Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back to the Grindstone

Well, I was hoping to get a little cooking done today, but alas, that is not so. Have to go back to work tommorrow morning, and its time to get my whites washed, and my knives in their roll. Probably wont have time to post anything untill after New Years (which I will happily be spending on the line.) After New Years luckily I get to start my holidays and can begin relaxing. Does anyone else feel like Christmas is the most unrelaxing holiday of the year?

Les Halles Cookbook - Anthony Bourdain

I was messing around in a large corperate bookstore today, looking at books appropriately enough about food. I get angry, and almost annoyed not only at the amount of piss poor made for bored housewife cookbooks, but at how many people actually pick them up. Sure, not everyone is a chef, not everyone really understands the fundamentals of how to cook, but they should make it a little easier to find the good ones. This attitude was doubly confirmed when the cute blonde girl at the register innocently flirting struck up the same conversation from the other end. "I wish I could find a book that actually shows you how to cook," which naturally ensued a slightly bitter conversation on my end but ended up recommending Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or a cooking related textbook. Take the jump, quit your job, goto culinary school, work in a restaurant, but dont complain to me about bad cookbooks! Ok bitterness subsided.

Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking [ANTHONY BOURDAINS LES HALLES C]In my venture I finally decided on Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. I have been meaning to buy it for sometime, owned every other one of his books, so it only made sense to actually read what he cooked.

The first section was a hilarious bunch of sardonic rants only too common to Bourdains writing style. No bullshit, in your face, this is how you are going to be a good cook, much in common with what was on my mind at that time. The phrase that hit me the most:

"Chefs' appetites and enthusiasms, you may have noticeed, rarely end with food. I am deeply suspicious of any cook who is less than enthusiastic as well about sex, music, movies, travel -and LIFE. A few years back, dining with friends at one of the "best" restaurants in the country, we sat back, after many courses of lovely but sterile, artfully arranged plates of food, curiously unsatisfied. I wondered aloud what was wrong. One of my companions suggested that the chef "cooked like someone who's never been properly fucked in his life."

I can only think back to this statement, and remember an episode on No Reservations where Bourdain, Eric Ripert, and Michael Ruhlman (was there another one present) went to the French Laundry. My question is whether Ruhlman or Ripert boasted this. After my mixed success with Christmas dinner, and accused of too much flavour on all too many occasions, this hit me like a gold brick. Was there someone innately wrong with my cooking? Or, subsequently was I cooking for impotent palates? Time will only tell. As a result I was sucked into Bourdain's ranting and read the cookbook cover to cover.

What we have here is a tome of classical no bullshit French Bistro classics, done tastefully, simply, and instructively enough that even a home cook could crank this food out. You will find these recipes in almost every good french cookery book. Bourdain however, manages to take the classics throw lube all over the text, so I dont feel like im being penetrated dry like when I read my culinary school textbooks. Would I recommend this to anyone with an interest in well done (sorry rare) rustic French classics? F'n eh.
Monday, December 28, 2009

Roasted Beet Salad

They are tasty, kind of in season in Southern Ontario, and well I needed to make something in a pinch to go with the beef stew. This recipe from Bouchon is pretty easy. Simply roast the beats about an hour and a half until tender with some water, oil, salt, and pepper. When they are done, let them cool, take a paper towel, rub the skin off. I recommend a plastic cutting board, unless you like a nice purple stained maple cutting board. The beets are then quartered and sliced. The vinaigrette is oil, orange juice, and red wine vinegar. Let the flavours merry in the fridge, toss with herbs and serve.

