28 September 2009
18 September 2009
But this post is not about Early, Texas. It is about the early fall we seem to be experiencing here in Texas. It is now mid-September and under normal circumstances we would still be in the blazing 100's. About 7 years ago we hit 114°. Right now it is about 83° outside. This doesn't usually happen until late-October. So fall seems to have come early this year.
Just before the temperatures really started dropping I saw the first sign. I was walking through the produce department of the grocery store where I work. Shopping for a class I needed to buy some fruit and noticed that we had already gotten Honeycrisp apples from Washington state. This was a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't believe that I was seeing them in early September. We haven't even gotten the New York state apples yet. So I figure that fall is coming early in some of the northern U.S. Then we started getting rain and cooler temperatures. With that I have to welcome the first breath of fall...finally. It has been a brutal summer here so I have no problem with fall getting here now.
This is my favorite time of year. I love the flavors of fall: butternut squash, apples, pears, wild game, beets and other root vegetables. Soups, oatmeal, breads, galettes, and pies will be made aplenty. Friends and family come together to celebrate holidays and enjoy good food and company. So let's start cooking.
P.s. One thing I have learned in this state is that you can never really predict the weather. I hope that it holds. And I hope that it gets bone-chilling cold this winter.
17 September 2009
We who live in Texas have a few good reasons to be considered lucky: there is no state income tax, there is a rich cultural history, and you can grill pretty much year round. Of course the downside to all of this is Rick Perry. But I digress. Let's focus on the latter reason.
If grilling is the second most popular religion in Texas then it is second only to football. As I said, we can grill pretty much all year. When the weather is hot we grill because we don't want to heat up the house. When it is mild we grill because we want to enjoy the wonderful weather. When it is cold we grill because we can. In Texas we will grill just about anything.
I did a lunch time class the other day and focused on grilling. The menu: grilled Caesar salad with chipotle dressing, grilled peppers and tortilla strips; grilled steak and onions with Chimayo red chile sauce; grilled banana bread pudding.
I prefer to use charcoal grills because I can get more intense heat and feel like I can control it better. If you use a gas grill be sure and preheat it for at least 30 minutes before you start to cook on it. Either way you go the grill has to be super hot.
I like to use a chimney starter to get my grill going. This allows me to not use lighter fluid. Even when lighter fluid burns off I can still kind of taste it on the food. Barf. When you light the coals make sure that there is a thin layer of white ash coating them. This means that the coals are fully burning and that you will get maximum heat. Also, when using charcoal, be aware of your "hot spots" and how they move around (when using a gas grill you will get hot spots but they don't move so it is easier to find them). To find the hot spots simply hold your hand about 4 inches over the grill and move your hand in a circular motion. You will feel the hottest spots and the cooler spots. You can use the coolest spots to let food finish cooking once it has been seared enough. Just remember, on a charcoal grill hot spots will move as the charcoal burns.
Before cooking scrape any debris off the grill and season it by wiping and oil soaked rag on it. Do this while the grill is hot and be sure to hold the rag with tongs so that you don't burn your arm off. When you place any food on the grill be sure that you oil the food and not the grill. This method will give you the best results when trying to avoid food sticking to the grill. Finally, try not to mess with the food too much when you put it on the grill; only turn it when you need to. Remember that grilling is not rocket science. Most of you are probably pretty good at it, anyway. Just pay close attention to your food and you will be o.k.
And one last thing. There is a difference between Barbecue and grilling. Barbecue is made by smoking meat for relatively long periods of time over low heat and with lots of smoke. Grilling is done by taking meat, or pretty much anything else, and cooking it over very high heat for a short period of time. I sometimes hear people say, "Let's put some steaks on the barbecue tonight." Huh?
2 Romaine Hearts, split lengthwise
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 poblano Pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1” strips
¼ cup Queso Cotija Cheese, crumbled
1 recipe Southwestern Caesar Dressing
Fried Tortilla Strips for Garnish
Heat a charcoal or gas grill until it is very hot. Brush the romaine hearts with EVOO, salt, and pepper. Quickly grill the lettuce until it is just charred on both sides, about 30 seconds to1 minute per side (more or less depending on your heat). Lay each lettuce on a plate and spoon some of the dressing over the middle. Sprinkle the cotija cheese around the dressing, top with poblano strips and the fried tortilla strips.
