Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bill Cosby got NOTHING on Grant Achatz

 When I find something unusual at the market, I tend to swipe it up immediately and try to figure out something to do with it.   Frankly, some things end up sitting around because I have serious ambitions, but have yet to utilize said products:

• Beet powder - potential use as a dye or food coloring? Exciting plating possibilities? Apparently, the powder can be reconstituted with water into beet puree - interesting.  I know something snazzy could come of it when the time is right.
• Naga Jolokia Peppers - unfit for human consumption because they are a trillion times hotter than habaneros.  Maybe a burglar deterrent?
• Rennet - I have visions of myself having an illicit, speakeasy-type fromagerie, right from the comfort of my own kitchen.  I have made absolutely delicious fresh cow's and goat's milk ricotta, as well as cow mozzarella.  But as for moving onto the serious stuff - soon the day will come!

Moving on from randomness, I did pick up some little diddies at the market today that I was able to put to good (fun) use! Green almonds.  That's right - our favorite edible pit in baby form, bearing a true resemblance to its cousin, the peach.  Fuzzy and sage-colored on the outside, not at all almond-like besides shape on the inside. Bypassing a friend with my green almonds in hand, he gave me a bit of a surprised look.

"Green almonds - what're you gonna do with those?"
"....really, I'm not sure...I'll figure out something though!"
"Have fun! I have a dish right now using them with halibut crudo"

That should've been my cue right then and there to pick up some halibut, but of course I didn't.
Back home, I decided to inspect my new goodies.  Very soft on the outside, with a hull very similar to an unripened olive.  In fact, they almost look like fuzzy olives, no? Unsure of what to do with these little guys, I decided to take a bite - minus the hull.  And what I found was quite surprising! Not a nut by any means - more the consistency of a grape! They popped when you took a bite, and were actually juicy, with a fresh, subtle grassy flavor.  After doing a bit of research, I came to find that these are a common snack in the Middle East, eaten with the hull, just dipped in sea salt.  Of course, I decided to give that a try! This way of eating the almonds was definitely more exciting - juicy and grassy from the kernel, a bit tart from the hull and of course, and crunchy from the salt - which also aided in emphasizing each components flavors as well.

Mad at myself for not having bought halibut, I decided to look on my shelf of mad scientist cookbooks.  Fortunately, Mr. Achatz had a nice little recipe inside the Alinea cookbook, simply called "Green Almond", subtitle sweet, hot, sour, salt.  Sir, I do not have any inkling of what kind of recipe this may be.  Which of course turn! Now I know this is an unrealistic recipe for most home cooks, but it was fun and the result was pretty - so check it out!

Green Almond
Adapted from the Alinea Cookbook
5 gelatin sheets 
2 cucumbers (for the juice!)
2 t sugar
1.5 t kosher salt
8 green almonds, taken out of their shells
1 sugar cube
Sea salt (large flaked if possible - I used Maldon and picked out the biggest flakes)
Cayenne pepper
Citric acid (I, somehow, do not have this in my possession - I used finely grated lemon peel)

First, line a baking pan - about the size used for a toaster oven - with plastic wrap.  If you don't have a small baking pan, you can just bunch up the plastic wrap around the sides so it makes a little space about 6.5 in x 10 in. Don't worry, the plastic wrap will hold up!  Place the gelatin sheets in ice water for at least 5 minutes until they become pliable.  While you're waiting, make a bit of cucumber juice. Yes, my trusty juicer comes to the rescue yet again! First, peel and seed the cucumbers, then juice away! You want about 1/4 cup of liquid in the end.  Put this into a small sauce pot and warm the liquid over low heat.  When it's warm, grab the gelatin sheets, squeezing out any liquid, and whisk into the cucumber juice.  Remove the mixture from heat and whisk in 2 t sugar and 1.5 t kosher salt until dissolved.  Pour just enough of this liquid into your prepared pan to create an extremely thin layer of liquid - literally only a couple millimeters. Place the pan on a level surface in the fridge and allow the mixture to set, reserving the remaining liquid at room temperature.

