Friday, June 29, 2007

Get me Judy Blume!

It's time for her to write one of her trademark coming-of-age books -- this time, about a woman who deveins her first foie gras.

People: if your pet duck ever needs some sort of liver surgery involving a veinectomy, call me. Stat! I found that main vein in both lobes pretty quickly and was able to remove it without totally having to hack apart the entire liver. And, I spent a decent amount of time removing all those smaller veins, as well.

Once I got past the squicky feeling of handling the foie and began to work on it, I was hooked. Seriously. I could do this every day and love it. OCD anyone?

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I ended up not taking photos of the deveining process. It just wasn't an option. I'll try to do it next time I do a foie gras, and have a friend do the photography. I just didn't think it was worth waking up the neighbors at 12:45 a.m. to Richard Avedon the whole she-bang.

Here are the photos from last night's post-deveining prep. First up? The marinade for the foie -- kosher salt, sugar, white pepper, and pink salt:

I coated both sides of the reassembled foie with the marinade:

Then, I covered the foie with plastic wrap, then wrapped the whole container in plastic wrap:

It's sitting in the fridge for another 24 hours. So, tonight, I'll do another step and I'll share it with you later.

By the way, if any of you who've worked with foie gras see anything in these photos that might indicate a massive prep error on my part, please let me know. Comments like, "wow, that looks kind of hacked up"? Not helpful. What I mean is, if you see something in the prep that indicates I might be killing my parents on their 46th wedding anniversary on Sunday by them eating this, you should let me know that. Otherwise, helpful hints are most appreciative.

Answering some comments from the previous post: the foie came from Di Bruno Brothers in Philadelphia, where my restaurant-owning friends get their foie gras, and it weighs about 1.7 pounds. And yes, I realize I may get some nasty comments from the anti-foie gras crowd. I'm okay with that. It goes with the territory. No one from PETA contacted me about the lobster video, so if anyone wants to debate foie gras, go for it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Psssst. Hey, kid. C'mere. Look what I got...

Foie Gras, baby. Grade B duck's liver.

You know what that means, don't you? Oh yeah. I'm doing a foie gras dish this weekend. I'll share a few foie gras prep steps with you before my final post, just to keep things interesting.

The UPS guy brought the foie gras yesterday afternoon, so I rinsed off all the blood, patted it dry, then stuck it in a ziploc and covered it in milk to soak in the refrigerator for 24 hours:

The 24 hours was up this evening -- about the same time I was happily ensconced in my local movie theatre watching Bruce Willis drive a car up into the air and crash into a helicopter mid-air while blowing other shit up. Yippee-ki-yay, indeed.

So, I came home, rinsed the milk off the foie, and it's now sitting downstairs in the kitchen, coming to room temp for the next 45 minutes. Then, it's deveining time. No guarantees I'll be able to take pictures -- it's 11:30, and I'm not even going to start deveining until just after midnight. My hands will be covered in liver slime and I don't fancy gunking up my camera.

Stay tuned....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Clam Chowder: Sautéed Cod with Cod Cakes and Parsley Oil

If you had told me ten years ago that I would not only EAT a cod cake, but that I would MAKE them and LOVE them, I'd have told you you were on crack. Seriously, like Whitney and Bobby levels of consumption. The thought of a cod cake to me was reminiscent of Yorkshire pudding, mashed turnips, or something equally as beige, British, boiled and boring. But dude. These are awesome. You have NO IDEA how happy I am that this recipe provided enough for the extra codcake fixins that are sitting in my freezer right now. My neighbor's 10-year old son threatened to break into my house in the middle of the night to steal them, that's how much HE loved it. We decided that I would host Cod Cake Camp one day this week, during which time he and I would just make all the rest of the cod cakes, cover them in the leftover clam sauce and stuff ourselves until we couldn't move.