I like the overall flavour, of this dish. If I were to do it again I might think about reducing the orange juice down a bit. I feel as though the vinaigrette complimented but was over shadowed by the beets. The reason for this could be the quality of oranges I used for the juice, the fact that I have a cold, or the time spent marinating. I have some left over so I will have to let you know if more of the flavour came through. I have learned to love beets, there colour and flavour are absolutely amazing. Once I learned that beets did not in fact grow in jars with brine, and could be utilized like any other root vegetable I feel in love. All in all a real hit with everyone, even the most devote beet haters. Two recipes down, out of... well I never really did count. Whats the next project? perhaps the trotters dish. Then back to work for a few days, and off for two weeks holidays. F'n eh.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Of all the crazy time consuming things I have ever embarked to cook, this one takes the cake. Boeuf Bourguignon from Bouchon. It involves a lot of prep, and really lends itself to a restaurant setting. Keller takes apart the essential stew, and elects to cook everything separately. This is a very practical approach, it allows you to have more control over the cooking methods, taste, and when ordered all the separate preparations can be throw together in a snap. In this particular recipe the thing that captivated me the most of the intense colour of the perfectly prepared vegetables.

Firstly, the red wine reduction. I knew immediately after glancing at the amount of mirepoix that goes into this, that I was going to end up with a very tasty reduction indeed. I did get slightly confused when I first read the recipe, and was pondering whether or not the wine was reduced and then the vegetables, or if there were two infusions of vegetables. I elected for the two infusions. Note, if you attempt the recipes that Keller notes to use 1 cup sliced mushrooms and/or stems. On account of the fact that you will be removing the stems for the later preparations it makes more sense to use stems and reduce waste. The wine is reduced to almost nothing, new vegetables are added along with the meat, and topped up with stock.

On the subject of meat. Sadly, I was not able to locate boneless short ribs, and elected with regular stewing beef -I curse this town for its lack of diverse food availability. I went through all of the meat and began to remove most of the silver skin, and fat. Normally a bit of fat wouldn't be a huge objection, however this is Thomas Keller and refined perfection. Off with the fat. The silver skin however must come off. It does not break down no matter how much you cook it, and it taste like a rubber band.

I prefer to use cast iron to sear meat. Its heavy, holds heat well, and will not cool down too much between batches. Season the meat just before you are about to brown it, or the salt will pull out some moisture and hinder the browning process. Keller makes it very clear in this recipe to not crowd the pan. I remember before I had attended culinary school, my idea of seasoning and browning was very different then the idea I have now. I never used enough salt and pepper, and ate a great deal of spaghetti and meat sauce with ugly grey beef. Now I am fortunate enough to know better.

After all the meat was browned I ran into a horrible dilemma. What am I suppose to do with all this fond? The fond is all the dark brown and black stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan after browning. It dosent say to deglaze it in the recipe, however every ounce of my training could not for a second believe that one of the greatest chefs in the world would throw it away. I deviated, made a judgement call, I am sorry Thomas. I deglazed with red wine, and added it to the reduction. I could only imagine that this was either left out of the method accidently, or Keller elected to leave it out on account of clarity of the reduction. I went for flavour.

One technique used in the recipe is the separation of the meat and braising vegetables by a layer of cheesecloth. I find this ingenious, not for the reasons outlined in the book, but because I am lazy and loath the inevitable build up of veg in the chinois that is an absolute pain in the rectum if you are not lucky enough to own a commercial dishwasher.

The meat ended up braising for two hours or so. I forgot to mention the insane amount of straining of the braising liquid. I remember reading in The French Laundry Cookbook something along the lines of straining their sauces a great deal. I found this reduction wasent fatty, and fairly clear, but strained it every step of the way anyway. Everything was strained, the meat and the braising liquid were cooled, reunited, and spent the night in the fridge. The meat will reabsorb the braising liquid and become much juicer, and the braising liquid will also act as a marinade. End of day one, and the start of my hang over the next day *smirk.

Well its the next day, my head hurts, it was a late night, but luckily my ridiculously strong Kicking Horse coffee is taking the edge off.

I started the cooking today by removing the meat, straining the liquid, and reducing. There seemed to be an abundance of braising liquid to actual meat and vegetables. The preperations of the garnishes may cook very daunting, and I was a little scared at first. It is however not as time consuming as you might think. I firstly got the pearl onions peeled, peeled and cut the carrot (no baby french carrots) and got four pots on the stove. All the pots are pretty much filled with a combination of smashed garlic, bay, thyme, and salt. Start the pearl onions, and potatoes at the same time, they both take about 15 minutes. During the last 5 or so get the carrots going. Strain, and let everything cool when theyre done. The wine vinegar for the pearl onions was a great touch, it really excentuates the natural flavour. The lardons can go in the oven as well.

