Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thomas Keller on Charlie Rose: The Interview

Charlie Rose's interview of Thomas Keller aired last week, and I think it's a strong piece. I had hoped to embed the clip here, but since the segment is nearly a half-hour long, it takes forever to load when you launch it through a blog. And really, no matter how much you love me, inevitably you will hate my guts if you have to stare at a turtle-paced "Buffering 10%.... Buffering 11%.... Buffering 12%" for the next nine hours. So, go ahead and watch it on Charlie Rose's site. Where it only takes a nanosecond to load. I promise. I think you'll enjoy it. I know I did.

p.s. -- a quick note to Charlie Rose's production staff about that closing credits music. It's a little too Cinemax at Night. Yipes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roasted Guinea Fowl en Crèpinette de Byaldi with Pan Jus

One night, when I was 9, my best friend's mom made ratatouille for dinner. I'd just had warm ambrosia salad the night before, which made me gag because it tasted and smelled like my bottle of Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific threw up into my bottle of Coppertone, so I wasn't really all that excited to try yet another new dish in such a short timeframe. I mean, c'mon, I was NINE. Being culinarily adventurous at that age was having my daily peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread instead of white. But, I knew I had to be polite and try whatever that globby red mess was on the plate in front of me, and not spit it into my napkin when no one was looking and run to the bathroom to dump it into the toilet. Not that I've ever done that. Ahem.

I remember how great the ratatouille smelled, but I remember not really liking it at all. I didn't like tomatoes back then, and the eggplant was gooey. I'd always liked zucchini and summer squash, so I picked out those pieces and chowed those down. Ditto for the onions. Everything else, I kind of pushed around on the plate until it looked like I'd eaten a lot of it. I remember wiping up the sauce with some bread, which was really good, but the rest of it kind of looked like it had already been eaten when it was served to me, if you catch my drift. Luckily, the adults opened another bottle of wine, so my friend and I snuck into their pantry and swiped a few granola bars (they were far healthier than my family, which really sucked that night because some Oreos would've hit the spot) to get rid of the lingering hunger pangs.

I waited another twenty years until I tried ratatouille again, and have had it a few times since then, too. You know what? I was never blown away by it. It's always too tomatoey or overly thymey, or just not balanced or good enough for me not to be bitchy about it. I've never made it myself (which tells me that I should), but when I bought The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon, I was intrigued with the Byaldi dish, and actually have been looking forward to making it ever since I started this project.

Byaldi is described by The French Laundry Cookbook as "a refined interpretation of ratatouille." Additional research shows that Byaldi is a derivation of a Turkish eggplant dish called "Imam Bayaldi" (meaning, loosely, "the imam fainted, it was that good"). You know that I don't post recipes from the book on this site, but I'll direct you to this link to the LA Times web site, which offers the Byaldi recipe in case you want to try it.

So, how about I stop with all the rambling and start writing about how gross, yet utterly fascinating, caul fat is, and why you should always have stunt tomatoes waiting in the wings.

Wanna see some pretty vegetables?

I heated some oil in a large skillet and lightly cooked the onions and peppers (which I'd sliced) and the herb sachet for about 20 minutes.

I then took my next batch of lovely vegetables...

... and sliced them on my new, bitchin' Benriner mandoline.

What I don't have is a photo of what happened when I tried to slice the lovely Roma tomatoes I so carefully picked out to ensure they were the same diameter as the zucchini, yellow squash, and Japanese eggplant. One slice in, and they were complete and total mush. Has that ever happened to you before? It's happened to me once or twice -- you buy tomatoes that look and feel great, and then a day later, you slice them and the insides are gloppy and foul-smelling. Thankfully, I had some regular-size tomatoes I was planning to use in a dish the next night that could fill in at the last minute. I was kinda bummed that the dish wouldn't be as pretty and perfect as I'd hoped, but them's the breaks, I suppose.

I took the vegetable slices and tomato chunks and started covering the cooked pepper and onion mix, beginning at the outside of the pan, layering them, and working toward the center:

I can hear you judging me and my chunk-ass tomatoes. "Oh Carrrroollllll, even a freakin' cartoon RAT can get this right, but you couldn't?"

Bite me.