For the dressing:
1 Garlic Clove, peeled
4 Anchovy Fillets
2 canned Chipotle Peppers
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
1 cup Parmegiano-Reggiano Cheese, grated
½ cup Lime Juice
1 ½ cups EVOO
Salt and Pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, put the garlic, anchovies, chipotles, mustard, egg, cheese, and lime juice. Purée until the mixture is very smooth. With the motor running add the EVOO in a slow, steady stream. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
12 September 2009
Once again I had the great pleasure of working with pastry chef Roland Mesnier. For those of you who don't know of this unsung hero Chef Mesnier was the White House pastry chef for 26 years! He served through five administrations: Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II. Before Bush II finished his second term Chef Mesnier retired. He now promotes his two cookbooks "Basic to Beautiful Cakes" and "Dessert University". Both books are excellent and should be in any serious baker's collection. Chef Mesnier has a new coffee table book coming out next fall. The focus of this book is going to be more behind the scenes in the White House pastry kitchen rather than recipes.
Before class started I asked him if he had ever suffered any disasters at a state dinner or some such important event at the White House. "Never. There was never any room for a mistake. Recipes were tested, retested, and tested again before the dinners. If I ever caught anyone on my staff doing something other than the way I asked them to, then they were sent home immediately. There were no second chances...ever." Wow. That's hardcore. If you blow it, you're gone. That's what it is like when you work with the big dogs.
Fortunately our class this evening was not as intense as a state dinner. It went off without a hitch, thanks to Chef Christina dutifully programming the class on the dry erase board. Chef Mesnier and our staff had a wonderful time. Chef Mesnier is extremely talented yet very humble. His passion for his art is clearly evident in everything that he does. When he arrived to teach he came into the kitchen to see what was already done. He made a few corrections to some things and then put an apron on and got to work himself. He really likes being part of the crew rather than just putting on his show. He just loves what he does.
He deftly took the lead on the class and showed us a wonderful chocolate meringue mousse. This dessert was shockingly easy to make yet so, so very good. It is made by melting chocolate and then folding stiffly beaten and sweetened egg whites into it. The mousse is much lighter than a traditional mousse so if you are looking for a decadent but still fairly healthy dessert then this is the way to go. Daniyyel really liked it, too (but not as much as me, I'm just not going to post a picture of my dish room gluttony).
After the mousse he did poached peaches served with red wine sorbet and honey sabayon. Oh. My. God. This makes for the perfect hot weather dessert. Considering that Texas gets plenty of hot weather, some of the best peaches in the world, and fabulous local honey then this dessert just fits right in.
Next up was papaya stuffed with lime mousse and served atop raspberry purée and dotted with lime cream. The tropical essence cannot be missed here and the flavors play together so well. This is another thing that blows me away about Chef Mesnier; he is able to so expertly blend flavors without overloading the dessert with sugar. While all of his desserts were sweet, they were never cloyingly so.
Finally he did Boston Cream Cupcakes. The batter for the cakes was scented with lemon zest which really helped to bring the pastry cream to the forefront. Of course, the pastry cream itself was like silk. I wish that I had bed sheets that felt like that pastry cream. A simple chocolate ganache was piped on top and garnished with chopped peanuts. I think that Christina and I ate about 15 of these babies before we left for the night. Chef Mesnier served the cupcakes with a glass of prosecco and shared a toast with the class. He also acknowledged the professionalism of the our staff. I can't tell you how proud that made me feel; to have a chef of this caliber let us know how much he appreciated our skill and talent. Vive Chef Mesnier!
09 September 2009
My friend Abou is from Guinea. He lives here in the U.S. and teaches African drum and balaphone (a xylophone-like instrument). Abou and I decided, after my hearing that the food he makes is very good, to get together and do a class on the food and music of Guinea, Africa.
The cuisine of Guinea is very, shall we say, sauce based. Whenever Abou talks about the food he makes he usually says that he is making, "...sauce with rice." The sauce could have anything in it (anything but pork; Guinea is a largely Muslim country so Abou, being Muslim, does not eat pork). Most of the sauces that Abou spoke with me about had some kind of protein, starch, and vegetable in it. He favors fish for his protein, but also lamb. The vegetables and fruits that he tends to use are avocado, yucca root, eggplant, onion, potato, okra, tomato, mango, papaya, etc. I found it interesting that many of the things we have readily available to us here in Texas are similar to what Abou grew up with in Guinea. Climatically the two regions are similar except that it can be hotter and drier in Guinea (Yikes!).
When we set the menu we decided on five dishes: an avocado/potato salad, snapper with yucca root, tuna with chiles and tomatoes, lamb with peanut sauce, and sweet avocado for dessert. Three of the dishes were prepared using Abou's traditional methods. The other two dishes were my own creations/interpretations based on Abou's influence.