After about 20 minutes, remove the pan from the fridge and place the almonds on top of the gelatin, placed far enough apart that you can make little Jell-O-esque squares upon completion.  Gently pour half of the remaining mixture around the almonds and place back in the fridge for 20 minutes more.  Finally, add all the remaining mixture to the pan, being careful not to cover the almonds up.  Let this set one final time in the fridge and you're ready to go.

When you're ready to try these out, carefully lift the cuke-filled plastic wrap out of the trap.  It should be fairly firm, so it shouldn't be too problematic.  Cut the gelee into little squares, with each almond in the middle.  Place square(s) onto a plate(s) and prep for garnishing! Place a small amount of the four remaining ingredients in each corner - it's like a boxing match of flavors!!

I think I may try my hand at a bunch of different gelees, but that's for another time and place.  The dish was very interesting to say the least - obviously gelatinous in texture, with a bit of bite from the green almond, but as stated before, that was kind of grape-y in texture as well.  The sugar and salt gave a nice crunch, with the lemon zest brightening up all these fresh flavors.  And, the small amount of cayenne really added a kick to this - it was miniscule enough not to give any flavor really, just a nice warmth that lingered on my tongue for a good five minutes.  This is truly a fun dish because you don't know what to expect before eating it, and Grant is right when he simply subtitles the dish "sweet, hot, sour, salt".  I still have a few green almonds left over, so I may just make myself some halibut crudo!

Friday, April 22, 2011

peas please!

I think I may be on a curry kick. Seriously, not everything I've been cooking as of late has involved curry...just mostly everything, apparently.  Curried (insert random vegetable here). You can't really go wrong with that though! And since it is springtime - although this weather may convince people like myself OTHERWISE - I figured I'd make something that just exudes springtime, in color and taste! That doesn't really narrow down much of anything, but this week's springtime fun led me to making a chilled, curried pea soup - a beautiful bright green, refreshing concoction with just a wisp of curry flavor.  Yes, a wisp. 

Speaking of springtime - I cannot wait to make a gigantic springtime bounty feast.  How can you get any better than springtime?! Fiddlehead ferns, peas, fava beans, asparagus, MORELS, nettles, garlic scapes, oh my! And RAMPS! Seriously, you can't get a much better bunch.  But people, chill out on the ramps.  I know it is an abundant source for foodie-hater ridicule, and I'm not jumping on THAT band wagon, but I am jumping on the band wagon of yelling at greedy foragers.  At least let the little guys GROW for crying out loud! These sad excuses for ramps that I see at the markets being sold for an absurd price make me cringe

now THAT is what I'm talking about. Freshly foraged in Northern Michigan.
I digress. Back to the peas! Ok, so if you can find fresh English peas (they have a season of about three milliseconds), by all means use them! If not, frozen are perfectly fine.  Frankly, that is what I used today, so don't hate! On to the soup!

Curried English Pea Soup
2 T butter
1T olive oil
1.5 c roughly chopped white onion
1/4 t curry powder
2 c roughly chopped butter lettuce
3 c English peas
1 t sugar
6 large mint leaves
4 cups water
1/2 lemon
Sea salt

For garnishing:
Greek yogurt or creme fraiche
Mint chiffonade

In a large stockpot (large enough to hold the 4 cups of liquid and everything else), heat up the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  When the butter foams up, toss in the onion, 1 t salt and curry powder.  As you may know, I use Maharajah curry powder. Mostly because I like to say "Maharajah". But also because it's just a pure curry flavor without the spice.  I love spiciness, but sometimes it's just not appropriate. Spicy pea soup? I don't know. Maybe one day! Anyway. Cook the onions until they are translucent.  Add the lettuce, peas, another teaspoon and a half of salt, and sugar.  Stir until everything is well combined and cook for another few minutes, or until the lettuce is wilted. Next, add the water and mint leaves, stir, and bring to a boil.  Turn it down to a simmer and cook until the peas are cooked through. 
Now the fun part! Puree the heck out of your soup, either in a food processor, stand alone blender, or with an immersion blender.  If you're really getting down to business, you can pass it through a sieve so it's nice and velvety - but I like this soup a bit textured myself. Once it's pureed, mix in the lemon juice, and add some salt to taste if necessary. And that's it! The soup can be served warm or cold which makes it even more convenient! Eat some of it now, warm, throw the rest in the fridge, and eat as you please! Serve the soup with a bit of Greek yogurt, some mint, and even a pinch more curry powder if you please.  