I sprinkled some minced garlic and thyme with a little olive oil on top, and covered the pan with aluminum foil. I sealed it tight and put it in a 275-degree oven for 2.5 hours. At that point, I removed the foil and let it cook another 30 minutes, until the vegetables were so tender I wanted to eat them right then and there. But, alas, I did not. I let the pan of byaldi goodness cool to room temperature, and then refrigerated it until I was ready to serve it with the rest of the finished dish the next evening.

If ever there was a case for Smell-O-Vision, that was it. I, however, am using my best squinting skills to try and make the tomatoes look like they're just as pretty as all the other vegetables. Poor things. I suck.

The next day, I got the guinea fowl ready, since I knew the sauce would be a pain in the ass to make. I will admit that I kind of... well, more than kind of half-assed this part of the dish. I probably should've taken more care to clean the bird's bones in making the sauce, but I was so ready to get everything done so I could spend time with my dinner guests, that I did not pay as much attention to detail as I usually do.

Here's the guinea fowl:

I removed the breast meat from the bird, as well as the thigh meat, since that's what was going to be used in the final dish. The rest of the carcass and the bones I threw into the pot to start the sauce. I know. I suck. Don't remind me.

I browned these meaty bones for about 10 minutes on each side, then poured off some of the fat from the pan. I deglazed twice -- once with water, a second time with chicken stock -- then added carrots, shallots, onions and leeks to the pot:

After the vegetables had started to caramelize, I added some more water and chicken stock and simmered until the liquid had reduced by about a third. I removed it from the heat, took out the giant chunks of guinea fowl bone, and strained the sauce through a chinois, twice, into a small saucepan. I had about 2.5C of liquid, which I then reduced to about a third of a cup -- it smelled soooooo good. Wow.

I preheated the oven to 350 and got the final steps ready. I'd soaked a sheet of caul fat overnight, and at this point in the process, I removed it from the water and blotted it dry with a wad of paper towels.

Here it is soaking:

You'll see the caul fat in action in the next few photos. It's kind of gross, but I was fascinated by it. It's just slimy and fatty enough to be kind of squicky, but its texture is also so strange that it's cool to hold it and stretch it out a bit.

I laid it flat on the counter and made four small packages of guinea fowl and vegetable byaldi. I seasoned each piece of meat before adding it to the mix, and folded the caul fat tight under each package so it would stay together while I heated it.

I put a small amount of canola oil into an oven-safe skillet on medium heat and placed each little packet of fowl-n-veg into the pan, vegetable side down. I cooked it on that side for about 4 minutes, then gently turned it over to cook on the meat side for 3 minutes. I left the servings meat side down, and put the entire pan into the oven for 15 minutes so that the meat could cook the whole way through, and the vegetables could reheat.

I stirred a little bit of olive oil into the sauce I'd made earlier, and began plating. I'd reheated the rest of the byaldi in the oven, as well, so I put a bit of veg onto each plate and topped it with the guinea fowl and byaldi packets, topped with a little bit of sauce:

I will be the first to admit that it's not really the most appetizing thing to look at. However, it was scrumptious, and I wish I'd made double the amount because I think we would have finished it all tout de suite! The smell of it alone was intoxicatingly good, the bird was cooked just right, and the vegetables were succulent and tender... all in all, a homerun, despite the tomatoes that did not match the rest of the dish (clearly, I can't let it go). Everything tasted great, and from the first bite everyone at the table got silent as they ate. That always makes me nervous -- I'm never sure if people are actually enjoying the food, or wracking their brains to come up with at least one nice thing to say: "Well, it certainly looks like you put a lot of work into it" or "Hmmmm, I can't quite place that one ingredient I keep tasting. What IS that?" In this case, they were enjoying it. I know. They said so. So there.

I'd make that byaldi a hundred times over. The guinea fowl? Eh. It was fine, don't get me wrong. It's just that the vegetables were so damn good. I stashed away a small portion of it so I could have it in an omelet the next morning, which may have been the smartest thing I have ever done. Not like the time I ate huevos rancheros before a big meeting and had a giant wad of black bean skin stuck between my two front teeth. That wasn't too smart. Or the time in 1993 when I started to regale my co-workers with the key moment from an SNL skit and realized much too late into the retelling that the punchline involved the word "vagina" and the president of our company was standing there listening. Also? Not so smart.

