Saturday, February 24, 2007


It's another rockin' Saturday night in jolly old Maryland, and time for another French Laundry at Home entry. This time, I decided to be efficient and knock out three recipes in one go. The French Laundry Cookbook contains a recipe for Yukon Gold Potato Blini, followed by two canapés that feature the blini:

1) Blini with Bottarga di Muggine and Confit of Tomato; and,
2) Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar.

Both were absolutely delicious and really easy to do, but in a taste-test with my friendly neighborhood guinea pigs (two 8-year olds, two 10-year olds, a 17-year old, and four 30-40somethings), we preferred the Blini with Bottarga di Muggine and Confit of Tomato. And, I will take a moment to confess that if it were possible to marry this particular tomato confit, I would. I'd totally elope with it, no questions asked. No prenup required. In fact, here's a haiku I wrote about my feelings for the tomato confit:

More than Britney loves
Heroin, crack and Xanax
J'adore ma confit

The Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar was also really quite delicious, but we preferred the other one just a wee bit. I didn't have the same lusty feelings toward the eggplant caviar, although it was really easy to make. And, the roasted peppers were nice, but they sort of competed in an odd way with the eggplant. Again, completely delicious, but not in the same league as the tomato confit.

Both dishes included elements that had to be prepared a few days in advance, which was great because I love being able to spread out the prep work over the course of a week. It gives me something fun to do here and there for an hour instead of doing things like folding laundry, cleaning, installing my dehumidifier, returning clients' calls, washing behind my ears, having a social life... you know, stuff like that. This was an incredibly hectic workweek, so I was thankful to have these little "distractions" to look forward to along the way. It's one of the (many) advantages of working from home, that's for sure.

Before I dive into the two preparations, let me start out with the Yukon Gold Potato Blini, the foundation of the two canapés.

Here's the mise en place for the Blini:

I first boiled a pound or so of Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled them, then pressed them through a tamis, which yields a much finer, creamier mash than a potato ricer or any other process I've used before.

After they'd gone through the tamis, I quickly whisked in the flour, then the crème fraîche, then the eggs and egg yolk. Lastly, I seasoned it with salt and white pepper. The batter looked gorgeous and smelled a little like Thanksgiving dinner.

Once the batter was done, I dropped about a tablespoon's worth onto the heated griddle to make sure it was the right heat before I made the rest of the blini. I made about 30 of them, 24 of which went toward the two blini dishes. I saved the other six for lunch tomorrow.

For the Blini with Bottarga di Muggine and Confit of Tomato, I had to order the Bottarga di Muggine, which is a salted, dried mullet roe from Italy (also frequently referred to as "poor man's caviar"). Thinking ahead, last week I called ten different markets and specialty stores here in the DC area and no one carried it, so I had to have it shipped to me from a lovely online resource called Far Away Foods. It had an incredibly pungent smell when I opened the plastic, but it has an amazing, rich taste when shredded on this dish. Ordering the Bottarga di Muggine was easy. Making the Tomato Confit was also a breeze, and something I was able to start a few days in advance. Look at these gorgeous tomatoes I was able to find at the market:

The first step was to dunk the tomatoes in boiling water, then an ice bath, and then peel them. Then, I quartered them, gutted them, leaving me with these beautiful tomato petals, which I laid onto a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a sprig of thyme.

They roasted in a 250 oven for about 2 hours. I removed the thyme and stored the roasted tomatoes in the fridge until I needed them for the dish. Once I was ready to finish the prep for this dish, I rough chopped the roasted tomatoes, warmed them in a small saucepan, and added some chicken stock I'd already made and had defrosted the day before. I then added a little bit of olive oil, butter and minced Italian flat-leaf parsley. Once the majority of the liquid was gone, I turned off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes.

To assemble the Blini with Bottarga di Muggine and Confit of Tomato, I put a small spoonful of the tomato confit onto a plate (which is hard to see in this photo), topped it with two blini, then grated the bottarga di muggine on top:

Absolutely delicious. And, I have some of the tomato confit leftover, so I plan to either take a bath in it or maybe just top tomorrow morning's omelet with it. Not sure yet which option I'll choose. Seriously, if you're a soap-maker and you can figure out how to make tomato confit soap, I'm sending you a check right now.

Let's talk about the Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar. This required some advance prep, as well, starting with the peppers. Again, gorgeous produce:

I roasted the peppers a day ahead, which involved slicing the red and yellow bell peppers in half, gutting them, brushing them with olive oil and roasting them in a low oven for about 20-25 minutes until the skins start to loosen.

I then put them in a covered container while they were still hot, so the skins could steam off a bit. The red peppers were a breeze to peel. The yellow peppers? Not so much. Once they were peeled and quartered, I stored them in the fridge until right before I started the blini.