Alright... so you can tell I loved loved loved this dish. Let's dive in to the prep -- here's the mise en place for the Cod Cakes:

I cut 6 small portions of the cod to use as one of the elements of the dish, but set aside the trimmings for the cod cakes. I put the trimmings in a small pot with wine, sliced shallots, crushed garlic cloves, thyme and peppercorns. Okay, I need to interject something here: the recipe calls for 12 peppercorns, and I just wanna know why. Seriously, 12? I'm wondering if Keller tried this with 5, then 8, then 10 peppercorns and decided it just wasn't enough... and then went with 15 and was all "whoa, what the hell!?!?!" and cut it back to 12. Does he get all Gordon Ramsay on the staff if they use 13 peppercorns by accident and send the plate back shouting, "you BLEEPing donkey, I BLEEPing wanted 12 BLEEPing peppercorns and that tastes like BLEEP so you must've used 14 BLEEPing peppercorns!! What the BLEEP is wrong with you, you BLEEPing BLEEP?!?!?! BLEEP!!!!!!" I'm just wondering, so yeah, if you've ever worked at TFL and can let me know, that'd be great. I've been thinking about this for nearly two days, as I'm sure you can tell.

Okay, back to the Cod Cake prep. Here's what I steamed the cod trimmings in:

When it was cooked (about 5 minutes), I drained the fish on a paper towel and tossed the cooking liquid. At the same time I did the fish, I peeled and boiled the Yukon Gold potatoes. I put both into a mixing bowl, broke them up with a fork, and mashed them all together. Then, one-by-one, I added salt, butter, olive oil and minced garlic.

Once everything was mixed and smushy (you don't learn official cooking terminology like that at the CIA, I bet), I laid out some plastic wrap and made two logs. I wrapped them and put them in the freezer overnight:

With the cod cakes prepped, I spent today getting everything else ready. Next up? Clam-a-palooza:

The recipe calls for 6 clams, but I bought extra just in case some of them didn't open, or were substandard. So yeah, I made 20 clams. You know... to have backups and stuff. I cooked them in white wine, shallots, garlic, and a few bay leaves. After they'd opened and I stored the clams in the fridge, I strained the cooking liquid multiple times because it looked a little funky. I reduced it over medium heat for about 25 minutes, then added heavy cream, and reduced that over low heat for about an hour:

This sauce smelled soooooo good. I took the sauce off the heat and let it sit on the stove top while I made the chowder. My favorite part of making the chowder? PEELING the CELERY. Thomas Keller, you may have your peppercorn peculiarities, but the fact that you request the home cook peel the celery for the chowder makes me happier than you'll ever know. Perhaps I need to be on meds, but that's clearly a discussion for another time and place. See, here's the deal: I'm not a fan of celery. It falls into the rhubarb and frisée category of texture issues. I typically don't like food that doubles as dental floss. It's just not my thing. So, when I saw that I was going to have to peel the celery, I first thought, "oh fer cryin' out loud, this is going to take nine million years and it's going to piss me off, and this is so stupid and I am SO NOT DOING THIS THOMAS KELLER YOU CRAZY CELERY-PEELING PERSON out there in STUPID CALIFORNIA with all the time in the WORLD to devote to your PEELED CELERY, GAH" and then it hit me... it's genius. It is the perfect thing to do to celery.

Oh, whoops. That's not peeled celery. That's what's left of the once-full container of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans I had as a snack this afternoon (can you tell?) -- WHOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Here's the peeled celery:

It's so beautiful and amazing, and Thomas Keller, you are my new best friend. Peeling celery was one of the most satisfying things I did all weekend. Clearly I need to branch out in my extra-curricular activities. I thinly sliced the celery on a diagonal, blanched it, and added it to a small saucepan with diced/cooked Yukon gold potatoes, some brunoise, and the clams (all 20 of 'em):

While this warmed, I got the cod cakes and the cod fillets ready to go. I sliced the cod cake log into six 1" slices (these were hard to cut, and I almost sliced off my entire torso twice):

I lightly coated them in flour and fried them in a bit of canola oil, then kept them warm in a low oven. I salted and peppered the six small cod fillets I cut last night, and sautéed the fish in a bit of oil, then drained them on a paper towel-covered plate. I stuck half my thumb in the hot, sizzling oil when I was turning the fish, so that's gonna look lovely in the morning. I gave my thumb immediate medical attention, and by that I mean I poured myself a glass of wine, which is what the internet said the U.S. Surgeon General totally recommends.