Up Next: Artichokes Barigoule

Guinea fowl from D'Artagnan
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods
Caul fat from Niman Ranch

Music to Cook By: NERD ALERT!!! George Michael; Faith and Ladies & Gentlemen. Dude. George Michael is touring the U.S. this summer. How can I NOT go see this show? The thought of thousands of people (okay, well, 3 or 4 of us at least) singing "Careless Whisper" and "Father Figure" at the top of their (our) lungs is just too good to pass up. I'm secretly hoping he'll do some of the old school WhamUK stuff like "Club Tropicana" and "Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)." Let's just hope he stays off the pipe long enough to make this happen because I need to re-enact the "Freedom" video with my girls at the show. That would make the evening complete. Maybe I'll even get the Linda Evangelista haircut for the occasion. Well, goodness me. See how enriched you've become by visiting my blog? We start out with lovely, delicious food and we end up talking about a drug-addled former pop star AND my next haircut. You can't find that kind of range in just ANY food blog, now can you?

Read my previous post: Gewürztraminer-Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Gerwürztraminer Jelly

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gewürztraminer-poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Gewürztraminer Jelly

I remember my first foie gras.

I remember what it felt like to order it and have it delivered, prep it, make it, and eat it.

I remember how good foie gras tastes with lobster.

I remember how I humiliated one foie gras by making it look like it was being served at Hooters.

I remember how delicious it is, simply roasted with some thyme, garlic and apples.

And, I remember how good it is when someone else prepares it for you in ways you can't wait to attempt yourself the next time you have a dinner party.

It's amazing to me that in the span of one year, I could go from being totally afraid to touch (let alone devein) a foie gras, to being giddy with joy to make one and feast on it, unabashedly letting the juices drip down my chin. Always the lady, am I.

That's why I'm a little more than sad that this is the last foie dish I'm making as part of French Laundry at Home. Is it my last foie gras ever? Hell no. While it will be an indulgence from time to time, I plan on continuing to make and eat foie gras because it is phenomenal, and elicits full-body smiles of pleasure from people who eat it. There recently was talk of a foie gras ban in Maryland, and believe you me, I made phone calls, sent email, and generally bitched to every legislator I know to make sure it didn't happen. The bill to ban foie gras sales in or shipping to my fine state was withdrawn, so I'm a happy camper. I can't claim responsibility for single-handedly making it happen, but I'd like to believe that I contributed toward the good mojo.

So, after having made foie gras four or five times before this last one, how did this dish fare? Well, let's just say that even though I love me some umlauts, I've never been a fan of German wine... but this dish may have changed my mind. Let's get started, shall we?

Now, I know I bitch and moan when purveyors act like jerks, or stores don't carry what they say they carry, but let me take a moment here to sing the praises of D'Artagnan. I knew going into this project that I wanted to do everything I could to support local food purveyors, and buy from as many people in person as I could. Yet, I knew it would be impossible to do that with every ingredient. So, when I began ordering from D'Artagnan, little did I know I'd be in for such a treat. Their web site is my favorite kind of porn. Wild boar bacon. Duck sausage. Scottish hare. All things I either love, or have been dying to try. Go ahead and click around their site when you have time and order something you've never tried before. Have fun with it. Experiment. Try something new. And, if you need help or have questions, their staff is so amazing. Really. I just want to sweep them up in my arms and give them a hug until their guts burst from all my squoziness. They've been such a pleasure to work with through this entire project, and their food is top-notch. Everything I've ordered from them has been the highest quality, and they've got a customer for life in me.

Okay, okay, you get it. I love D'Artagnan (even though there are no umlauts in their name). Let's talk about the dish. It's a three-day process, but worth every cotton-pickin' and foie-poachin' minute.

I unwrapped that lovely piece of foie, rinsed it under cold water, pulled apart the lobes and removed the small globules of fat from the underside of the smaller lobe.

I mixed some kosher salt, pink salt, white pepper, and sugar together in a small bowl, then sprinkled both sides of both lobes with the mixture. I put the lobes into a ziploc bag and stored them in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, I wrapped both lobes, separately, in cheesecloth. I didn't wrap them overly tight -- just enough that they maintained their natural shape, but didn't have a whole lot of room to move around.

I put the lobes into a pot of Gerwürztraminer and water, ensuring that the liquid came up about halfway of the sides of the lobes of foie gras:

I gently raised the heat (low, to low-medium) until it got to 140 degrees. Then, I turned each lobe over and continued to heat the liquid until it had reached 170 degrees. I flipped the foie one more time, brought the heat up to 180, then turned off the flame and let the foie sit in the warm liquid for about five minutes. I removed the lobes, put them in another pot (room temperature) and poured the poaching liquid over them. I covered this new pot-au-foie (ha!) and refrigerated it overnight.

