Yesterday was a pretty successful day. The only items I didn’t get around to were making the potatoes and lentils for Nate, which wasn’t a big deal since he still has lunch and dinner.
I’ll figure out a time to put the recipes in, though it may have to wait until the weekend.
- Confit duck legs
- Reduce the duck stock with star anise
- Prep dinner for tomorrow night (duck breast, roast eggplant, candied red onions, polenta) – I’ll roast the eggplant and candy the red onions today to reduce my workload tomorrow
- Check out a lighting store in Durham
- Bring in some firewood for tonight
- Continue organizing the garage (almost done) and work on the laundry room a bit
- Make potato/leek puree and celery root puree for Nate
Last night was the 2nd in our series of black box dinners where the guests provide the food (for the most part, pantry items are available to me) and we provide the setting and beverages.
Our guests last night were Dean (of VarmintBites fame) and his wife Cella. Going into the dinner I was aware that Cella doesn’t eat red meat, so was largely expecting seafood to be provided.
And for our part, due to the public outcry over his post regarding purchasing wine at Trader Joe’s, I decided to go to the Wine Authorities in Durham. I explained to them the premise of the dinner and who our guests were to be, then asked them to pick some very reasonably priced wines. I think they did a good job (especially considering they didn’t know what the ingredients were as well), and we never even touched the bubbly stuff.
Starting in the upper right, there was yellow cauliflower, some type of apples more suited to baking, thyme, lima beans, poulet rouge (of which there were 2), littleneck clams, red beets, radish and Meyer lemons.
I have to say that I was instantly thrown off by the chickens. Many people are probably aware (and many probably aren’t so much) that there are two ingredients universally seen (and even feared by some) as a true test of a cook’s ability. Chicken is one of those while the egg is the other. You might be thinking, “Oh come on, that’s some basic shit”, but that’s precisely the problem – chicken and eggs are two of the easiest things to fuck up. And additionally, how a cook approaches cooking them signifies what type of cook he is.
So decisions had to be made. The clams were easy as I’d been expecting those.
The beets posed little problem as well, except for their size (as soon as I saw them I cranked the oven to 400), then quartered them; and they still took well over an hour to cook.
For the cauliflower I got a blanch pot working so it could be cooked then pureed, which I’d then serve with the chickens.
Initially the radish was going to be used with the beets for a salad, but my thinking changed to cooking them to have with the chicken. I also planned on cooking the lima beans in some chicken stock that I had in the freezer, and then serve those with the radish and some leek to have with the chickens.
I know the apples were brought with dessert in mind, but here I was already leaning to including them with the beets for a warm/room temp salad, with which I’d wilt the beet greens.
I’d never worked with Meyer lemons before, but planned on using them with the clams which would also feature Spanish chorizo, fennel and pine nuts.
And as for those chickens, I quartered them, roasted the bones and added that to some brown turkey stock I had hanging around, to which I simmered in order to make a jus.
This salad kind of just came together. Not having any other greens in the house, I decided to wilt the beet greens with some olive oil. I added the walnuts to the pan which crisped them up nicely. The vinaigrette I used was basic – 1 part tarragon vinegar, some chopped thyme, a little honey and 3 parts vegetable oil. I drizzled the vinaigrette over the beets and apples and then tossed some with the beet greens to heat it up.
I was pretty happy with this dish. As clichéd as it is, a blue cheese would have worked, but it wouldn’t be essential; I don’t think it was missed by anyone.
This dish suffered by the fact that I sliced the lemons thin and tossed them in with the rind (you learn as you go), which provided a little too much bitterness to the dish. All the components were there to be a really good dish, but the bitterness was just too strong. Which isn’t to say that the course was inedible.
To cook, I heated some olive oil with the diced chorizo (to draw out the paprika), then added the fennel, then clams then pine nuts. Cella had the same dish sans chorizo, which I tasted and was really a completely different dish to what the three of us with the chorizo had.
I like this dish alot and will no doubt tinker with it in the future. I like how the meatiness of clams is contrasted with their delicate flavor, and I really liked the balance of acidity to the earthiness of the chorizo, along with the texture and flavor that the pine nuts brought.
Fuck modesty – this dish is one of the best I’ve ever cooked. It was so simple and so delicious. And I’m now a convert to poulet rouge. There was no need to enhance or dick with the flavor of this chicken (like with brining).