Time for plating -- first on the plate, a ring of parsley oil (which I also made yesterday, but didn't photograph because the process is much like all the other oils I've made, so check the archives to see how it's done, if you'd like):

Inside the ring of parsley oil went a spoonful of the creamy clam sauce:

On top of that? The COD CAKE! (hello, lover)

Next up? A sautéed cod fillet:

And last but not least, the clam chowder:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this dish was outstanding, if I do say so myself! I'd make this again, and in fact I'm still a bit giddy that there are more cod cakes in my future. This was equally liked by the adults and the kids who ate it, and I think it was more than a homerun. And, it was pleasure to cook. Many, many steps, but all were well worth it. Even peeling the celery, but I think I made that clear earlier in this post. But in case I didn't? Thomas Keller, you are a brilliant, brilliant man. I could hug you right now.

Up Next: Pot au Feu or Tongue in Cheek. Or, perhaps the Softshell Crab Sandwich.

Brands Used:
All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware
All food ingredients from Whole Foods
(I know not all of you think it's okay to shop at Whole Foods or some of the larger grocery store chains. Believe me, if I could do all my shopping locally at independent purveyors all the time, I would. I've been swamped with work and needed to cook this weekend, so I bought everything all in one trip. I give shout-outs to my local guys when I use them, so cut me some slack, folks. Thanks.)

Music to Cook By: dZihan and Kamien; Gran Riserva. Y'all, Pasha and Jessi danced to dZihan and Kamien's "Stiff Jazz" last week on "So You Think You Can Dance" and I had to find out more about this song and others like it. It's sort of Middle Eastern/Turkish/Austrian/techno/jazz fusion. Or something. All I know is I can hear you laughing at my "So You Think You Can Dance" reference, and I'm not liking that ONE BIT so KNOCK IT OFF or I'm going home and I'm taking my blog with me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vine-Ripe Tomato Sorbet with Tomato Tartare and Basil Oil

I love finding typos in menus, on signs, and in books. But because I think it is perfect and shiny and pretty and flawless, I do NOT love finding typos in The French Laundry Cookbook, however. But I did... oh yes, I did. (Don't worry, Ruhlman, I still love you) This recipe title mentions Basil Oil, but in the ingredient list? Chive oil. In the instructions? Chive oil. What's a girl to do? Um, NOT make basil oil, that's what.

Since I didn't make basil oil for my previous dish, I didn't use basil oil for this dish either, and went with the chive oil I already had on hand from a previous entry. I know it was the right decision because it was absolutely delicious and saved me a trip to the market to buy basil.

This one's a quickie, because it uses many of the same ingredients as the Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes. The first thing I did was make the Tomato Tartare, which means that I blanched, ice-bathed, peeled and seeded one vine-ripe tomato, then finely chopped it. I sprinkled it with fleur de sel and let it sit in a strainer over a bowl for a little over an hour. Next, I added minced shallot, olive oil, red wine vinegar and minced chives, and let that mixture sit covered in the refrigerator for two hours.

When it was time to plate, I brought out some familiar ingredients and let 'er rip. First on the plate is a dot of balsamic glaze (which made its first appearance here, and has been used faithfully in dishes ever since). Next to the glaze went the chive oil, which was topped with the Tomato Tartare, then a little bit of tomato sorbet, a few flakes of fleur de sel with a garlic tuile on the side:

I know this may not be the best photo, or most exciting dish you've ever seen, but even though this used many of the same ingredients as the previous tomato dish, this had a very different taste. It was even cleaner and definitely lighter -- a good palate cleanser. You know, I didn't think I'd like the tomato sorbet with this, but it was really good. And, the balsamic glaze added a very nice touch, as did the chive oil. And who doesn't love shallots!?!? You don't? Really? Wow. What's wrong with you? Kidding.

Up Next: Soup & Sandwich (Grilled Farmhouse Cheddar, Early Girl Tomato Consommé, and Butter-Fried Chips) or Poached Moulard Foie Gras au torchon with Pickled Cherries. Or, you know what? It might be the Clam Chowder. Depends on what I can get and when I can get it, you know?