The next day, it looked like this when I took it out of the fridge:

I removed that solidified, yellow fat from the top (it was like picking candle wax off the surface), measured out a cup of the poaching liquid to make the jelly, and kept the foie in the clean liquid, returning it to the refrigerator until I was ready to serve it.

I had already soaked a sheet and a half of gelatin in cold water to soften it, and then put it in a bowl over a pot of hot water to dissolve it. I added the poaching liquid and kept whisking it until it was fully incorporated. I then put the bowl of to-be-jelly into the refrigerator for five hours, and wouldn't you know it? It never set. Didn't even come close. But guess what: I didn't care. Why? Because of this:

This is how I served it. Slices of foie (which I'd unwrapped from the cheesecloth just before serving) with grey salt and brioche croutons. I had some friends over for dinner that night, and after devouring an appetizer of roasted marrow (yum!) as they stood in the kitchen watching me cook, we moved to the dining room to stand around and feast on some foie before we sat down to enjoy the main course. And let me tell you, this was outstanding. Beyond compare. My new favorite foie preparation. If you're ever going to make foie for the first time, try it this way and you won't be sorry, I promise.

Foie gras is really rich, and I was skeptical that a sweet wine (even though it's not as sweet as a Sauternes) would just be too overpowering or competitive. I was happy to be proven wrong, because poaching it in Gewürztraminer was spot-on. Just the right amount of sweet to counterbalance the creaminess of the foie, but it's also a little bit tart (I think), so it brought out the best in the dish. I liked it both with the grey salt and without. We only had a few slices left over at the end of the night, so I wrapped them up tight, and when some friends stopped by the next day around lunchtime, we made foie gras sandwiches with the leftover brioche, slices of foie, and some mustard. It was completely decadent and indulgent, but that's one of the many reasons I love throwing myself into dishes like this. This one actually took very little time or skill or effort to do, but being able to master the art of foie gras, enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed, and then eat it as leftovers in a sandwich is something that a year ago I never would've imagined doing.

Foie gras may not be for everyone, but I loved every second of making this dish. I was bummed for about 3.2 seconds that the jelly didn't work, but as soon as I tasted the foie, my jelly incompetence just didn't matter anymore. Biting into the foie, on the brioche with a hint of crunch in the salt was a taste explosion in the mouth that even Willy Wonka couldn't top no matter how hard he (fictionally) tried. I guess I continue to be amazed and always grateful that just a few simple ingredients can provide such pleasure.

When I described to my friends the steps that went into making this dish, their responses ranged from "three days?" to "140 to 170 then 180 then out?" to "I'd never make it, but I'm sure glad you did." And that's another reason I love cooking food like this. It makes people happy -- me in making it, my friends as they eat it, and me again as I get to see them enjoying something I made. This dish is going into my dinner party rotation, and it's lodged in my memory banks as something really special. How awesome that my final foie dish for French Laundry at Home was this good. Whew!

Up Next: Roasted Guinea Fowl en Crèpinette de Byaldi with Pan Jus

Foie gras from D'Artagnan
Brioche from the TPSS Co-op
Mader 2006 Gerwürztraminer

Music to Cook By: Paul Simon; Graceland. I was talking with a friend the other day about musical firsts -- the first 45 we ever bought (Shaun Cassidy). The first LP (Heart). The first 8-track (Bee Gees' version of Sgt. Pepper). The first cassette ("A Chorus Line" soundtrack). And I remembered that the first CD I ever bought was Paul Simon's "Graceland" -- back when CDs were $21.99 each and came packaged and shelved in those really tall, skinny cardboard packages. I remember hating the song "You Can Call Me Al" but wanting the CD nonetheless because I knew I'd love every other song on it. And I did. And still do. I also took the time over the three days of making this dish to listen to all the NPR podcasts I'd amassed on my iPod. Now I'm like all smart and stuff.

