Wednesday, October 24, 2012

With a Hint of Burnt Popcorn

                                   

If failure had a scent, it would probably smell something like burnt popcorn.
That quick moment where you walk away from the stove from what you thought was a couple of minutes and your first indication of a ruined batch is the acrid perfume of blackening corn kernels.

After this most recently happened to me, I took a close look at my pot of failure and thought that biting into a whole kernel would definitely be off-putting. But I couldn't bring my self to throw away the disappointing results. I did dispose of the whole burnt kernels just leaving the remnants and I decided to cook quinoa in the same pot with salted water hoping that the beyond smokey flavor would permeate the grains and give a hint of something familiar, yet unfamiliar in its context. 

I boiled the quinoa in the burnt popcorn water until completely evaporated, let it cook a bit longer so the quinoa started to toast and almost burn itself. I then quickly stirred everything to mingle all the textures and flavors from the bottom of the pot.

Delicious.

I might actually prefer it this way. Though I struggle with the fact that I may have to purposefully burn popcorn every time, I believe I'll get used to it.




Monday, October 15, 2012

Complementary


shrimp shell broth
celery root dumpling
crispy beef feet
shrimp
sunchoke powder
thai basil


Broth is a great vehicle for layering flavors without one particular ingredient standing out. All of the components work together to create a harmonious focal point. There is no star to the dish, the dish itself is the star. One could easily say that the shrimp plays first fiddle, but I think that diners and chefs are almost conditioned to give the starring role to a protein. The bold item with the larger font held up by the starch, sauce, vegetable and herb; all in a smaller and less bold font. The stigma of entrées.

Hear me out, there is nothing wrong with having a star protein. The juicy, thick, bone-in ribeye smothered in mushrooms & peppercorns propped atop mashed potatoes or the roast chicken leg amongst a smattering of root vegetables from the same pan. These are all delicious ways to eat. However, it seems as though we cannot come away from this idea. When your eyes dart past the Entrées section of a menu it's almost as if every dish is set up in this A-B-C format. This is why I almost always eat from the appetizers and snacks section of most menus and just enjoy an assortment of flavors in smaller bites that won't leave me feeling like a gluttonous schmuck. The usual exceptions for me are often big bowls of soup or varied plentiful salads. These as a main course are often loaded with multi-layered flavors and ingredients that all support each other equally and give you a different experience with each bite. 

The broth was made from shrimp shells, garlic, onion & celery and seasoned with salted tomato water.

The shrimp was poached in a beurre monte with herbs.

The beef feet is left over from making beef broth, deboned, patted dry and pan fried.

The celery root dumpling is made from boiled celery root, flour and egg. Also crisped in the pan.

The sunchoke powder is made from the leftover trimmings and peels of sun chokes, dried in the oven and then pulverized in a spice grinder.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Burnt Onion Stock


made from charring individual onion petals directly over gas flame until most of it turned black, then simmered in water with garlic, thyme and star anise for half an hour.
It has a deep caramelized flavor and reminds me a bit of tree bark.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chicken Liver Bottarga




salted livers daily over 5 days.
results in an intense and pungent aroma.
has a deep liver flavor.

would probably go great with chocolate.
could lend a nice depth to seafood and vegetables.
undeniable on pasta.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Preserved Lemon Gimlet


preserved lemon
simple syrup
Hendrick's Gin

shaken & served over ice
thai basil garnish

summer is here

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunchoke Powder


made from the peels and trimmings of sunchokes oven-dried at 200ºF then pulverized

why not season our food with vegetables?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pulled Tripe


Crispy Pulled Tripe
Mashed Chickpeas
Mustard Green
Leeks
Fermented Eggplant Brine
Burnt Corn Husk Oil

My new favorite technique with tripe is to pressure cook it (for at least 30 min.), pull it into strands while it is still warm and then pan fry. The strands, I find, make for an interesting texture that is wonderful in soups, but in efforts to give tripe a starring role I decided to pair it with a quick mash of chickpeas with herbs and roasted garlic, raw and spicy mustard greens and the tender part of leeks that were dressed in my own fermented eggplant brine and burnt corn husk oil. I also poured some more of the dressing around the plate.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Burnt Toast



What can be learned from mistakes?
Often we try to not make them again.
But what if the mistake is a blessing in disguise?
What can we do to turn that mistake into the opposite?
Do we even try?
Do we just assume it's a mistake from what we've been taught or because it strayed from our original plan?