Brands Used:
Tomatoes from Balducci's
All other produce from Whole Foods

Music to Cook By: KC & The Sunshine Band; Best of. Don't judge. You know you like to do a little dance, make a little love, and get down tonight. Get down tonight. Or, you like to shake your butt when you cook. Any of the above work for me.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes with Vine-Ripe Tomato Sorbet

Before I begin, let me take the chance to wish my dad a very happy Father's Day. And, a happy Father's Day to all you dads and dads-to-be out there. As I told the one dad who came over this evening for a tasting, when I think of Father's Day, naturally, the first thing I think of is tomatoes. Don't you? You don't? Really?!?! Yeah, me either. I just thought it sounded all meaningful and stuff.

I had originally planned to do this dish in July/August when my very own tomatoes would be ready. However, last week the deer and foxes that live in the nearby woods pillaged my garden. They ate all my tomato plants one night, then the next night devoured the basil. They haven't touched the rest of the herbs, so I think I'm safe. They also haven't touched the squash. Everything else? Gone, baby gone.

So, since I didn't have a time/season restriction on this one anymore, I decided to just buy the tomatoes at the grocery store and do it this weekend. Work continues to be incredibly busy, so I was happy to have some time on my days off to cook and spend time planning the next few weeks' dishes.

Let's talk about the Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes, shall we? Here's the mise en place for the Tomato Sorbet:

I peeled and seeded the tomatoes, cut them into small chunks, put them in a saucepan, simmered them, then reduced them by half (about 55 minutes):

When the tomatoes were done, I heated a wee bit of canola oil in a small skillet, added about a half cup of finely chopped yellow onion and cooked them for about 6-7 minutes until they were tender. I added the onions to the tomatoes, stirred, then in batches puréed the heck out of them in the blender. I strained each batch through a tamis, then returned the mix to the blender, added the rest of the ingredients pictured in the mise and strained it all over again. This base of the sorbet cooled in the fridge, then went into the ice cream maker, and became tomato sorbet:

Let me just take a moment to tell you that my poor ice cream maker is working overtime this month. Thanks to David Lebovitz and his awesome book, The Perfect Scoop, I am gonna be a FattyFattyTwoByFourCan'tFitThroughTheBathroomDoor by the end of summer.

Okay, as much as I could go on and on about David's book, let's get back to The French Laundry Cookbook and the tomato extravaganza that was my Sunday.

While the sorbet sat in the freezer, I made the tomato coulis by peeling, seeding and chopping two tomatoes, squeezing out the moisture in a clean dish towel, then putting the tomato in the blender with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper:

I puréed this mixture, then strained it through a chinois. Here's what it looked like:

I put it in the refrigerator until a few moments before I was ready to plate.

The next step was making the garlic tuiles. When I read the ingredient list, I actually clappped my hands and said "yay!" (obviously, I need to get a life, so no need to email me to tell me what I already know, thankyouverymuch) Here's the mise en place:

Other than the herbs, it's all very beige, isn't it? Let me tell you -- the final flavor is ANYTHING but beige. Damn, these were good, and my house still smells amazing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself (shocker). The first thing I did was mix the flour, sugar and salt in one bowl. In a separate bowl, I whisked the butter to make it smooth and creamy -- almost like mayonnaise. I added the egg white, then the butter to the dry ingredients, then mixed in the garlic and parmiggiano-reggiano:

I put a small spoonful of the batter onto my Silpat (on a baking sheet), smoothed them out into 2" rounds to make some tuiles:

I'm thinking they probably should've been a little thinner, but after tasting the final product, I DON'T CARE. They are so amazing. Next time I make lobster bisque, I'm making these. They are amazing. Stephen Durfee, if these were your idea, I love you even more, man. You'll see a photo of the final tuiles in the plating photo.

This dish also called for a few dozen peeled cherry tomatoes. You may have noticed throughout the course of this writeup (if you've been paying attention, that is) that there were multiple points at which I had to peel and seed tomatoes. That required me to blanch them, ice-bath them, then peel. That means I had to WORK, people. This whole tomato peeling thing isn't a walk in the park. Blanching and peeling 3-4 medium-size tomatoes is no big deal. But blanching and peeling 48 cherry/grape tomatoes? Oh. My. God.

They're cute and all, but man. I did them in batches of 10 or so -- blanching for 10 seconds, ice bathing them for another 10 seconds, then peeling them. They turned out really nicely, but this step was more labor-intensive than I thought it might be.