Final strech, everything is done, now its time to put it all together. It has been a long two days in the kitchen and I am just ready to eat the damned stew, I am bloody starved. Sauted the mushrooms, warmed the bacon, got everything hot and together. Time to eat.

Afterthoughts: Is this a good recipe for a home cook? Absolutly not. Its time consuming, finicky, and frankly I dont think most home cooks even own a chinois. This recipe is a great example of how Thomas Keller and his team take something rustic, and refine it through attention to detail. It would be great to serve in a restaurant. The vibrant colors and the taste is absolutly unbeatable, and undeniably the best beef bourguignon I have ever eaten. Luckily, I have leftovers.
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Truffled Duck Consomme with Smoked Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Carmalized Onion Tortellini

I was determined to create something for the family Christmas dinner, that reflected what I do with food. We have created something similar at the restaurant, which was damn tasty, so the idea was to take that and throw my taste into the mix. My palate demands strong flavour when cooking for me. Robust and savoury would be how I would place my palate. So Alas, the tortellini.

Duck Stock

2 Duck Carcasses
1 Chicken Carcass
Bouquet Garni

1. Roast off the carcasses, approximately one hour, deglaze roasting pan with red wine.
2. Add mirepoix, and bouquet garni.
3. Fill with COLD water to just cover and let simmer 4-8 hours.

*note: I did not remove any duck fat, and degrease the roasting pan as I saved the cooled and congealed fat for duck confit. Killed two birds with one stone.

Duck Consommé

1. Mix ground protein with egg whites, allow to congeal and clarify the stock. Watch carefully at first, if the "raft" breaks you are SOL.
I am not going horribly in depth with making a consommé, there are many resources on how to do it, and I am short for time.

Tortellini Filling

2 Chicken Legs, seasoned
150g Soft Unripened Goat's Cheese
1 Onion
250ml Red Wine (drink the rest)

1. First the Chicken Legs were put into the smoker for approximately one and a half hours at 315 degrees. Allow to cool, and shred with a fork. Do not use the skin.
2. Cut to onion in half, knock off the ends in a diagonal fashion, and slice thinly north to south. Saute, and deglaze with a little wine every time the pan gets dry. When the previous wine has evaporated add a little more. Do not rush this progress.
3. Blitz up the shredded Chicken, Caramelized Onions, and Goat Cheese into a fine, but not wet paste. It should hold together.

Pasta Dough:

For the pasta dough I tried the pasta recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook, it yielded an incredibly soft dough that was a pleasure to work with. Not sure I can publish that on account of copyright laws and what not.


I was incredibly pleased with the taste of the finished product. The filling was incredibly flavourful, and set in a nice mellow, but favourable consommé. I feel the flavour was too much for most of the family, as I am sure there were many ingredients in there they were not accustomed to tasting (ie smoke, wine, truffle, goats cheese). Next time I will do without the truffle oil garnish. It was a gorgeous smelling addition, however sometimes its more about taking things away from a dish then adding them in. I currently have some duck confit, and duck proscuitto on the go, so hopefully I will get pictures of that for everyone.

Finally getting around to it.

I have been thinking about pursuing a blog for some time now, purely for my own sake. I needed somewhere to inject my culinary passion, some sense of progress, and achievement. It is far too easy to get caught up in the day by day business of being a cook, I needed to remember why I was doing it in the first place. So here I am. I plan to post bits and pieces of what I create at work, at home, reviews on food related books, and maybe start some sort of long term goal. After watching half of Julie and Julia, I am almost inclined to start cooking through some of Thomas Keller's works. Restaurant should start slowing down after the new year, so perhaps I will give that a shot.