Perhaps every mistake is a discovery.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cinnamon-Smoked Bacalao



The best part of waking up, is smoking the fish you were curing the day before (I know that had you singing in your head). That christmas morning-like anticipation that also occurs when grilling marinated meats, fermenting vegetables and braising stews. Letting the flavors permeate and the texture of flesh transform. 


This anticipation is coupled with that nervous feeling predicting potential failure after all of that work and patience. Lately I've been trying more indoor smoking techniques and all the trials have turned out successful. I found a sushi mat I got as a gift years ago, still wrapped in it's clearance-rack make-your-own-sushi kit. Once I finally thought of a real use for it, I opened it up and used it as the smoking platform for the cod.


I seasoned the cod filet generously with salt the day before. I rinsed it off this morning and wok-smoked it over applewood and vietnamese cinnamon bark for 15 minutes (it was a small filet, though I don't think smoking longer would've resulted negatively; in fact, I wish I had smoked it longer and next time I will). 


It is reminiscent of a fresh bacalao, which is an oxymoron, I know; but the over-saltiness allows it be used in similar preparations with a more delicate approach and result. 
I flaked the meat carefully by hand into fairly large chunks and have it ready in my arsenal for a quick cold appetizer or a delicious sandwich.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fermented Cocktails: The Good & Plenty





There's a lot of preservation in my house right now. Finding various cool and dark spots to store jars of lemons, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower stems and the like to allow lactobacillus to work it's magic. That magic results in a complex, yet simple, fermentation process where a quick pickle or marination has no match. Complex in it's science, simple in it's preparation. I'll hopefully get into more detail on preserved vegetables and fermentation in a future post.


Though the star of fermentation is the vegetable, the workhorse and liaison is the brine or juice in which it  sits. It's a great salty addition to braised greens or in a vinaigrette. And, of course, to re-use for your next batch of preserved such and such.


 Salt and/or vinegar can play a subtle yet effective role in a cocktail. Which led me to the idea of using the fermentation brine.


The following was mixed in a cocktail shaker and served up:


red cabbage sauerkraut brine
simple syrup
Absolut vodka
Sambuca
ice


First of all, it tasted exactly like a Good & Plenty. Unfortunately, I don't like Good & Plenty's, so I had a negative bias towards this drink. The most fascinating thing about it though, was the texture. It had a more viscous texture that I really enjoyed. Now, I only tried this cocktail served up, so I wonder how the dilution of ice would react with the viscosity. It might cut it back for better balance.


Also, it came out cloudier than I'd like. I worry if the brine could be clarified that it'll lose that beautiful purple hue.


All in all, fermented cocktail is not the correct term for this, as that alludes to the whole beverage being fermented (another interesting idea, on the heels of barrel-aging) but I don't know what else to call it.


So there.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pickled Zucchini Tops



Whenever preparing zucchini, I usually cut the tops and bottoms off to be discarded before slicing in half to grill or in rounds to sauté. Lately, instead of discarding the top, I have been slicing it thin and pickling it in my cucumber brine. It's got a snappier texture, not unlike celery. A simple and sustainable addition to sandwiches, salads and pretty much anything.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Comfort

Smoked Vegetable Broth
Pearl Barley [Soft & Crispy]
Grilled Zucchini
Wilted Swiss Chard
Grape Tomatoes
Radish
Thai Basil Flowers

How is comfort defined in terms of cuisine?
Everyone seeks comfort in different flavors, preparations and ingredients; often tied to ethnicity and upbringing.