Ready to see the final plating? Of course you are. It's late. You're tired. You're thinking, "holy crap, will she just SHUT UP about how much freakin' work she put into this dish and just get to the money shot already? Gah."

Zip it.

Here goes. The first step in plating is a ring of fennel oil (it was supposed to be basil oil, but as I mentioned earlier, the local wildlife ate all my freakin' basil, so I subsituted some fennel oil from this dish, and it worked) followed by the tomato coulis in the middle:

On top of this lovely, lovely liquid, I placed a brioche crouton, topped with the peeled cherry/grape tomatoes. On top of that went the tomato sorbet, which was topped with the garlic tuile:

Remember how I said the halibut/succotash dish is what summer tastes like? Yeah. I lied.

This dish is so summery and fragrant and delicious, I'm not sure there are words in the English language that can adequately describe how beautifully these flavors work together. The fennel oil and tomato coulis found their way nicely into the brioche crouton. The natural juices from the cherry/grape tomatoes also helped flavor the crouton, but it wasn't a soggy, mushy mess. The tomato sorbet? It made my eyes roll back into my head with the same verve and elan as Baryshnikov leaping through the air. It's clean, yet has so many layers of flavor -- it's such a surprise. I'm a big fan. A huge fan. A superfan, if you will. Then, the garlic tuile on top? Wow. Just wow. It's decadent. This dish, which effectively could serve as a starter, felt like the pleasure that is most often associated with a dessert. I will admit that just like with the rhubarb/mascarpone dish, we had a few plate-lickers in the crowd. I can imagine no higher compliment.

Up Next: Vine-Ripe Tomato Sorbet with Tomato Tartare and Basil Oil

Brands Used:
All-Clad Cookware
Krups ice cream maker
Tomatoes and brioche from Balducci's
All other produce from Whole Foods
Herbs from my garden
Antica Italia olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Music to Cook By: The Postal Service; Such Great Heights and Give Up.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sautéed Atlantic Halibut with Summer Succotash and Rue-Scented Onion Glaze

When I saw the word "succotash" in the title of this dish, I scanned the ingredients right away to see if it was a lima bean succotash or perhaps another bean. In that split second of scanning the page, I hoped against hope that the word "lima" would appear nowhere on the page. "Surely," I said to myself, "Thomas Keller would not use anything as pedestrian and 1972-ish as a freakin' LIMA bean." And I was right. If you haven't guessed by now, I can't stand lima beans. When my mom made succotash when I was little, I'd pick out every lima bean and eat only the corn. Lima beans - bleeaarrrghhhh.... it's like eating compressed corrugated cardboard chunks wrapped in wax. Fava beans, however, are meaty and hearty and delicious. Not like stupid lima beans. Which I hate. A lot. Almost as much as I hate frisée. And that's saying something.

Let's get started. There's no one photo of a mise en place, because I did this in steps throughout the afternoon. The first thing I did was sear and braise the cipollini onions. I cut off enough of the root so that they would sear properly, but left the skins on so that they'd braise correctly. Here they are being seared in a tiny bit of canola oil, stovetop:

After they'd been seared (about 4 minutes) and the oil drained from the pan, I added some chicken stock, followed by a few sprigs of thyme and a sprig of rue (a pot of which I just bought this morning at the farmers' market!), a tablespoon of honey, and a pinch or two of salt:

As the heat increased and it got closer to a simmer, the rue "made an entrance." Out of nowhere, I smelled this floral nuttiness (I don't know how else to describe it) and it was gorgeous. I'd never cooked with rue before, and was pleasantly surprised to find it at the farmer's market this morning. I figured I could just substitute some rosemary since I hadn't been able to find rue at the grocery store.

I brought the onions, stock and herbs to a simmer, then covered the pot with a parchment lid and allowed it to braise in a 325-degree oven for about 45 minutes:

People of America and of The World: I MADE A PARCHMENT LID!! It did not curl up and get all funky like the other times I tried to make one! It worked! WOOOO-HOOOO!!!!! Probably because I followed the instructions in the book (shocker), as well as the helpful tips from a previous commenter. Take your hands off your keyboard and mouse for just one freakin' minute and give me some applause, will you? WILL YOU!!?!!? Thank you. Thank you very much. You can stop clapping now. You're hurting my ears.