I could probably eat gallons of this, seriously. It is just that good - simple, light, refreshing, and fulfilling.  And the color of the soup is just plain gorgeous, and who can pass that up!  When you try this soup out, you'll totally understand. Happy Springtime!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

curried carrot soup and scallops

While perusing the aisles and putzing my way around my second home, I was, as per usual, very enthused by what my fishmonger had in store! And by that I mean I came across some beautiful in-shell diver scallops!  As you all may know, I try to be as economical as possible, so why NOT purchase something that you can eat, and then utilize parts of it later as random serving pieces as well - more bang for your buck if you know what I mean. Clearly, the scallops were a necessary purchase. Along with some cockles. And some other things.  I proceeded to tell Mr. Fishmonger that I have a long history of battles with seafood - in that they always like to attack me.  We all know the score : Crustaceans/Mollusks/Sea Creatures - 3, Kitty Kat = 0.  Although, I suppose the whole process of creating a dish and dining on said seafood trumps all of that anyway. Moving on!

I also made the all important stop at Kalustyan's.  Which I've decided - I am only allowed to go there once per quarter, otherwise I would be broke as a joke.  I have NO self control whatsoever when I go there to stop myself from purchasing EVERYTHING because it is all so amazing! I now have in my possessions trillions of various dried beans, random spices all over the place, and the world's hottest pepper - Naga Jolokia...the ghost pepper. Really? How is that necessary? On a side note, my good friend informed me that "naga" in Hindi means cobra. Therefore, it is the Cobra Pepper. That actually substantiated my purchase more, because who DOESN'T need to have something called Cobra Peppers in their life? But I digress.  The scallop and Kalustyan's combination led my culinary intentions down the road to the land of spice! Scallops, carrot, and curry, oh my!

Seared Diver Scallops in a Curried Carrot Broth with Buna-Shimeji Mushrooms
For 2 servings
4 large sea scallops (really, purchase however many you deem appropriate depending on the size!)
1 cup carrot juice, home-juiced or store bought
One small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 apple, chopped
2 T curry powder
1 t turmeric
1 t paprika, more or less depending on your spice preference - and if it's hot or sweet paprika
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 bunch Buna-Shimeji mushroom, broken up (about 1 cup)
A few tablespoons of olive oil 

If you like to do as much as possible at once like me, you can start off by having dueling pans - one saucepan to boil the carrot juice, and another to make your improvised "curry paste". For the carrot juice, just bring it to a boil, and pour through cheesecloth into another bowl/sauce pan, and keep warm on the stove  This step takes out all of the carrot solids and leaves you with pure carrot broth! Yum!  In the saute pan, heat about 2 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Toss in the onions, and sweet for a few minutes.  Next, add in your garlic and apple, stirring occasionally - let this cook until the apples are warmed through and a bit soft.  Finally, add in the spices, about 1 t of salt and pepper, and mix until combined.  

*Side bar: Careful with turmeric, it stains EVERYTHING! I, of course, had a Three Stooges moment, and my spoon of turmeric did a perfect 520 backflip and landed all over me and my typical NY black attire - fortunately it wasn't white!  Appropriately, my Indian friend claimed that I looked like I could be partaking in Holi - the festival of color. I would be totally down with that. Touche!*

Puree this whole, sweet-smelling mish-mash of goodness, and pass through a sieve to get all of the large chunks out.  This curry paste is sweeter than it is spicy because of the apples, but it's a great combination with the carrot juice!  Whisk in about 1 T of the curry paste to the warm carrot broth - taste for seasoning, and even add a bit more curry paste if you like.  Keep this mixture warm for plating later.