As I said, Abou is a drummer. It just so happens that I am a bassist. So we decided to play together at the class. Abou invited his brother, Seny, to play drums so that Abou could play the balaphone. I feel it was a great honor for me to play with Abou and Seny. I have played many different styles of music but this was almost entirely new for me. While I have listened to a lot of African music I have never really had the opportunity to play it in such an authentic setting. We had one rehearsal the day before the class and a little time to warm up just before the class.
We opened the class with a tune, which Abou sang, that translates into "Food is good. We all understand this." Rhythmically this song was very tricky so I had to really stay on my toes. We got through it just fine and you couldn't have had a better start to a class.
The first dish was the avocado/potato salad. This was a simple concoction of the title parts, tomatoes, onions, boiled eggs, vinegar, and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together. What I find interesting about this dish is that it is very similar to the potato salads I grew up with in the church (I am a recovering preacher's kid). When Abou was telling me about this dish I could see the influence that African cuisine has had on American food (especially Louisiana).
Next up was the snapper with yucca root. Abou helped me cook because he does things differently than a trained chef and I wanted to keep it real.Usually when yucca root is in a recipe that I work with it is sliced and fried. This time the root is chopped and boiled like potatoes. The fish is fried in oil and mixed with onions, tomato paste, ground dried chiles, and salt and pepper. The tomato paste is loosened with plenty of water to make a sauce so that when the yucca root goes in the mixture the starchy vegetable won't soak it all up. You want the sauces to be loose enough to serve over rice.
After the snapper I did my version of a similar dish. Rather than frying the fish in oil, though, I cut tuna into steaks, rubbed them with ground, dried chiles, and sautéed them quickly in oil so that they were still rare. I then made a quick tomato sauce in the pan with onions, carrots, garlic, serrano peppers, and crushed tomatoes. The sauce was spooned over rice and the rare tuna was sliced thin and served over the top. A student in the class asked Abou if he would eat tuna as rare as I was serving it. He said, "Yes." I breathed a sigh of relief.
Now it was time for the lamb. This, for me, was the show stopper. The preparation technique was just about the same as the other dishes. But the depth of flavor that this dish has is incredible. We fried the lamb in oil and then added chopped onion, carrot, eggplant, and tomato paste. Water was added to make the sauce and we put some ground, dried chiles in for good measure. What this makes is a stew, really. The lamb cooks for a long time and becomes very tender. The eggplant becomes very soft, almost falling apart, and lets it's flavor run wild through the stew. At the end of the cooking time fresh ground peanut butter is stirred into the stew. This does two things: it helps to thicken the sauce a bit and gives it the most wonderful flavor. I had never heard of doing lamb with peanut sauce before but Abou has sold me on it. The gaminess of the lamb, earthiness of the eggplant, and nuttiness of the peanuts all go hand in hand. When I first cooked this with Abou I asked, "How do you know when it is done?" He replied, "When the oil rises to the top." Got it.
Abou's girlfriend, Lisa, told me a story of eating at home one night. Abou had cooked the usual "sauce with rice" and she wanted something sweet for dessert. She said that they didn't have anything and Abou countered, "There is an avocado in the kitchen." "But Abou, that's not sweet." Abou went into the kitchen and came back with avocado and sugar mashed together and spread on bread. I tried it and it was good. But it also got me thinking, "What if I put an avocado in a standard dessert?" Thus, the avocado crème brûlée was born. We served this just like a standard crème brûlée but, in a bow to Abou, I added a garnish of baguette spread with sweetened avocado. The dessert found a classroom full of new fans. I encourage you to try it.
Between courses Abou and Seny played some great music. I also got to play another time. When we ended the class we played the first song again. I was much more relaxed after such a good time of music and food. "Food is good. We all understand this." Thank you, Abou and Seny.
Avocado Crème Brûlée
1 large, ripe Avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped rough
5 Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar
2 Vanilla Beans, split and scraped
2 cups Heavy Cream
Turbinado Sugar for topping
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean. Purée the avocado in a food processor and slowly pour in the cream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and purée again so that no lumps of avocado are left.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the crème brûlée is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the crème brûlée from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the ½ of the turbinado sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Repeat this process with the turbinado sugar a second time. Allow the crème brûlée to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
04 September 2009
I will miss the tarts, cobblers, crisps, pies, galettes, and clafoutis that I have made with them this year. I will miss the demi-glaces and port wine reductions, the braising liquids and sauces. But most of all I will miss grabbing a handful and eating them plain, gnawing the pit like a bone so that I can get every last bit of flesh from it.
On more than one occasion my martial arts instructor and I sat down after our morning training and would consume an entire 1lb. bag of Hood River, Oregon cherries. You have my word that it makes a great post-workout snack. It really helps wash the taste of the Nasty Green Drink out of our mouths, too.