The eggplant caviar was really fun to make. I know, you must be thinking I need to get out more if I think smooshing eggplant around in some cheesecloth is fun. But it was, so zip it. The first thing I did was slice the egggplant lengthwise and score both halves on the fleshy side. I then covered both fleshy halves with salt, placed them face down on a baking sheet, covered it with another baking sheet, and put two bowls on top to weigh it down. This allows some of the eggplant's natural liquid to be released.

After about two hours of this, I wiped them clean and rubbed them with olive oil. I then put them face down on another baking sheet and roasted them for a little under an hour at 350 degrees. They were just mushy enough to scrape out the flesh easily, but not completely liquified. I scraped out all the flesh, gave it a rough chop, and then tied it up in cheesecloth. The egglant-in-cheesecloth then went into a colander over a bowl in my fridge overnight.

The next morning, I spent a good 30 minutes squeezing all the rest of the liquid out of the eggplant, still leaving it in the cheesecloth. After squeezing out all the liquid, I was left with about 3/4 cup of eggplant. I put it in my mini food processor and pulsed it a few times to loosen it up. I then added olive oil, mustard, garlic and salt and blended it for about 2-3 minutes.

Since I did this ahead of time, I transferred the eggplant caviar to a covered container and stored it in the fridge. I brought it back up to room temperature before plating it.

When it was time to prep and serve the Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar, I had to finish the roasted sweet peppers. I took out a few of the strips, minced them, added some chicken stock and warmed it on the stove. I stirred in a little butter, some chives and a pinch of salt.

The finished product consisted of a small spoonful of the eggplant caviar, topped with two overlapping blini which were topped with the roasted peppers (apologies for the blurriness of the photo):

Two things that the French Laundry Cookbook also includes in these recipes were tomato powder and pepper confetti. Because I started a small fire in my microwave earlier in the week trying to make the tomato powder, I decided to pass on these two items until I had some serious time to experiment with them and figure out the best way to do them. Thanks to everyone who posted their suggestions. I appreciate it.

Another ingredient these two recipes included was buerre monté. Because I needed such small amounts of this for these two dishes, I substituted regular unsalted butter. Again, when I have some time to devote to this, I'll make a whole batch of buerre monté that I can use in many dishes to come.

In addition to being nice appetizers for us before a nice Saturday night steak dinner, the other great thing is that these capapés could easily be turned into a nice lunch for 2-3 people -- just increase the size of the blini, keep the same quantity of the sauces, and maybe serve them with a small chopped salad. I'll certainly make them again, and I'm also quite certain I'll be making the tomato confit again soon -- it would be delicious in so many iterations. Including just eating it right out of the saucepan. Or rubbing it all over my body.

Up Next: Cream of Walnut Soup

Brands Used:
All produce and dairy products from Whole Foods
Antica Italia extra virgin olive oil
All-Clad cookware
Cuisinart mini food processor
Calphalon baking sheets

Music to Cook By: Podcasts of the "Ricky Gervais Show" (hint: do NOT listen to these at the gym, unless you want people to turn and stare at you because you cackled out loud by accident whilst on the treadmill); and The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely.


Anonymous said...

Those look delicious, and I love that you could double up for us. Blini sound perfect at this time of year... thanks for another great post!

Anonymous said...

Where in the hell are you shopping that you can get such good looking veggies? I'm not even a fan of tomatoes and I wanted to reach right INto the screen and munch away.

And you have the cleanest insides of an oven and fridge that I've ever seen. I am super jealous.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous. I've made these before and they ARE good. Can't wait to keep following this.

Jaye Joseph said...

If you lived in Austin, or I lived in the DC area, I'm sure we would be friends. You are a woman after my own heart.

Anonymous said...

First, the Tragically Hip? Marry me. Second, these look awesome and I've heard about Keller's tomato confit. Is it really as amazing as you say?

Anonymous said...

As a regular taster and very lucky neighbor, let me add my appreciation of the tomato confit. I had no idea that roasted tomato and butter and olive oil could add up to heaven. This and the gazpacho and walnut soup are the most amazing, complex and fulfilling flavors. If there is a celebration dinner when you are done, these three must be on the menu.

Anonymous said...

Tomato confit. I made it yesterday. Oh, my. It's to die for. I know it's supposed to accompany other things, but I can eat this stuff like candy, and I did. I'm going back to the store today for more tomatoes so I can make more tonight. Seriously good. Seriously easy to do. What can be better than that?


so much cake so little time said...

I know this is a much-delayed reaction, but I made the eggplant caviar blinis in culinary school, with the pepper confetti, and the pepper confetti was an all day trial that sorely vexed me. I got help from sympathetic instructors, but still...would not recommend it ;)