Set both the carrot juice and the curry paste aside.  Heat up another/the same, but cleaned, saute pan over medium heat and swirl in about 1-2 T of olive oil and bring up to heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add in the mushrooms and saute until tender and cooked through.  These little mushrooms really are quite delicious with no added seasonings, but you may want to add a bit of salt and pepper to your liking.  Remove the mushrooms from the pan and reserve for later.  

Using the same pan, add in a bit more olive oil, if necessary, and bring the heat up to medium-high.  Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan - make sure not to crowd the scallops.  You want to sear them, not steam them!  When the scallop is golden brown on one side (it will let you know by "letting go" of the pan when you try to move it!), flip it and sear on the final side.  Depending on the true size of your scallop this should only take a few minutes - you can even leave it a tad bit rare in the center, or until it is just cooked through.

Fortunately, even though there may seem to be a few steps involved in this process, it really is not too much of an involved dish!  Once all of your various parts of the dish are prepared, it's time to plate.  In a shallow bowl, place a bunch of the sauteed mushrooms in the center.  Place two of the scallops atop the mushrooms, and gently pour the curried carrot soup around them.  Serve immediately, and garnish with some chervil if you're into some greenery!  Kick back, and enjoy!

Scallops, as always, are quite delicious on their own, but the carrot-curry combination plays quite well with them.  Although it is a curry, because it has a minimal amount of spice (comparatively to other curries) as well as the inclusion of apples, the flavoring is rather subtle, and each component really has it's chance to shine.  The mushrooms are delicate in flavor as well, but add a nice earthiness to the dish as a whole to round it out.  Oh, that and the color of the soup is quite beautiful!

Frankly, I could just eat the curried carrot portion all by itself as a soup - it could probably be transformed into a fantastic vegetarian meal in itself - but that's a task for next time!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

an old recipe....

Just some Tuesday entertainment for all!

With no food photos no less...but I felt I had to share this little gem.  It comes from sometime around the single-digit ages from me, recently dug up by my mother - I suppose I tried to sneak it into her recipe and pass it off as a "real" recipe. And in typical, Kitten fashion, no time intervals or measurements were used - clearly people can read minds. And a marinade sauce within a marinade no less!  Maybe I'll check/tweak this out, and see if I really even knew what I was doing as a child.

The real question is, why was I able to spell "Worcestershire" but not "cinnamon"? Camino? Really?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

happy birthday Paula!

So, we all know about me and my Moroccan obsession.  Fortunately, the other day, it just happened to be Paula Wolfert's birthday! What better reason to make Moroccan food than that!? Clearly I don't need excuses, but it never hurts. She brought Moroccan cuisine to my heart, and I will therefore bring it to my stomach!  Goat shanks in hand, the obvious route to take would be that of a tagine - slow, low, braised, stew-like concoction made with any number of various ingredients, but toughter cuts of meat clearly fare quite well from this preparation.  Of course, I don't have my tagine with me in the city (why do I not have my tagine with me in the city?!), but any heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight fitting lid will work.  The tagine works best because the conical lid allows for condensation to build up, and drip back down, keeping all your ingredients nice and moist.  As long as you have a lid, you're alright!

Speaking of tagines - I want one of these hand-painted Bram tagines - pure artwork! But that's for another day.

First things first, before we get into this goat shank cookin', let's talk about something.  Most/many Northern African recipes call for ras el hanout ("top of the shop) - it's one of the mysterious spice mixtures that really has no specific recipe, but calls for a wide assortment of herbs and spices, which again, no one is sure which ones are 100% necessary, and in what quantities.  Some ras el hanout mixtures can contain up to 30 (yes, thirty!) different spices, including but not limited to: various peppers and peppercorns, lavender, allspice, cloves, coriander seed, cardamom, termeric, Grains of Paradise, ginger, cinnamon....the list goes on and on.  Each shop at the souk, or even each family for that matter, has their own recipe for the spice mixture.  I, unfortunately, do not...yet! But maybe that's a signature something I'll strive to create in the near future.  Needless to say, I didn't have any store bought ras el hanout, so I took it upon myself to make a random mixture of spices typically used in ras el hanout for my goat tagine. Frankly, I wasn't even quantifying the spiced I put into my spice grinder, but if you want to make your own, just experiment! Mine consisted of allspice berries, black and white peppercorns, nutmeg, green cardamom pods, dried ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, dried cayenne, aniseed, and rosebuds. It was delicious!