So what I did was quarter the chicken, then brown the pieces in a cast iron skillet before transferring to a sheet tray to roast at 400. The legs and thighs took considerably longer than the breasts, which were small when compared to the genetically modified chickens we’re all used to.
For the cauliflower puree, I overcooked the cauliflower before putting it in a blender with some water and cream. There was no need to strain it. The texture wasn’t too far off that of a really soft polenta and would even be a nice addition to either polenta or risotto.
While the chicken was cooking, I sweated the leeks and the radish with an ample amount of butter, then added the already cooked lima beans to heat them through.
As for the jus, I simply thickened what had been simmering away with a buerre manie (a mixture of butter and flour).
And that was that.
I’d like to thank Dean and Cella for getting away for an evening and for providing some wonderful ingredients. And thanks to Dean for the help and companionship in the kitchen. Hopefully you’re both not too tired today.
Clockwise from upper left – taboule, red kuri squash, Bosc pears (I believe they were Bosc), seafood herb pack, four four-ounce portions of sockeye salmon, 12 Gulf coast shrimp (shell on), purple sweet potatoes and baby carrots.
I really had no idea at first as to what to do, but was happy with the seasonality of the ingredients. I knew I wanted to poach the shrimp, so headed to the freezer to get some nage out (to which I eventually added celery, the carrots pictured, parsley & chervil stems, star anise and shrimp shells, boiled for a while and then strained).
For the salmon I was initially going to make a roasted carrot and cream sauce, but that’s too similar to a sauce we have at work, so I decided against it.
I also knew we had the ingredients to make a modified Romesco sauce, so I set about roasting a red pepper and an onion, along with some almond slices and macadamia nuts. Sure, Romesco calls for hazelnut, but not having that I decided to substitute the macadamias.
I also got to work on making the taboule, since I knew this would take some time. To the taboule I added some diced pear, chervil, parsley, Banyul’s vinegar, salt and pepper.
At this point I got the idea to make a poached pear dessert since I had two and a half pears left over (plus some homemade vanilla ice cream in the freezer). For the poaching liquid I used some sauvignon blanc, water, sugar, two cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves, some black peppercorn and white balsamic vinegar.
I was still at a loss as to what to do with the squash, torn between dicing then sauteeing it and adding it to the taboule or making some sort of a sauce out of it. Once the red pepper and onion were done roasting I decided to roast the squash in the oven so that I could eventually make a sauce out of it for the salmon.
And I still had those pesky purple sweet potatoes, to which I eventually sliced thin and roasted with some vegetable oil.
So here’s how it came together:
I served the shrimp on top of the Romesco and purple sweet potato. I was really happy with the way this came out considering I had no idea how the sweet potato would play off the shrimp and Romesco.
The sauce for the salmon was pretty easy to make – roast the squash, puree it with some cream then thin out with some of the poaching liquid from the shrimp. For the salmon I just sauteed it in a cast iron pan to rare to medium rare. Sockeye fillets are so thin and dry out so fast that I didn’t want to have it overcook, so I just cooked them on the stove top for maybe 2-3 minutes. And the taboule worked pretty well for the dish, offering a nice flavor and texture contrast.
There’s not much to be said for the dessert – simple yet delicious. The only thing I’d do different would have been to save the seeds from the squash to roast/candy them to have some crunch with the dessert.
All in all I was happy with the way things turned out though, as I think everyone else was. The whole cooking process took no more than an hour and a half, proving that you can make really tasty meals at home in not that much time. If I’d have known in advance what I was going to be given I probably could have had things done inside of an hour.
That’s it, that’s all I’ve got to say right now.
Saturday the US plays a qualifier against Honduras (in Honduras). A win would mean qualification for South Africa, a loss (or draw) would make their last game a must win (next week) against Costa Rica, a team that sits on the cusp of qualification. Please, oh please win this game. It’s sad that we haven’t already qualified (but hey, we’re in 1st place).
In restaurant news, I got to cook and plate a bunch of shit yesterday that was photographed to be in a magazine – sure, it’s a bridal magazine, but I’ll take it. I have no idea as to which magazine, but if I find out I’ll let everyone know. The shoot took place in the afternoon just after lunch, and I just made it all myself so that I knew it was pretty.