In the not to distant future we will begin seeing cherries from Chile but they pale in comparison so I never bother with them. Until next year...
03 September 2009
Back to the food. Back to Donatella. She has another restaurant in the Fort Worth, TX area called Tata, Too. Clever, huh? About two weeks ago I got to work with Donatella again as she came back and taught a class featuring a light summer menu.
The starter was a panzanella, or bread salad. The simplicity of this dish is what I love (actually, I love simplicity in most food). It is nothing more than pieces of bread tossed with summer vegetables like cucumber, tomato, onions, basil, olives, EVOO, vinegar, salt, and pepper. There, you have the recipe. You can really use whatever proportions that you want. Just be sure and make it about 30 minutes before you plan to serve it so that the bread can soak up the dressing and juices from the vegetables (actually, the cukes and toms are fruits but we won't get that picky just yet).
Next up was the bolognese pasta stuffed eggplant. Again, simplicity is the key to this dish. The bolognese sauce is made with beef and sausage and cooked in crushed tomatoes for a couple of hours. The meat becomes so tender that it just falls apart. When the sauce is done it is tossed with small pasta shells and fresh mozzarella. The pasta and cheese make the sauce very thick so that it can be stuffed into the baked eggplant slices, rolled, and baked again with a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Simply yum.
She also did a plate of summer salad that she made up on the spot. Simply composed of mixed greens dressed with high quality EVOO, salt, and pepper and a wonderful addition of ricotta cheese balls seasoned with thyme and rolled in crushed pistachios this salad provided a wonderful accompaniment to the Italian meatloaf. The meat loaf was done in the traditional style and stuffed with mortadella, carrots, peas, and boiled eggs. (Would you just look at that "Steak" of mortadella?)
The entire menu was very simple; simply summer and simply yummy. It was great to see you again Donatella.
02 September 2009
Fifteen years ago I played in a band. Actually, I played in a lot of bands. I have played many different styles of music ranging from Hip-Hop to Classical. But this band that I played in so many years ago really made an impact on me. So let's go back in time a bit, shall we?
I was working at a burger joint, G.M. Steakhouse, that happened to be very popular at the time. I had actually worked there on and off a couple of times and I happened to be back on. I showed up for a Saturday shift and started getting my grill ready for the lunch rush. I turn around and the day manager comes walking up. He is this big athletic dude wearing Terminator sunglasses, Doc Marten boots, ratty-ass cut-offs, and a Red Hot Chili Peppers tee shirt. His head is shaved and he has a goatee and looks mean as shit (not that I looked any better, I'm just sayin'). "Great," I think to myself, expecting this guy to be a total shithead.
Lunch is served and the burgers begin to fly. I find out that the shithead's name is Eric. I also find out that he is pretty cool. We start talking music and he mentions that he is a rapper. I then have to mention that I am a bass player and that the old guy in the dish room is a drummer named Dave who I have been playing with in a jazz/funk band that just fell apart. Naturally we decide to jam that day after work.
We get to my apartment and I set up my bass. Dave doesn't have any drums with him, just some sticks. So we get out a couple of 5-gallon pickle buckets and he plays on those (Dave can keep a good beat on anything). I play a couple of grooves that I have been working on and Eric starts to rap over it. All the while Dave is totally funkin' out on the pickle buckets. We just know that we have a band. A couple of other friends of ours who worked at the burger joint ended up joining and playing trumpet and sax (to varying degrees of success). Between Eric, Dave, and me, though, we were really feeling the core of something.
Naturally we needed a guitar player and I called my friend Jamie. He was working at G.M. Steakhouse when I first was hired there (actually more than fifteen years ago). I have known Jamie for a long time and he was one of my first friends I made when I moved here to Austin, Texas. When we had the first jam session with Jamie, Eric said afterward that he wasn't sure about Jamie's playing style and that we should keep our minds open to other players. Jamie said that he wanted to chew on our material for a week and give it another go. We set up another rehearsal. Jamie came back and, in the words of the great George Clinton, "tore the roof off the sucker". The core was complete.
As I said, this band made a huge impact on me. We tried anything and everything. Sometimes we just got really weird but always, always, always kept a groove going. This band has always been about the groove. The band (called D'Zyne at the time) really allowed me to write a lot. It allowed us all to write and be truly collaborative. Musically we really grew during the five years or so that we were together.