Cue the grandmother laboring over the stovetop ladling spoonfuls of hearty such and such in the dead white of a suburban winter or the third floor of a Queens apartment building or the back porch of a Bible-Belt Brownstone. At least that's what marketing has taught us. Comfort Food™: The opposite of molecular, complex cooking. Nostalgia via rusticity and down-to-earth soulful food made with love. Not that stuffy high-end, white tablecloth fine dining.
Unless you're pumping out corn chips for Nabisco, all food should be made with love. It can be complex and comforting all the same. It seems as there is a disconnect created when we apply terms to food (farm-to-table, molecular gastronomy, fusion, etc.). As much as we feel like it helps us understand it more by giving it a definition, it can create false and unnecessary expectations.

If you care about what you're serving, it should be made with fresh ingredients of great quality hopefully from a farm or local market. Therefore, 'farm-to-table' is unnecessary. If you employ new technology in your kitchen because you want the food to taste better or be economically more efficient, should you be stamped with such a bludgeoning term as 'molecular gastronomy'? We're wasting our time trying to pigeon-hole the food we eat and should keep our mouths shut until we taste it.

It's one thing for the consumer ('foodie' [ouch]) to use these terms to fulfill their need to genre-fy everything, but when the restaurants and businesses start masturbating these terms as an attractive point of sale, I really start to turn red with anger. Whenever I see 'Molecular Cocktails' advertised as such because they learned how to make caviar out of anything and put it in everything, my brain begins to vomit.

But I'm not bitter...

We should be thankful for the amount of knowledge we have access to nowadays. It should be utilized towards the greater good of being progressive, not reducing the food we love (or hate) to terms that, in the end, really don't mean much.

Here, I made a broth by juicing vegetables and then simmering the juice in garlic, peppercorns, coriander, salt and the same vegetables: grilled. After letting it marinate overnight, I then strained and smoked the broth with cherrywood using the Smoking Gun. The pearl barley was cooked simply in water and once dried, I deep fried a few grains till they puffed up and got crispy. The tomato and radish are raw. The zucchini is grilled and diced. The swiss chard is wilted in chicken schmaltz and charred lemon.

Many techniques, complex and simple, were used to achieve a comforting restaurant-level dish that is still made with great care.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Huancaina

A Peruvian staple, Huancaina is one of my favorite sauces. Typically served cold with potatoes, olives and a hard boiled egg it is absolutely addictive and redefines what a potato salad could be with great simplicity. The sauce is typically made with:
aji amarillo
queso fresco
evaporated milk
soda crackers
garlic

Everything is blended together to make a sauce worthy of putting atop almost anything. My variation involves toasting the soda crackers and steeping it in warm fresh milk, straining it and using that instead of evaporated milk. I also roast the garlic and add cumin and turmeric to the final blend. I'll often loosen the sauce with coconut milk before serving.

Besides laying over cold potatoes, I love tossing it with pasta or having it on the side with breakfast. Oh, and it makes for a killer eggs benedict! (replacing the Hollandaise) [By the way, I never use the word 'killer'. Here it felt appropriate]. An easy and delicious sauce that I think everyone should have in their fridge at all times.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Baked Beans Natto

natto in the style of baked beans

Friday, January 27, 2012

Midnight Goat

A mix of goat leg & shoulder braised in:
Guinness Draught
coffee
beef stock
onions
brown sugar
Vietnamese cinnamon
cloves
star anise
worcestershire
Angostura bitters
homemade garam masala

I decided to split up the goat into two vessels for comparative braising.
One half in a traditional stovetop braise, no lid on lowest heat possible.
The other half in a Crock-Pot, with lid.
Yes, a Crock-Pot.
A friend of mine, Joanna, gave me one that she wasn't using recently and though they have always reminded me of the clichéd housewife with a deranged Stepford smile simmering beef and starches for her chauvinistic and complacent husband, I've realized that I too was fooled by an initial demographic.

In the end, a Crock-Pot is a stoneware pot in a controlled temperature environment. Not quite sous-vide, but if you apply similar practices why wouldn't the result be close? The key here is to not simply throw all your ingredients together and plug it in. There's some important prep work involved (browning of meat, caramelization of onions + sugar and deglazing). After these steps, you combine everything else. I started prepping around midnight, had everything simmering by 12:30am, leaving me to go to bed and wake up at 8am to some successful goat.