Read my previous post: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

Sorry for the delay in posting this entry. I meant to get it up (dirty!) a few days ago, but I got tied up (also, dirty!) with something else that I hope to be able to tell you about soon, and am just getting to uploading this post tonight. So sorry. Even my dog is disgusted with me:

After the glory, delight and absolute gastronomical pleasure the Pineapple Chop brought into my life, I was a little bummed that I'd have to follow it with this particular dessert. Why, you ask? It's not that pears suck or anything, it's just that I knew I had to make a pear chip. And we all know how freakin' AWESOME I am at chip-making. So, in addition to knowing I'm allergic to raw pears and that my hands would itch like a mofo prepping the fruit, I knew it wouldn't be worth it because the pear strudels were going to fall apart and the pear chips were going to be limp and stupid and make me feel completely and totally inadequate.

Or would they?

Oh, have I intrigued you?

Really? Well, fancy that.

Read on then, you sexy beasts. Read on.

The first thing I did was prep my Comice pears, which I had to drive all over creation to find. I knew there was a sign for Comice pears at Whole Foods (I'd seen it the day before), but when I went in to buy some that morning, they were all gone. I called all the other local grocers and no one had them. So, I called Balducci's (20 minutes away normally, but a good 45 minutes during rush hour, lucky me) and asked the manager if they had them. She assured me they did. I asked her, "Are you sure? Like, are you looking right at them or holding one in your hand and not just looking at a sign, because that's what happened at your competitor which rhymes with Schmole Schmoods, and I'm about to drive over there in some asinine rush-hour traffic and I don't want it to be for naught." Her reply? "I'm looking right at them."

So, I braved the DC Beltway to head on over to Balducci's, and after nearly an hour in traffic, I barreled past the wobbly, old women who, I swear, stand smack dab in the middle of the doorway staring off into space just to annoy me, and headed for the fruit section. Guess what. No Comice pears. None. I went to the customer service desk and recognized the woman I'd spoken to (her voice is distinct, and I'll leave it at that) and asked her where the Comice pears were. She pointed in the general direction of the produce department and said, "They're over there." I replied, "No, I want to know where the Comice pears are that you were looking at an hour ago when I called." She paled and picked up the phone, then left the desk without another word. She never came back, so I hit up my buddy Paolo who works in the produce department there and asked him about the pears. He told me they hadn't had them in weeks, but that they were expecting them later that day.

I know it sounds dramatic, but I wanted to cry. Or punch something. What's the point in lying about something like that, Stupid Mrs. Store Manager Lady, when you can so easily be caught? I just don't get it.

Lucky for me, Paolo called his supervisor over (who was so nice and apologized like crazy even though it WASN'T HIS FAULT) and they went out to the loading dock where the fruit guy had just pulled up (he was 8 hours early). They got the Comice pears off the truck and before they even logged it in the system, they brought the entire crate to the store floor for me to pick through so I could choose which ones I wanted. Of course, during this whole time, the Stupid Store Manager Lady never reappeared. Bint. No, I'm not bitter, why?

I thanked Paolo and his supervisor (and slipped them both a small tip because they always take care of me), and got my ass out of that store and back home to cook.

I took the Comice pears out of their bag, cut off the tops and bottoms, then used 2 different round cutters to cut them into cylinders that I could poach. Wanna see? It was really fun to do, even though my hands itched quite a bit doing it:

I'd already made some poaching liquid (you can see how to do that here), and I put the pears in it and poached them for an hour and a half over low heat, and even did the parchment lid (which I now totally love to make because I am a huge nerd):

Once the pears had poached, I set aside some of the poaching liquid to use in the next step in the process -- the Chestnut Cream.

I put about 6 oz. of steamed, vacuum-packed chestnuts into my little Le Creuset pot with some heavey cream and added some vanilla seeds and the pod. I let it simmer for about a half-hour or so, until the chestnuts were really soft:

I then poured this mixture into my food processor (after removing the vanilla pod) and whacked it for about 2-3 minutes. With the motor running (head out on the highway!), I added some of the pear poaching liquid. Then, when it had reached a creamy, full-bodied consistency, I plopped it atop a tamis, scraped it through, and stored it in some Gladware until I was ready to use it in the final plating.

So, the pears are poached and the chestnut cream is done. Up next? The killer of them all. Pear. Chips.