But let's move on to more important things - the GOAT! I made a traditional tagine with dried fruits and nuts - slightly sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, but classed it up with a medley of untraditional dried fruits and Marcona almonds.

why, shank you very much (...)
Goat Shank Tagine with Marcona Almonds and Dried Fruits
1.5 pounds goat shank (this was the equivalent of four shanks)
1.5 t ras el hanout
Big pinch of kosher salt (~1/2 t)
1/4 t ginger
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of pulverized saffron
1 cup Marcona almonds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 small cinnamon sticks (I used canela in this recipe)
1/4 olive oil
1/2 pound of dried fruits - cranberries, raisins, and prunes for me this time
1/4 cup dark honey
1/2 T ground cinnamon

To start, mix together the ras el hanout, salt, ginger, pepper, and saffron with about 3/4 cups of water.  Place the shanks in a heavy-bottomed saucepan/casserole/tagine, and pour the mixture over the meat, rubbing it into each piece.   Next, add the almonds, garlic, cinnamon sticks, oil, and about 1 1/2 cups of water.  Bring the entire mixture to a boil, then simmer, covered, for one and a half hours.  Check this occasionally to ensure there is always liquid in the pot and that the meat doesn't burn or sear.

After simmering, add in the dried fruit, honey, and ground cinnamon, stirring to combine.  Continue to cook for another 30 minutes, letting the dried fruit reconstitute and plump up.  Remove the cover from the tagine and over hight heat, reduce the sauce, stirring often and turning the meat so it doesn't scorch on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce until the sauce is quite thick and syrupy.

I served the tagine with a simple Lebanese couscous - a quite large-grained couscous, actually.  Bigger than Israeli couscous, which I love! These grains are actually about the size of peas, and were a great textural addition to the tagine.  I also had some roasted carrots and parsley root tossed in a friend's homemade Harissa with tarragon and mint.  

Altogether, there was a flurry of flavors! Spicy, sweet, savory, and refreshing.  Yes, FLURRY! And the meat fell RIGHT off the bone - it was tender as can be! The great thing about this tagine - well, any tagine really -  is that everything ends up cooking perfectly, even though some measurements may not be exact.  It's just a great combination of flavors and spices that come together beautifully after cooking for so long, and infusing whichever meat it may be that your stewing.  Also, the fruits plump up nicely, and the almonds tender up a bit, so they are just al dente.

Happy Birthday Paula, and cheers to being such a great inspiration!

Friday, April 1, 2011


No, not me, I wish! This week, Thomas Keller joined Julia Child and Alice Waters as one of the only Americans in the food field to be inducted into the French Legion of Honor - and I couldn't think of a better chef more deserving.  We know the French - you have to be a PRETTY big deal for them to name you an honorary Frenchman, to say the least.  Thomas has gone through many trials and tribulations, rising through the ranks, and working in some of the best kitchens in the world - to ultimately BE one of the best chefs in the world, running the best kitchens in the world.  He is also the only American to be simultaneously running two three Michelin starred restaurants - not an easy feat to say the least..especially when they are on opposite coasts of the country!  Congratulations Thomas!

I have to say, he has always been an inspiration to me - his cooking, while tedious and involved, is for the most part accessible - if you have the time. It doesn't involve any gadgets or "electronic dooky" (shout out!) - unless you're going through his book Under Pressure.  He uses seasonal ingredients, sourcing only from the best.  When I was 14, The French Laundry Cookbook came out.  It was the first cookbook to reach "coffee table book" level just by the sheer size and weight - but really is a gem in itself.  The photography, the stories, and the recipes, all weave together Keller's ideals, as well as kitchen morals.  It told the back story of the French Laundry, and gave mini biographies of various farmer's, making the process of cooking and the idea of ingredients a little more intimate.

