'em straight after putting on high heat for a few minutes - delish) and steak (grass fed flank, which we seared and ate up with some pita) and it wasn't until we left that I realized that there was something really idiotic, and almost hilarious, about robbing a butcher... wielding a knife.

Since no one was hurt, let's call it funny. And let's reflect for a moment. It's a well known fact (among the underworld types... I'm told) that one is to be especially cautious - and perhaps even not to trust - a man who keeps pigs. I would think that one would always be on one's best behavior around shop run by women who no doubt know many men who keep pigs.

And on the other hand, a knife - of all things? Against a butcher? It's well-established that bringing a knife to a gunfight is a bad idea; what level of bad idea-ness would we call bringing a knife against a butcher?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mission: Tomato Tart

This week we're off to a mysterious land known as Connecticut, exploring one of its darkest corners - known by the locals as Grennitch - to visit two dear friends who will soon be transported off to the British Crown Colony of Bermuda; where apparently there are all sorts of devilish things in store for them. (Things like rum, linen suits, reinsurance, expensive lemons, and the like.)

Our mission this week was to create the Tomato Tart - using an unfamiliar kitchen and untried (by us) tools. All missions require planning, and so we first created our mis en place:

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As you can see, unfamiliar territory - but we shall prevail! As you can see we've prepped our pastry and had it chilling since the night before, wrapped in wax paper, assuming the proper consistency. It's still a smidge early for tomatoes in Connecticut - at least in Grennitch - but we were able to find some lookers at the local Whole Foods grocery mart, as seen here:

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And so we were off! Melissa kindly took to slicing the tomatoes wafer thin while Jacob patiently plucked the teensy little leaves off an otherwise unsuspecting herb:

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And during this, our host Kris kindly whipped up the bechamel base for us:

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Isn't that ball whisk a looker? We're definitely going to get one. Because the three whisks we have are suddenly obsolete. Anyhoohah, once that was placed in a chilled bowl, we were ready for the second meez:

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Now comes the time on Sprockets when Jacob does battle with the pastry. Continuing to learn from previous disasters experiences, we had kept the dough in the fridge until the very last moment, and then once we got to work, we worked as quickly as possible, so quickly that there's but one picture of that process:

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And we are happy, beyond happy, to report that we were able to not only get the dough rolled out properly and quickly, we were able to get it up off the granite and onto parchment for the assembly, just so:

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And so assemble we did:

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And then into the oven at high heat for a very short period of time (20 minutes or so) and then out it came, looking like this:

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For a moment it looked like that. Then we ate it up. Greedily.

So the day before we made this dish we met some other friends in Algonquin Manhattan, and ate some really good pizza at a place on 3rd in the Mid-80's. It was really good - super good - a real good thin crust pizza, so good that you could just get a margarita or a white pie and be perfectly happy (we did actually get one of each, in addition to a pepperoni for good measure). It was one of those pizzas that makes an east coast transplant (like Jacob) suddenly sharp pangs of nostalgia and regret - nostalgia for the primeval feelings that for some reason surround pizza when you grow up on the eastern seaboard, regret because that dish really doesn't exist west of, say, the Susquehanna river - and maybe not even that far west - and no one has ever come close to having a reasonable explanation as to why that is, exactly. (Jacob thinks it's the water, but Jacob is full of it sometimes.) Basically which is to say, that those pizzas were freakin' good, much better than what we can get in the Bay Area at any price.

These tarts reminded some of us of those pizzas. Sure - okay - fresh pastry topped with fresh ingredients, made just across the sound from Long Island. Same air - different water, but same basic atmosphere; right? But there's no bechamel sauce on those Manhattan zas, nor is there nutmeg, nor did we fire these tarts in a pizza oven, or on a stone. But there was a resemblance, absolutely, and while there was some discussion about the cheese - gruyere was called for and used, half of us liked it, half of us thought maybe something different would be better next time - none of us were really unhappy about the result.

Not even close.

Note to selves: Get a ball whisk! What a clever device! And cute too!

Time, mis to eat: 45 minutes, not including the overnight chill for the pastry dough.

Next up: It's HOT in the Bay Area so we're going with... Maple Ice Cream with Maple Cotton Candy. Yeah, you read that right.

Blast from the past: The last time we made a tart, Jacob had a lot to learn - or, he claims, remember - about pastry.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

OOS: Super Roll Up Surprise

During the creation of our Pets Soeurs we noticed that we had some extra pastry left over after trimming. It just so happened that we were making some onion soup base - we had run out after a slight misunderstanding regarding its true identity and had a wealth of caramelized onions laying about, along with some lardons.