I'm supposed to slice a Bosc pear on a mandoline, then cook them in a sugar-water solution, then put them on a Silpat-lined baking sheet and let them "dry" in a 275-degree oven for about a half hour. Now, knowing my previous chip experiences, I knew a 275-degree oven wouldn't be hot enough, so when I pre-heated the oven, I upped it to 300. And I figured those pear slices would have to be in there more like 45 minutes. Regardless of my mad math wizardy, I knew the pear chips would suck and not work, and because of that I was already writing this part of the post in my head as I was getting my new SuperBenriner (because a regular, non-super Benriner just wouldn't do) out to use -- I was coming up with all sorts of witticisms about how miserably I had failed this step.

I sliced the Bosc pear in slices that were as thin as the mandoline would allow without an accidental suicide:
(look at her pointing and laughing at me, almost as if to say, "Hey you crazy American lady who is going to screw up pear chips!!!" Way to be supportive. Bitch.)

Then, I lovingly cooked them in the requisite sugar-water combo:

Next, I laid them out on a Silpat-lined baking sheet for their time in the oven:

Then, after about 45 minutes, I took them out to check on them:

I lifted one off the Silpat to check it and nearly crapped myself:

THEY WORKED!!!!!! They were stiff (ha!) and hard (hee!) and crispy (um, heh?) and absolutely perfect!

Content with that small victory, but entirely convinced they'd get mushy and soft by the next day when I was serving the dish, I put them in an airtight container and stored them away from sun and humidity and anything else that could potentially harm my sweet, darling, lovely, angel-baby pear chips.

I toasted myself with a nice glass of bordeaux and some day-old Thai food and went to bed.

The next day, I finished the pear strudel portion of our program. I removed the pears from the fridge (where they'd sat in their poaching liquid overnight) and drained them on paper towels for about a half-hour:

I reduced the rest of the poaching liquid to a syrup, which I used in the final plating. You can't really see it, but you sure as heck could taste it.

I assembled the strudels by layering four sheets of phyllo with clarified butter and a little bit of sugar. I then placed the poached pear cylinders onto the phyllo, cut some columns, and rolled those suckers up and smunched the ends tight. I know, I'm such a great, descriptive writer with such a vast vocabulary that I have to resort to making up words like "smunched." Sue me. When you see the strudels, you'll understand. It's the only word that makes sense. Let's let the pictures do the talking on this step:

I brushed the outside with the remaining clarified butter and put these little packets of loveliness into the refrigerator while I made crème anglaise, the process of which, you can read about here:

At this point, all I needed to do was bake the pear strudels and then we were good to go. I put them in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes and got the pear chips out from their secret hiding place. I fully expected them to be a giant pile of mush. Mold. Mildew. Pear hideousness.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Fierce Trannies... they were perfect.

So, I plated. I will confess that I ignored the instructions to put the crème anglaise and pear syrup into squeeze bottles to decorate the plate. I was so happy with my pear chip victory that I chose to celebrate by saucing up those plates with as much pear syrup and crème anglaise as I freakin' wanted to. Wanna see?

How did it taste? Well, the pear strudel, crème anglaise, and pear chip were outstanding. The chestnut cream did not live up to my expectations. It was good, mind you, but not as good as I thought it was going to be. The dish didn't need it, and none of us finished it. I was just too heavy and dragged everything else down. That said, one of my most finicky tasters cleaned her plate -- which is only the second time in French Laundry at Home history that she's done that. The first time was with the Blueberry Soup. The second time was this. I'm thinking the pig's head will be the "third time's a charm"... but probably not.

I'm not sure I'd ever make this again. It was a little labor intensive for the end result. That said, it was absolutely delicious, and I'm really glad I finally got around to making it. And, I'm super-proud of myself for having gotten at least ONE freakin' chip element done correctly in my lifetime.

So here's me, clinking a glass of champagne to you, Stephen Durfee, creator of this particular dish. I conquered one of your desserts and did not end up on the floor, twitching, covered in flour, pots boiling over, drowning in my tears and self-loathing. I love you, Durf. You're the man. C'mere....

Oh, and to all the rest of you: just in case you're counting, this is the 80th French Laundry Cookbook dish I've made. There are 100 in the book, and I'm getting a wee melancholy knowing that at some point this particular project really will end. I've got some other projects up my sleeve to continue the fun, but still. While there are no words (yet) to describe the satisfaction of even getting this far, it's weird to think that all those dishes on pages 316 and 317 will have check marks next to them in just a few months. I honestly wasn't sure I'd get this far. Now, I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing than throwing myself into food I know nothing about and figuring it all out. It fucking rocks. Give it a whirl if you haven't already. C'mon... you know you want to.