Tomorrow I get to work a lunch shift on the line for the first time. Easily the most annoying thing about being a sous chef is covering other people’s shifts, though I can’t complain too much about this one because it’s getting me out early (as in hopefully when it’s still daylight) on a Friday. With any luck I’ll be the one to pick Nate of from daycare, which would be pretty awesome. Plus we have a friend visiting this weekend and it would be nice to see her.
At home my bacon and duck breast continue to cure nicely. The pork belly has taken on a nice bacony hue, which is encouraging.
That is all.
and I bet you’re jealous. I also have a duck breast curing for proscuitto, which should be done by Sunday, while the bacon should be finished a week from today, after I rinse it, remove the skin and smoke it.
It’s difficult for me to say which I’m most excited about, because I’ve spent the past couple of days doing all kinds of cool shit. Yesterday I bought a duck and confited the legs which we ate tonight. Obviously, I am curing one of those breasts; the other I froze.
I roasted the carcass, neck and heart and made stock overnight. When I woke up today I rehydrated some currants in port, burned off the alcohol and reduced, then added the liquid to the duck stock and reduced down to a jus which tastes outstanding (I now have beef, port and mushroom jus as well as the duck and currant jus at home, surely another reason you’re jealous).
Anyway, here’s some photographs of what I’ve been up to the last couple of days:
On Wednesday I had my “black box” exam at school, basically signalling the end of school for me, even though I do have 5 more days.
I’m sure I’ll go into it in a later post, but I essentially didn’t give a shit (at least partially) about some bullshit test where you’re given totally random ingredients and judged. Most of school has not been about creativity, so why judge us on that in the end? As such, I ended up getting a pretty low score, though according to the chef I “shouldn’t be too hard on myself” since I still scored in the top 3rd of all time results. Whatever. Who gives a fuck?
As for what I received to cook, I got a half rack of lamb, carrots, parsnips and basmati rice. Within the first five minutes I cut my finger on my boning knife while I was trying to clean up the lamb – it had been a while since I’ve cut myself so I guess I was due.
There are further limitations as well in that I had to exhibit three knife cuts from a pretty limited list (I chose brunoise, julienne and paysanne) and three cooking techniques (here I used pan roast, blanch/shock, pilaf & deep fry).
The whole process was pretty uninspiring for me. Maybe it’s just because it’s near the end, maybe it’s all the beaurocratic bullshit of school, or maybe it’s because I’m working full time and am just ready to get it over with so I can sleep.
After two days off of work I returned Thursday to a party for 70 for which we prepared several different plates of passed hors d’oeuvres. If not for that party work would have been slow. Last night being Good Friday wasn’t much better, though I guess it was steady for a while.
No one knows what to expect tonight, but I may not even work the line so one of our interns can get some experience, which means I’ll possibly get to leave at 11 or so (I really hope so since tomorrow the restaurant is closed). We’ll probably get hit hard though and I’ll have to work the line to midnight or so, so I shouldn’t get too excited.
Yesterday morning at home I made some cardamom ice cream and baked custards (there was no school yesterday). Both came out reasonably well. I may continue exploring various “exotic” flavors of homemade ice cream. I wonder if cumin could work.
We recently subscribed to a weekly organic food delivery service called Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks and this last week was our first delivery. This is really a bad time of the year to expect a lot of interesting foods, but low and behold there were a few cool items like kale (from PA), some red beets, Yukon gold potatoes, dried cranberries along with some preserves.
Hopefully in just a few short months some really interesting items will be delivered, though it does look like some baby vegetables might be in store for the coming week.
Yesterday represented the coldest day in a while (our thermometer is currently reading 1.8 which is up considerably from the -0.6 it was when I woke up); to think that friends of ours are in Napa Valley today to eat at the French Laundry. Oh well.
So last night we predictably had a warming meal which consisted of short ribs braised in homemade veal stock and cabernet sauvignon, kale from the delivery service which I braised in brown chicken stock with some garlic and red pepper flakes, and mashed potatoes made from the Yukon Gold we received and seasoned with black truffle salt.
I braised the short ribs over five or six hours with the oven set at 250, which resulted in the tenderest meat ever. Not only was the food delicious but having the oven on for that period of time helped keep the back half of our apartment cozy. The photographs of Riley are from last night as we hung out in the kitchen to stay warm with food and alcohol.
Tonight we’re celebrating a few things at Sweets and Savories, which we haven’t been to since Bastille Day last July. Not quite the French Laundry but I’ll take it.