While the onions were a-braisin' in the oven, I prepped the succotash. First up? Poaching 4 ears of baby corn in some milk and sugar:

While that was becoming poach-tastic, I opened up the fava bean pods and removed the germ from each bean. Look how huge these are (that's what she said):

I blanched the favas, along with some red and yellow bell pepper, and added them to a saucepan along with the baby corn (which I sliced into rondelles). I also added some minced chives and some brunoise (which I smartly made and froze weeks ago so I'd have some on hand all the time, and not have to make it every freakin' time I did one of these dishes) to the mixture. I added a little bit of butter to the pan, and warmed the whole shebang to get it ready for plating.

When the onions were done and all braise-a-licious, I plucked them out of the pan, peeled them, and got them ready for plating. I poured the braising liquid through a strainer and quick-reduced the liquid to sort of a glaze-like consistency. It was probably a little looser than the cookbook suggests but I was HUNGRY and was ready to serve my guests.

The last step was to cook the halibut. I love halibut. I love its taste, its texture, the speed with which it cooks, how well it holds butter... there's not one thing about halibut I can complain about. I know: MIRACLE. I got a nice piece of halibut at the market, cut it into 2x2" squares, lightly coated it with flour, salt and pepper and cooked it two minutes on each side. I let it drain on paper towels and started to plate the final dish. I didn't take a photo of this step, because: BORING.

To plate, I put a tablespoon of the glaze on the plate, topped with the onion and a piece of halibut, side by side. Then, I topped the onion and fish with the succotash. I didn't have any chervil with which to garnish, so I skipped that step. Here's the end result:

This is what summer tastes like, my friends. Light (but somehow also hearty) fish, fresh vegetables, a gorgeous and delicious onion, a delicious sauce. This rocked. The vegetables were done perfectly -- their texture perfectly complemented the texture of the halibut. I think what I liked most about it is that you taste every element of the dish. Nothing overpowers anything else. Nothing is overly sauced or infused or anything like that. It was so fresh-tasting and really clean and delicious. Like eating a plate of summer. And, it was so easy. Really. I'm definitely adding this to the repertoire for future dinner parties or lunches. I might not do every step the same way, but every element worked so well together that I won't stray too far from the original. I do know that I'll make this again in August when the corn comes in, and do this with fresh-shucked sweet corn instead of baby corn. Oooh! And maybe add a bit of fresh tarragon, since I think it might work, but not overpower the dish. All in all, we loved it. Absolutely delicious.

Wine Pairing: Joseph Drouhin, Meursault, 2003

Up Next: Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes with Vine-Ripe Tomato Sorbet

Brands Used:
All-clad cookware
Halibut, onions, baby corn, and peppers from Whole Foods
365 organic butter and canola oil
Rue, chives, and thyme from Waterpenny Farms at Takoma Farmers Market
Fava beans from Balducci's

Music to Cook By: Bebel Gilberto; Assorted. I've had Gilberto on my iPod for awhile after hearing her on KCRW a year or two ago. Every now and then, once of her tunes pops up when I have my iPod on shuffle, so I decided to listen to more of what she's put out over the past few years. I'm trying to find a way to describe her music, and the only thing I can come up with is that it fits into the "world music" category, but it's not annoying like many artists who are also classified in that category. It's part Brazilian, part acoustic, part synth, part lounge-ish, kind of sway-ish. Again, I do not understand why Rolling Stone is not calling this instant to offer me their lead music reviewer job, with the great music descriptions I've been churning out lately.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Look what the Postman brought me...

On Friday morning, a mysterious package arrived at my door. A cryptic return address, something oddly shaped inside, handwriting I didn't recognize... what could it be?

A #12 Melon Baller -- that's what!!! One of you fabulous people sent ME a #12 melon baller. As you may recall, I was supposed to use one here, but didn't have one. I also was supposed to use one here, but again, was too lazy to go out and buy one.