Up Next: Gewürztraminer-Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Gerwürztraminer Jelly (with 33% more umlauts!)

Bosc pear and vanilla bean from Whole Foods
Comice pears from Balducci's
Chestnuts from Rodman's
Bogle chardonnay
Organic Valley cream
The Fillo Factory phyllo dough

Music to Cook By: Mike Doughty; Haughty Melodic. The lovely Kim from Red Light Management sent me some CDs a few weeks ago and when I saw Mike Doughty's name on one of them, I had to scour my iTunes (okay, I didn't exactly "scour," I just scrolled to the Ms) to find his name because I knew I'd heard of him before. He did a song called "I Hear the Bells" that was on the Veronica Mars Soundtrack (shut UP) and I've always loved that song -- it's on the playlist I use for walking on the beach in the evenings before dinner in the summer when I'm on vacation (and yes, I have a playlist for that very activity, and it's one of my favorite playlists because it's one of my favorite things in the whole world to do). So, I was thrilled to be reminded of his music. "I Hear the Bells" and some of his other songs make me smile every time I hear them. Also? He's really cute, but I liked his music before I knew what he looked like. I'm not THAT shallow. Much. I guess I just have a thing for men named Mike.

Read my previous post: "Pineapple Chop"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"Pineapple Chop" -- Oven-Roasted Maui Pineapple with Fried Pastry Cream and Whipped Crème Fraîche

One of the things I feel so lucky about thus far in my lifetime is that I've traveled a lot, especially in the past 10 or 15 years. I've had some amazing jobs (and some equally as grueling) that took me to all points on the globe and back again; and the one thing I can say about this cool planet of ours is that in addition to the plethora of foods, personalities, and cultural quirks, every place I've gone also has its own distinct smell. Marrakech. Essaouira. Cairo. Paris. London. New Orleans. Boise. Rotterdam. Los Angeles. Singapore. Hong Kong. Tokyo. Pennsylvania. Montreal. Portland. Stone Harbor. If you blindfolded me, put me on a plane and knocked me out so I had no sense of how long I'd traveled, I could probably identify where we'd landed by smell alone. One of the most distinct scent-travel memories I have is Maui.

The year: 1996. I was poor, poor, poor. Freshly divorced with an enormous amount of credit card debt, $50 to my name, and ten days of vacation time to use or lose. Luckily, I had a healthy stash of frequent flier miles that my employer at the time allowed for personal travel. I also had (and still have) a wonderful friend with enough hotel points for our little foursome to stay on the beach in Maui for 10 days. Ten glorious days in sunshiney paradise, having to pay only for our food. And, being the masters of finding free food at happy hour and other assorted events (no, we did not crash any weddings or private parties), we knew we could make it work.

So, off to Maui we went, and as soon as I got off the plane, I knew the smell of the island would stay with me forever. Salt and sweet mingled together in the night air like nothing I'd ever experienced. It's almost like you could smell the moon when it rose at night, the air was so fresh and clean after every day's late afternoon, five-minute thunderstorm. Home of the Maui onion, sugar cane fields, coffee beans, and other glorious foods, this little island was exactly what I needed at that time. And I ate so much pineapple that vacation I'm surprised I didn't burn the enamel off my teeth with all that acid. It was so sweet, and when I tried roasted, fresh pineapple for the first time, I wanted to call someone back home, tell them to sell all my stuff because I wanted to stay in Hawaii and never leave.

It made me sad when I read a few years ago that pineapple growers are leaving Hawaii for other, less expensive locales. So, I'm happy to have roasted this gorgeous, gorgeous, Hawaiian-grown fruit for what might be the last time. Sorry for the unintentional fakeout on the last post -- saying I was going to do the Pear Strudel. That's coming up next. Once I saw the beautiful pineapples at the market and remembered that they were probably among the last of their crop in Hawaii, I just had to do it. I know you understand.

The first thing I did was make the pastry cream. Here's the mise en place:

I whisked the milk, sugar, flour, egg yolks and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, then brought it to a boil. I kept whisking until it had thickened and the flour was sufficiently cooked, then removed it from the heat. The French Laundry Cookbook says to put the pastry cream into a 6x3" loaf pan, which I did not have and forgot to buy. So, I plonked it in a plastic wrap-lined Gladware container and pressed some plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. I put it in the fridge for a few hours to set.

