Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cheese puffs and soup of Jerusalem artichoke

Here is a dinner I cooked the other night for someone who I felt deserved something good. Sometimes a set of events, or ingredients, accidentally converge into something extraordinary. Here it starts with Saturday shopping, accidentally stumbling over a box of nice looking Jerusalem artichokes. My grandmother always used to make artichoke soup, and the recipe below tries to be as faithful to her recipe as possible, straight from memory. Another coincidence was when I a few days later stumbled over a blog post about Pate a Choux, on Michael Ruhlmans blog. Long time no see, I thought, as the evenings menu was taking form. But the starter and dessert were still absent. I knew I had some celery that needed to be used pretty soon, and so did the cucumber. Add a Grammy Smith apple and some leftover aïoli, and the rest came pretty much by itself: The Incomplete Waldorf salad. When thinking of dessert, three ingredients accidentally converged; I had an opened box of mascarpone cheese, some eggs that wanted to be used and incidentally, a box of Lady's Fingers taking up cupboard space. Enter a bottle of Marsala wine, and the stage was set for Lorenza di Medici's heavenly tiramisu cake. I'll write about it in a later post, it's too elaborate for this already long post. Need I say it was a beautiful evening?

Chees puffs
2 dl wheat flour
2 dl water
100 g butter
2-3 eggs
1 block Chevré , rind removed
salt to season
Grated Parmesan cheese to top

This recipe is based on a normal Pate a Choux.
Put the butter in the water and bring to a boil. Add the cheese, cut into small pieces. Toss in all the wheat flour and mix like mad. Keep on low  heat for 5 min,  and dry the dough. Take of the heat and mix in the eggs one by one, until a suitably smooth thick batter has formed. Pipe small piles onto a baking sheet, top with the Parmesan chees. Bake initially at 200 C for 5 min, lower the temperature to 170 and bake until golden, approximately 20 min.

Soup of Jerusalem artichoke
500 g Jerusalem artichoke, peeled and cleaned
1 big yellow oninon
2-4 cloves of garlic
100 g butter
1 can white asparagus
2-3 dl milk
salt to season

Heat the butter in a casserole, add the chopped onion and saute until transparent. Add the cubed artichoke and the garlic, and saute for a little while. Pour in the liquid from the asparagus and top with water. Let the soup boil slowly under a lid for 15-20 min, until the artichoke is quite tender. Liquidize the soup and strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Dilute the soup with milk until it has a nice, smooth consistency. Season with salt and bring back to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus, and serve.

Incomplete Waldorf
1 apple
2-3 sticks of celery
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
toasted pine kernels

2 -3 tbs mayonnaise
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsb Dijon mustard
black pepper

To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients well and adjust the ratios until it's good.
Cut the apple, the celery and the cucumber into roughly equal sized smallish cubes, and cover well with the sauce. Sprinkle with the pine kernels.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A tongue in cheek dinner

"You go on ahead, I'll follow on foot".

When I got hold of my copy of Fergus Henderson's "Nose to Tail Eating", I immediately got fascinated by all the recipes involving pig's head. I decided that this was something spectacular that just had to be tried, so off I went to the butcher's in high hopes of getting some head. I didn't. Head is not something you just get, not in these parts of the world anyway. It is something you wait and yearn for. And then suddenly one day, if your butcher is kind, you get the head you have been anticipating for weeks.
The head I got was frozen, it was split in two, weighed almost 5 kg and cost me some 200 kr. I thought it was expensive, because I thought it was mostly bone. I was wrong twice. To my great dismay, the ears had been cut off and the tongue removed, as well as the brain. I really wanted to try the "Crispy pig's ear salad", and now I was without ears. And some of my fondest childhood memories are of tongue. Back to the butcher's shop I went, to replenish the head with some tongue. Since I could not get hold of any ears, I bought some trotters instead.

There are plenty of recipes out there how to cook a pig's head, most notably the pig's head roll from the  The French Laundry. Making the roll the Keller way is a lot of work, and since this was my first head I wanted to keep it simple. Besides, if you are going to eat a head, why not show it off in all its glory, and serve it looking like a head, snout and all. And since my guests were a carefully selected bunch of brutes, it felt appropriate.  So here is what I did:

Brining the meats

Put the head, tongues and trotters in a big plastic storage box. Add 4-5 bay leaves, some peppercorns and mustard seeds, and cover the lot with a 5% brine. Put the box in the fridge for 3 days.

Cooking the head and tongues

The head is full of connective tissue, sinew and what not, so it's very tough and needs to be simmered for a long time, 2 1/2 - 3 hours. You will need a very big kettle for this. My 15 liter kettle was just barely big enough, and I had to crack some bones in the snout to make it fit, poor animal. Add the tongues, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Skim all impurities as they rise to the surface, there will be a lot of it. After an hour or so, add the stock vegetables and spices: 4 onions, 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery, button mushrooms, bay leaf, parsley stems and some peppercorns. After 2 hours check the tongues, and remove if very tender. The tongues must be peeled while hot, or it will be difficult to remove the skin. The head probably needs nearly 3 hours until the meat comes off the bone easily. When everything is cooked, strain the liquid into a clean container and degrease. The stock is absolutely fabulous.  When the head has cooled a bit, separate the meat from the bone using your hands. It should come off easily. Warm the head in the oven just before serving.