I remember when my mom got the book - whether she bought it, or it was a present I'm not particularly sure, but I was enthralled to say the least!  There were so many recipes I wanted to try - and of course I wanted to make my way out to Yountville...and still do! I gave my mom a surprise birthday party later that year, and cooked his Double Rib Lamb Chop with Cassoulet of Summer Beans - and boy was that delicious! It was one of the first involved, serious recipes I had ever cooked - and the rest is history.  So, I must give a hand to Thomas for being such an inspiration to me, and for getting this award!

In his honor, I threw together a quick little cheese plate - my take on one of his courses from Per Se in April of last year - "Catskill - Toasted Sicilian Pistachios and Honey Crisp Apple Marmalade with Red Beet Essence".  Have I had this? No. Did I go ahead and try to make something similar? YES! Why not?!

So, Catskill is actually a goat's milk cheese from Upstate NY.  My trusty cheesemongers did not in fact HAVE Catskill, so I went with the next best thing - Leonora, from Leon, Spain.  An earthy, creamy yet cakey, absolutely delicious goat's milk cheese!

Leonora - Sicilian Pistachio, Fino Verde Basil, Pink Lady Apples, and Red Beet Essence
1 slice Leonora, or other good goat cheese
Pistachio Puree
Pistachio Brittle
Red Beet Essence
Fino Verde Basil flowers and leaves
1 Pink Lady Apple, thinly sliced, tossed in 1 t of sugar and the juice of 1/2 lemon
Toasted, sliced pistachios
Crackers or bread
Maldon Sea Salt

Pistachio Puree
1 cup Sicilian pistachios
2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 t salt

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for one hour.  After an hour, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  Pass this through a sieve to get a much finer puree.  Note! So, I do not have a tamis - the only contraption that can really get you that smooth, ridiculously velvety texture.  A sieve is fine, but it still comes out not AS fine.  SO, being the resourceful person that I am, I realized - SPLATTERGUARD! Hello!? This is uber-fine mesh. And it worked perfectly.  I passed it through the splatterguard and it came out smooth as silk! Set aside for later.

Pistachio Brittle
1 part sicilian pistachios, sliced
3 parts sugar
1/2 part water
A pinch of baking soda

I know, using parts is annoying, but it works best in this part, so you can make as much or as little as you want!  First, toast the pistachios in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes.  While they are toasting, combine the water and the sugar, and heat until it reached 240 degrees.  Stir in the pistachios and the baking soda, and pour out onto a silicone lines baking sheet - or aluminum foil!  Allow this to cool to room temperature until hard....and brittle.

Red Beet Essence
1 lb red beets, juiced, or 1 cup of beet juice from the store
1 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t fresh lemon juice

Can you tell I love using my juicer? By the way - I was on a juicing kick a few months ago and purchased a Breville juicer. It is amazing. Easy to clean, and fun to use...if you're entertained by me. Moving on! Over medium-low heat, combine all ingredients and simmer until it is a thick syrupy consistency.  Transfer to a small bowl for plating.

To assemble!

Honestly, you could put all of the components in little bowls and allow yourself/guests to assemble as they please, but clearly I enjoy getting crafty! If you do too, place a piece of the cheese in the middle of the plate, or wherever, and get creative.  A nice lined row of thinly sliced apples was made on the bottom, then I made a nice swoosh on the plate with a paint brush...yes, a literal paint brush - that has NOT been used for anything else! To pipe the pistachio puree, either use a pastry bag, or take a regular plastic bag and cut a small bit of the corner off and pipe away.  The piping was dotted with Thai basil flowers and some sliced pistachios.  I also got to utilize my miniature eye dropper for some more beet reduction! Oh, how I love toys.  Sprinkle a few small basil leaves around, sprinkle with a bit of Maldon and VOILA! Beautiful and delicious! Enjoy, but don't devour it too quickly.  Oh, on a side note, like with any cheese, make sure it is room temperature and hasn't been sitting in the fridge - cold cheese holds in all of it's delicious flavors and aromas.  You can eat this without any crackers, but I tried it with some rosemary crackers, and it was stunning.  All of the flavors come together beautifully and the basil really kicks it up.