And now, one of you lovely lovely awesome amazing super fantastic people took the time to go out and buy a #12 melon baller, wrapped it up with a nice little hello, trudged to the post office, waited in line, and sent it to me. That is so cool, it's beyond cool. Whoever it is -- I wish you had told me who you were, so I could write a thank-you note. But since, I can't do that, I offer my thanks in a different way:

And because I am a huge nerd, I used foods whose starting letters correspond with each letter of the word "Thanks." The "T" is tomatillo -- anyone want to guess what the other letters are made of?

I'll be back later this weekend with the Halibut post. Work got in the way of having a life this week. I need to do one or two mindless things to unwind and get back into "normal" mode (whatever that is), and I'll thankfully spend most of tomorrow cooking! See you in a few...

Friday, June 1, 2007

French Laundry at Home Featured on Culinate

The fabulous Liz Crain over at Culinate featured French Laundry at Home on this week's Blog Feed.

Thanks, Liz! Thanks, Culinate!

Chaource with Red Plums

I was all set to make some stocks this weekend, but the chicken bones, necks and backs I bought at the Asian grocery store ended up spoiling within 24 hours of bringing them home. ARGH! They were inexpensive enough that I'm not that pissed off, but now I've got to spend my Saturday finding new chicken parts. Gggrrrrrr.... I hate running errands on weekends. Alright -- I'm done complaining. FOR NOW.

Let's talk about the Chaource with Red Plums. This dish was more of an assembling than something to cook/make. I took some liberties with the plums. And the greens. Oh yeah, and the cheese. In fact, it barely resembles what's in The French Laundry Cookbook at all. I'm such a rebel. Or at least I play one on the Internet.

I had a hard time finding Chaource, a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese (similar to Brie). The cookbook said I could substitute Explorateur (which I love), or Camembert, so I used Camembert, since I couldn't make it down to the cheese shop I like in Virginia to pick up the Explorateur. I hate it when work gets in the way of having a life, don't you?

The first thing I did was prepare the clove oil. This involved toasting whole cloves and then grinding them in a coffee bean grinder:

After grinding them to a fine powder, I put it into a squeeze bottle with some canola oil. I let this infuse overnight, and again... I know I say this at least once a week... this needs to be a soap of some kind. Hey -- maybe instead of the Inn Thomas Keller is planning for his property in Yountville, he and Laura could do a line of bath products that smell like these dishes!! I am such a smart business woman, full of entreprenurial ideas and stuff. Call me. I'll totally do the PR for it. Thanks.

Okay, back to this dish. The recipe called for lola rossa, which I couldn't find, so I used mâche instead. Also? No summer savory available, so I substituted thyme instead. And, the recipe also instructed me on how to cut the plums a certain way, but I got lost somewhere in the "cut the pieces crosswise and then layer one-sixth of them in a semi-triangular formation with the head plum doing splits on top followed by a triple salchow and a toe pick!" Okay, the book didn't really say that, but you get where I'm going.

So, here's the mise:

And here's what I did: I halved the plums and scooped out the area around the pit. I sprinkled a tiny bit of raw sugar and sea salt on top and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Next, I tossed the mâche, minced chives and thyme in a little bit of olive oil and added a pinch of salt and white pepper. Then, I cut the cheese (HA! I am nine.) into wedges and began to plate. I laid the plum halves on a bed of the greens, then drizzled the clove oil on the plum and the greens, then placed the wedge of cheese on the plate. Here's the final product:

The sweetness of the plums mixed with the creamy goodness of the cheese was a nice combination, but then adding the mâche, thyme and chive combo to each bite was really delicious. The clove oil added a heartiness that also was sweet and aromatic. I could see turning these elements into a salad I would be able to make for lunch during the week. As expected, this was a hit more with the adults than the kids. They loved the plum and loved the cheese (but not the rind), but weren't loving the whole shebang. Me? I devoured it. It was gooooooood.

Up Next: Sautéed Atlantic Halibut or Liver & Onions (depends how many stocks I get done)

Brands Used:
Plums, camembert, thyme and mâche from Whole Foods
Cloves from TPSS Co-op
365 canola oil
Chives from Safeway

Music to Cook By: The Postmarks; The Postmarks. Part strummy-strummy-la-la, part Miami lounge music of the 60s, this trio reminds me a little of Suddenly Tammy, but I like The Postmarks a little better. It's less angsty, more boppy. Man, I should write for Rolling Stone, with descriptions like that.