After it had set, I began work on the pineapple. I cut off the top and bottom:

Next, I cut it lengthwise in half and cored each half:

At this point, I tried really hard to understand the next step in the directions, but just couldn't get it to click. So, I looked at the pretty pictures in the book and did my best to emulate those cuts. I didn't figure out until later that I wasn't supposed to have cut it the whole way until the very end, but I really don't care.

Now that the pineapples were cut and ready to go, I melted some butter in a large skillet and added the pineapple chops, fruit side down:

I cooked the fruit over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the pieces started to brown. Then, I turned each chop onto its skin side, added a scraped out vanilla pod (saving the seeds for a sauce later), and put the skillet into a 400-degree oven. I let it cook this way for about ten minutes, then I flipped the fruit again to put the flesh side down -- cooking it this way for about 30 minutes -- all the while basting with the vanilla-y butter every 10 or 15 minutes. I turned the fruit once again to put the skin side down, and baked it for a final 15 minutes:

When they were done and out of the oven, I put the pineapple chops on a plate and reduced the oven temp to 350. While I waited for the oven to cool a bit, I made some vanilla butter:

I also cut the circles out of the chilled and set pastry cream, realizing too late that they needed to be shorter (or more shallow) than they were, but c'est la vie, I suppose. It wouldn't be a FLAH dessert if I didn't screw something up.

I eventually floured, milk-bathed, and pankoed those little cream cylinders, then deep-fried them. You'll see the final version of them in the plating photo at the end. They're the thing on the plate that looks pretty much like a hush puppy.

Last, but not least, was finishing the pineapple. I melted some sugar in a skillet, letting it caramelize, then adding the vanilla butter:

I added the pineapple to the pan (flesh side down) and let them roast for another 10 minutes while I deep fried the pastry cream you saw above, and whipped the crème fraîche. To plate, I spooned some of the caramely, buttery, vanilla-y sauce onto the plate, then added a pineapple chop. I placed a pastry cream nugget next to it, then topped it with some of the whipped crème fraîche. As a lovely little garnish, I added a tip from the top of the pineapple. Here's the final dish (note how the crème fraîche is luxuriously melting all over the hot, fruity goodness):

People... this rivaled the Cream of Walnut Soup. It was absolutely delicious, and so fragrant and lovely. My word. It was one of those dishes that we didn't want to end. Everyone took teeny-tiny bites so we could savor it and make it last. I only had six pastry cream servings, so I had some extra roasted pineapple left over, which we ate after we swirled it around in the melted crème fraîche and sauce. If you're considering trying one of the dishes in The French Laundry Cookbook, I highly suggest this one. Even if you just roasted the pineapple this way and served it with some crème fraîche, you'd be good to go. It's not hard at all to do, and the outcome is so freakin' fantastic. And, to boot -- your house will smell like paradise.

It was almost distracting, this smell. And, like an interesting glass of wine that changes its scent and taste as its temperature changes, just as I expected, the pineapple's smell changed so dramatically over the course of me cooking it. Sweeter, richer, more fragrant, more buttery, and just fantastic. It made me want to go on vacation and forget about the rest of the world for a week or two. Even as I type this, hours after we've eaten, my house smells sweet and divine. And, it just started raining, which means that a little bit of earthiness will sneak in the open windows and do a little dance with the sweet already in the air, which means I'll sleep well tonight. Guess I'll have to be content with an 8-hour, shuteye vacation. Good enough for now.

Up Next: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips


Pineapple from Whole Foods
Milk from Organic Valley
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farms
Domino sugar
Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract
Edward & Sons panko
Vanilla bean from TPSS Co-op
365 canola oil and butter
Vermont Butter and Cheese Company crème fraîche

Music to Cook By: Janet Jackson; Control. Because thinking about Hawaii made me think about the people I went to Hawaii with, and one of those people is one of my best friends, with whom I also went to college, and we bonded freshman year over many things, one of which was singing along to this album, start-to-finish, and dancing like giant dorks at The Black Rooster, which by the way did not really have a dance floor, but they had a DJ who played anything we asked him to, including this album, and I love run-on sentences! But really, this album remains in my top 20 of all time because it's vintage Janet -- just before the Jackson family flew their freak flag for everyone to see. Oh, and guilty confession #947 -- I listened to Thriller to clean up and do dishes.

Read my previous post: "Tongue in Cheek"