Melissa noticed this, and gamely decided that it may be fun to try something new to us - and maybe new to the world - by piggybacking the Pets Soeurs recipe onto a flash of inspiration all her own. Here's how that turned out.

First, we rolled the remnants of the dough into a rectangle. Then we sugared it up:

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What to add? How about some nice lardons, from our friends at Niman Ranch, cooked somewhat to render their goodness fat:

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Things do go better with bacon, after all! But what else to add? How about some delicious caramelized onions! Surely that wouldn't hurt! But we better stop at that - who knows what these could do together! The world could come to a halt! We better paint yolk on the end of the dough, to seal:

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And now Melissa rolled it up, like this:

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Getting a finished tube (sorry for the technical terms), which went into the fridge for a while:

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And then, when we were ready to get the Pets Soeurs underway, we put our new creation on the same silpat with them - they are the smaller ones, on the left:

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And now here they are all baked, out of focus, in the back row:

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We ended up dipping these in the maple caramel sauce as well.

These were... amazing. The savory of the bacon did a good job offsetting the sweet of the sugar and the onions. These would have been very good at any time of day (we say) but in the morning, with the caramel sauce, pets soeurs, eggs, and some mimosas, they were really just grand. But how bad can something be when it comes from such great recipes like the ones in the PDC Album?

Note to selves: Experimentation is good! Real good!

Time, mis to eat: About 24 hours, including dough chill times; 40 minutes or so for assembly and baking, about an hour for the onions and maybe 15 minutes for the lardons, if that.

Next up: We travel to Connecticut for the holiday and take this show on the road!

Blast from the past: Next week we finally get to try these.

Mission: Pets Soeurs

Another week, another recipe; and this time... it's personal.

This week Jacob will re-enter the terrordome known as pastry and baking - that area where, long ago and far away he first learned his love of making food as an adult - where he has (he feels) failed spectacularly in this project. He will once again do battle and this time he will bring all his tricks to the table... including his new found love of all things maple!

Let's see how this works out, shall we? Mis en place:

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As you can see, we have smartly prepared our pastry dough ahead of time and chilled it for 24 hours prior to our work. And because we're able to learn - slowly - from our mistakes, J went and stuck the dough back in the fridge after this shot to keep resting until we were ready for it, fully.

Meanwhile, we got our farmer's market butter in to the Cuisinart and whipped it up:

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Which took essentially no time but did make it much easier to spread in the end. Now it was time to lightly flour our work surface:

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And get to working on the pastry dough, like so:

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Until we have a nice, if somewhat irregular, rectangle like thing on the board:

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Now we trim to fit, setting the extra away for a flash of inspiration to come:

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As you can see, that dough - being chilled well, and being worked up on a nicely floured surface - is not sticking to the board. Thank goodness. Anyway, now we paint one strip with egg yolk, and add a moderate amount of maple sugar (granulated), and end up with this:

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Which is ready to roll into what those in the know call a "tube":

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Just so! And here's what it looks like when all rolled up, and about to be wrapped in wax paper before going back into the fridge:

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Now we chilled it for a while. And when it was time to serve, we cut it into pieces like so, below - the larger ones are the Pets Soeurs, the smaller ones will be revealed in a subsequent entry:

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And into the heat they all went, for short period of time. Coming out they looked like this before we drenched them in a simple maple caramel sauce (consisting only of maple syrup and 35% MF cream):

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And then we ate them, and gave some to our friends.

These were very good, certainly worth the making. At the very least, Jacob was able to finally reassert his pastry knowledge and feel good about how the dough turned out. They were intensely sweet - one or two was enough for us and our guests.


Note to selves: Exercise caution when cutting! The granulated maple sugar had a tendency to fall out when we cut the roll (technically called a "tube") into medallions (technically known as "disks").

Note to selves, TMI edition: Soeurs aren't the only ones who get pets from these things.

Time, mis to eat: About 24 hours, including dough chilling steps, less than an hour for assembly and baking.

Next Up: Melissa has a flash of inspiration and creates something very new, using things we have learned during this project!

Blast From the Past: We had some trouble sourcing these, but now they're everywhere in the farmer's market! Live and learn, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

OOS: Wall Street Journal Article

Proving once again that we never stop working for you - our far flung readers from all states and many nations - here is a piece of some very good news that we were alerted to this morning by loyal reader Lev:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121460185679911843.html

Bellota ham, recently decriminalized, is about to come to the states. Hurray!