Cooking the trotters

Cook the trotters the same way as the head, checking if done around 1 1/2 - 2 hours. I prefer to cook the trotters in a separate kettle, since they give off a slight scent of pig's foot sweat (or something).  The trotter stock, while a bit sweaty, is very delicious. Before serving put the trotters in a baking dish, pour over a little trotter stock, and give them a few minutes under a hot grill. Serve with fresh bread to soak up the juices.

The sauce
Make a velouté using the head stock; Cook a spoonful of wheat flour in butter until it smells like biscuit, letting it brown a little. Add a couple of ladlefuls of stock while whisking, and let it boil slowly for 20 min, adding more stock if necessary. Season with salt. Just before serving add a generous amount of finely grated horseradish and chopped parsley.

I served the head, trotters and tongues together with potato mash, boiled and butter glazed small beets, the horseradish sauce and fresh bread with aïoli. It went down pretty well.

Tarte de Natas

 I'm not big on cakes and pies. Maybe I'd like to be, but the consequence of baking pies all day long is likely to have a quite devastating effect on my already not-exactly-super-model-slim torso. It's not that I'm overly fat, but the frigging cakes and pies are. Seriously, it's like sausage; You really don't want to know what goes into a tasty savory or sweet pie. And cakes are really not much better. Of course, books and magazines are full of recipes how to make healthy pies from saw dust and hay, but face it, that is really an oxymoron. Pastries and pies are supposed to be unhealthy little packages of pure pleasure and joy! So here is a recipe for a not particularly healthy, amazing invention of a pie. It's almost foolproof (that remains to be tested though, I don't know enough fools to get reliable statistics). I got this recipe from my two beautiful Portuguese friends Aline and Soina who requested Tarte de Natas before one of our many dinners.

Puff pastry or similar, it's up to you really.

Creme Patisser:
4 dl  mix of milk and cream
4 egg yolks
1-2 dl sugar
lemon peal
1-2 sticks of cinnamon
1 pinch salt
1-2 tbs corn starch in a small amount of cold water

Combine the milk, cream, sugar, lemon peal and cinnamon stick in a pan and bring slowly to a boil. Let it mixture simmer for a little while to give the cinnamon and lemon peal time to infuse. Strain the boiling mixture over the egg yolks whilst stirring.  Pour the mixture back in to the pan, mix half of the starch slurry into the custard, and bring slowly to a  boil. Yes, you read correctly, to a boil! The starch will prevent the yolk from separating, and the boiling destroys enzymes which might eat the starch. It's a double win! Adjust the thickness with more starch if needed; The consistency should be quite thick, a little beyond runny. Pour and scoop the mixture into a mold lined with the pie crust, and bake at 200-220 C until the crust is crispy and nicely browned, and the skin has brown spots. Let the pie cool for a while and serve sprinkled cinnamon powder, if you like.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kvelde mølle

Bread baking is full of surprises. When you think you have almost perfected some certain type of bread, you suddenly change something. By mistake. Or curiosity. Most likely both. More often than not, the result is less than satisfactory, but somtimes you get lucky. And I got double lucky today.

Yesterday when shopping for eplebrennevin I went to the ICA shop in the same building as DKNV. I don't usually shop there, because mostly they sell rotten vegetables and generally expired stuff. And that's precisely what they did. Again. When I got home it turned out that the sweet potato I bought was actually a Kinder Egg (tm); It had a surprise in the middle, and not a nice one. But that's not of any importance. What is of importance however, is that they sell wheat flour from a small mill called Kvelde Mølle. It's expensive, twice the price of normal wheat flour, it's more finely milled and it has a higher protein content. It had to be tried.

Yesterday evening I started two doughs; a preferment and a "no-knead" ciabatta dough. I immediately realized that the flour had higher water absorbing capacity and formed gluten faster than normal wheat. Based on this I decided to go a little wetter than ususal. A bit too wet for the ciabatta it turned out, but it didn't matter much, it came out nice anyway. Apart from the flour, and the (overly) wetness of the dough, one final factor played in: work. At the same time as I was baking, I was working on a scientific project (deadlines are killers), and I was so concentrated that I forgot the bread. That is, unitl I could smell it. Then it had been in the blazing hot oven, at 275 C, for much longer than normal. It had aquired a quite deep, golden brown crust in just 13-14 minutes, and I thought: Crap! I quickly turned down the heat, opened the oven and vented out the steam and a bit of excess heat, left the breads in and went back to work. When another 20 min had passed (at 225 C) I took out the breads. To my surprise they were not overbaked at all, and had a beautifully caramelized crunchy crust. And when cut open! My God! What a nice collection of large, irregular holes! This is some of the best bread I have baked so far, hands up. The moral of the story? Keep pushing it! Recipes will follow in the next post, although bread recipes are darn boring. They are all the same. Give and take a bit of this and that.