The stovetop braise ended up losing all of it's liquid and a drier result of meat, thought It had more intense flavor.
The Crock-Pot braise yielded a much more tender cut still swimming in delicious goat broth, though the flavor was not as pronounced as the stovetop braise.

What's more important? Texture or flavor? In this scenario I favor texture. Flavor can always be added and improved upon (i'll probably reduce remaining liquid and adjust seasonings from there), but once meat has dried out, it's a lot harder to come back from that.

Though there are many kitchen gadgets that are cringeworthy and seemingly useless, we should also be as open minded as possible to try everything and see if it can actually be useful for you, whether or not it was advertised or intended that way. Rice cookers, egg separators, microwaves; these all have their place in a home or a fine dining kitchen. Certain methods by hand and labor are linked to tradition and stubbornness, set your machismo aside and make it easy on yourself.



Thursday, January 19, 2012

Smoked Tuna Melt



Very often time and money collectively become almost impossible to obtain. In these cases, you may make unhealthy decisions out of desperation. However, there is usually a way to turn your decisions into something worthy of your limited time and money. Case in point: canned tuna. As a child, I hated canned tuna. I didn't understand why cat food was so appealing to everyone. Tuna melts and salad sandwiches adorned the lunch boxes of my peers. But lately I find myself craving the canned stuff, so in a fit of reverse nostalgia and frugality, I bought some. I used a Smoking Gun to make that fish meat more worthy, mixed with Colman's mustard aioli and served on whole wheat with charred muenster, tomato, pickled fennel and cilantro. I no longer think I can have canned tuna without smoking it first.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Accidental Ham


I was cutting away at a picnic shoulder to make cubes for pork stew leaving behind a healthy amount of meat on the bone, almost purposely. I say almost, because I knew I wanted to do something with the bone meat, but was unsure though I wanted it to be in the realm of bo ssam or pulled pork. I coated the rest of the meat in salt and brown sugar (didn't even weigh it out) and set it aside hoping to just roast it or something the next day. The next day turned out to be the next 2.5 days and after I brushed and drained off the excess salt/sugar cure I popped it in the oven first thing in the morning at 225ºF. Almost a couple hours later, when I remembered the hunk of pig flesh roasting away, I raised the temp to 300ºF and then finished it to broil at 450ºF. Let it cool a lil', then knifed a sliver to make sure it was decent enough to add to something. After the first bite, I thought to myself "This is fucking ham!". After the feeling of foolishness settled in I said to myself "Of course this is fucking ham..." and my usual process of conception worked its way backwards.

Though chefs are often meticulous and methodical, they are just the same spontaneous and advocates of the willy-nilly. The latter is one way that chefs themselves continue to be excited by food, even if it's an obvious moment or a moment of unexpected discovery. Many a happy accident has gone on to be essential and often iconic in the world of food and the way we perceive it.



Monday, January 9, 2012

The Shape of Things to Come

Julienne. Oblique. Chiffonnade. Fine Dice.
These are some examples of predetermined shapes applied to mostly vegetables in the world of fine dining. Usually for the sake of presentation, they are designed to be visually striking by way of uniform precision. Sort of like....military art. Ok, that's a bit harsh. I do love the squares, stems, isosceles, spheres and rotundas immaculately displayed on white plates of similar shapes; but as the world of cuisine moves forward, we're always looking for game changers. What is plating like nowadays? How will it change? There are those like Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal & Massimo Bottura who have always taken a closer look at the vessel as presentation and how it effects the way we dine. But I am most in admiration of those who are experimenting with the way the food itself is displayed like John Shields & Karen Urie, Magnus Nilsson & Andoni Aduriz. They create the largest sense of wonderment as you probably don't know what you're about to eat from just looking.

As I was peeling some newly roasted beets, I was thinking of the best way to cut and display these purple bulbs. I randomly went to them with my knife creating whatever shapes were being allowed with swiftness and a carefree nature. In the end, I was just making a salad, but the erratic knife work made for a more interesting plate than perfect slices or cubes. Almost as if nature intended it.

This is why I prefer this over this