All things must pass. I eventually went to school to study music more seriously, earning my degree in music composition (classical, you can find a c.d. of my chamber music here or on iTunes). Eric and Dave moved up to New York. Jamie began pursuing his college degrees. We grew up, got married (Dave for the third time), had kids (excluding Jamie and Dave), and became more professional.
While in New York City Dave and Eric kept some of the old tunes alive with a band they had started up there. Calling themselves The Big Fat Reds they did some really good stuff but for whatever reason it didn't hold together. Still, they got some good tunes out of it and kept some of the old material alive.
About 2 months ago Dave, Jamie, and myself all received and email from Eric saying that it was time to get the band back together. He was moving back to town (Dave had already moved back from New York). Well, duh! After fifteen years of gestation this was going to be pretty cool.
We now have about 4 new tunes since our reunion and have really worked up some of our older material. A lot of the old stuff has been polished with new ideas and slightly new arrangements. We are having so much fun playing and writing again. It's not as serious as it was years ago. We only rehearse when we can, once a week at the most. But what impresses me most is the new direction we are taking. Eric is singing more than rapping, the grooves are much tighter, and the ability to communicate both musically and verbally has really matured. Less has become so much more. I'm both glad and proud to be a member of The Big Fat Reds.
We'll be playing at Momo's on Friday, September 18, 2009. See this flyer? Come check it out.
01 September 2009
A galette is one of my favorite desserts to make if only for the simple reason that it is, well, simple. They are easy to throw together at the last minute and can be made with just about any fruit you can think of. They can also be savory so you can make them with a sweet potato or butternut squash filling. Use fruit and the leftovers (if there are any) make an excellent breakfast. Use the squash and a slice with a salad is the perfect lunch or light dinner.
I have gotten creative with my galettes and came up with a good recipe that uses cranberries, apples, and rosemary. I have also made one with a chocolate crust and blood orange filling. Should the galette become one of your default desserts then you are limited only by your own imagination.
The crust for a galette is a little sturdier than a pie crust. This is because a galette is free-form, that is, it does not use a pie pan. You simply mound the filling in the middle of a rolled out crust and fold the edges up to contain the filling.
The trick to making a galette is that you have to bake it on a rimless cookie sheet or an inverted sheet pan. Now, pay attention because this is important. BEFORE you fill the crust you must roll out the dough and then lay it on the pan. If you fill the crust before you lay it on the pan you will not be able to move it without tearing the dough. If the dough tears then the juices will leak out as the galette cooks. If the juices leak out then they will burn themselves to the bottom of your oven. So I'll say it again, BEFORE you fill your crust you must roll it out and lay it on the sheet pan. The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough into a rough circle about 12 - 14" in diameter. Fold the circle in half, and then fold it in half again so that it resembles a triangle. Set the point of the triangle in the center of the pan and unfold the dough. Now you are ready to fill it.
You may get a little leakage of juice anyway so it helps to put a piece of foil under the pan just in case. When the galette is done let it cool on the pan for about 15 minutes before sliding it to a serving plate.
Though the recipe below calls for peaches, blueberries, and raspberries, the galette I am holding in the picture is made with figs. As I have said in an earlier post the figs this summer have been orgasmic. I have been using them in a lot of desserts and in combination with a lot of other fruits, particularly apricots. Change the fruit to your liking. A late harvest riesling or Sauternes would be a delightful match with this dessert. Also, a little drizzle of orange agrumato EVOO is particularly yummy.
Summer Fruit Galette
1 recipe Galette Dough
1 pint Blueberries
1 pint Raspberries
2 Peaches, sliced
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Lemon Zest
20 Amaretti Cookies, crushed
Preheat oven to 375°
Toss the fruit with the sugar and zest and set aside.
Roll the dough into a rough 12 – inch circle. Fold the dough into quarters and transfer it to the back of an inverted sheet pan. Spread the crushed amaretti cookies in the center, leaving a 3 – inch border.
Mound the fruit on top of the crushed cookies. Gently fold the dough up and over the sides of the fruit mound until the circle of dough is enveloping the fruit but the top is still exposed.
Bake the galette until the edges are browned and the fruit looks bubbly. Be careful of drips leaking through the dough. You may want to place a piece of foil under the sheet pan for easy cleaning of any drips.
Allow the galette to sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
2 cups All Purpose or Whole Wheat Flour or a mix
½ tsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. Sugar
12 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (you may use EVOO or other oil)
1/3 to ½ cup ice water as needed
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in a bowl. Cut in the butter by hand or with a pastry blade, leaving some pea-sized chunks (you can use a food processor to). Sprinkle the ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss it with the flour until you can bring the dough together in a ball. Press the dough into a disk and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Allow to rest while you assemble the ingredients for the galette.