After a long Sunday of work, while the sun was shining outside and the weather was crisp and beautiful, I had the delightful pleasure to cook a quick 15 min Sunday dinner for the always beautiful Elis. I had already given up any plans for Sunday dinner, when the opportunity presented itself. But it had to be quick. Almost instant. I decided to serve some bread with a selection of butter, cold smoked salmon and rustic mustard. Additionally I made a little omelet I learned from Kebire, the Black Sea ninja chef.

Black Sea ninja omelet

1 small squash, coarsely grated
5-10 small fillets of anchovies in oil
1 tbs corn flour
1 pinch black pepper
1 pich salt
finely chopped fresh dill
finely chopped spring onion
4 eggs

Mix all ingredients well and fry on a low heat under a lid just until done, but not yet cooked to f*ck.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Eplebrennevin perkele!

I just have to tell you this! This is too good to not tell everyone, even if it might have consequences... It's a beautiful day today. Clear blue skies, no wind and a very agreeable temperature of +4 C. Autumn is definitively upon us, and it's been cold, windy and rainy for weeks. And now suddenly, nature reveals itself in all it's glorious beauty! The blue sky, contrasting the white, snow capped mountains with their red and yellow foothills are just stunning to watch.

But all this has nothing to do with what I wanted to say. Today I did my usual shopping round in the sunshine. The whole town comes alive when the weather is nice in the weekend. It's almost like living in a real city. As part of my routine I went to Det Kongelige Norske Vinmonopol to buy a bottle of red for Sunday dinner. In Polet I met Lisa. She was looking at a beautiful bottle containing a completely colorless liquid; Eple Brent Brut from Agder Brenneri. Now, normally I would have completely ignored the situation, but I have a soft spot for calvados and friends. And this bottle just looked inviting. So I bought it! The bottle contains a fine spirit made from proper apple cider, without added sugar, made from apples from Agder and Telemark. It has no added coloring or wood extracts, and it has not been filtered. Sounds like a potential disaster, doesn't it? I mean, it's more likely to be a harsh, immature solvent, better suited for biodiesel than human consumption. But no, this spirit is absolutely wonderful! It's smooth and soft on the palate, with an immediate and amazing taste of rotten apples, with a long beautiful aftertaste. I have had so much worse calvados so many times. This makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not dead yet

Did you think this blog had died? Really? It hasn't! It's just been hibernating for a while. The truth be told, I have been too busy to write for a very long time. It's scary. I have started a few posts; One about Bacalo and Tarte de Natas, and one about special Finnish Labor Day food (sic). But time and energy have been scarce resources lately, and blogging quickly ended up low on my priority list. But now things are looking up again! Maybe I'll save that Labor Day post for the next 1st of May...

Even if the blog has been idle, I have not. I have been cooking and baking like ever before, and I have many, many things to write about. Here is a short list of things I want (try to) write about:
  • How to bake nice ciabattas with a set of simple, no knead recipes (this is for the SEAS crowd)
  • How to bake decent bread in a outright shitty, small gas oven, never intended for anything but storing trays and pots and pans in
  • Some comments on my experiences as a semi-professional chef, and the Black Sea food culture
  • My cheese making experiments
  • Bacalao, the beauty of Bacalao
  • The pig's head in my freezer
  • Mayonnaise and Aïoli
  • Lentils, red and green. And sausages. Mon dieu!
  • Lyon

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An accidental Thai dinner

Sometimes things that go wrong, actually go right. My dinner plans for the evening was to make a salad with some bruschetta, a fish soup and some grilled pine apple with mascrapone cream, using collected scraps laying around. I started by making a fish stock from some frozen, raw shrimp i found in the freezer, some leftover mussels from two days ago and an assortment of vegetables. Having strained the stock, I proceeded to add the canned tomatoes, only to find that the can of tomatoes I had in the pantry was coconut milk! Shitpanic! So Thai style noodle soup it was:

Noodle soup with fish and leftovers
The stock:
vegetable oil
200 g shrimp with shells
blue mussels in theirs shells
1 onion

1-2 sticks of celery

1 carrot
1 l water

The Thai:

1 can coconut milk
5-10 lime leaves

1-2 red chilies, chopped
1 tsb strong chili powder
1-2 tbs Thai chili paste

The goodness:
200 g halibut, cut in cubes and lightly salted

150 g surimi (crab stick of good quality, not the cheap crap)
1/2 a squash
sweet peas in the pod, cut in half

The stuffing: Thai rice noodles

Heat the oil and fry the shrimp until lightly browned. Don't worry about overcooking the shrimp, they will be sacrificed to the Gods of Compost. Add the rest of the ingredients for the stock, sweat for a while and cover with water. Let the stock simmer for 30 min, strain and return to the pan. Add the Thai stuff and season to your liking. Bring a kettle to the boil and cook the noodles until done (not al dente!). Just before the noodles are done, add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and turn off the heat. Simmer without boiling for 3-5 min. Put a generous amount of noodles in a deep dish and cover with the soup. This time not having canned tomatoes saved the evening.