Thursday, January 1, 2009

Homemade pasta, caramelized mushroom, thyme, brussel sprout leaf, white wine sauce

One of my favorite things to make is home made pasta.  It is extremely easy, not as time-consuming as some might think, and it has an incredible texture.  With the proper technique, you can take fairly simple ingredients and turn it into a very classy dish.

For instance, I took the following ingredients:

and turned it into this:

While I'm sure there are a 101 pasta dough recipes (and probably a book with that title), mine is extremely simple with only three ingredients: eggs, flour, and salt.

If you are going to make fresh pasta, the quality of the eggs are the most important.  I use eggs I get from a farmer at the Sunnyside Farmer's Market, but barring access to farmer market eggs I would use the highest quality eggs I could find; meaning free-range and organic.

The recipe is extremely easy to remember:  100 grams of flour for each egg plus a pinch of salt.

Although you could use a Kitchen-Aid, I do everything by hand.  I used to put the flour on a clean work surface, create a well for the eggs, and then slowly incorporate.  I found this method a bit difficult to time and always ended with egg spilling out of the well and onto the floor.  Not pretty.

It might be cheating to pure pasta doughers, but I now do the mixing in a bowl.

Here's the scoop: in a large mixing bowl, add the flour, with a pinch of salt, and create a well.  Beat the eggs lightly and pour into the well.

Taking a fork, start to mix the eggs (as though you are beating them) and slowly move them to the sides of the flour well to pull in a little bit of the flour at a time.  As the flour starts to incorporate into the eggs, add more flour from the sides.  The idea is to incorporate the flour very slowly.  

Eventually the flour and egg combination will be fairly be more difficult to combine in which case you have to give up on the fork and get your hands dirty.  At this point, it might seem that all the flour and egg won't combine, but by pressing and kneading it with your hands it will come together.  If it isn't coming together, you can add a very small amount of water (i.e. just wet one of your hands and keep kneading).  Your hands should be a big sticky-floury mess.  However, keep kneading it.  Eventually, the pasta dough will take shape and it will naturally remove all of the mess on your hands.  

Then, form the dough into a ball and using the heal of one of your hands, punch down the center of the dough and press it outward between the heal of your hand and the work surface.  Recombine and repeat; a lot.  No really, you want to do this for what seems like eternity.  After about 10 minutes or so of this, the dough will get a nice sheen to it and become silky smooth.  At this point, wrap it plastic wrap and let it sit for about an hour in a cool place (you can use your fridge) to develop the gluten in the dough.

After letting it rest you can do whatever you want with it.  You roll it out and cut it into strips, make ravioli, etc.  I use a hand-crank pasta roller, but you could again use a Kitchen-Aid with an attachment or I've even used a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle) in the past.

For this, I just rolled it out into sheets.

Next, I floured each sheet and folded it onto itself repeatedly and then cut thick strips.

Once the pasta has been cut and separated, I bunch it up into a light ball, put in on a baking sheet or large plate and toss it into the freezer until I'm ready to use it later that day.

Next, I chopped all the ingredients for the sauce.  Here's the mise en place:

Brussel sprout leaves, chopped red onion (or shallot but I was out), thick cut mushrooms, de-stemmed thyme, diced leek, chopped garlic, butter, kosher salt and white wine (yes, it's two buck chuck from TJs, which is pretty good for cooking).

Next, using a very hot saute pan, I seared the mushrooms on each side.  The key to cooking mushrooms is to use fairly high heat, don't overcrowd the pan, and don't shake the pan until one side is sufficiently browned.  

Then, add the red onion and thyme.

While these shenanigans were happening, I added the fresh pasta to some boiling water.  Fresh pasta only needs to cook about 2-3 minutes so cook it at the last minute.

I next added the brussel sprout leaves and garlic.

Next, I deglazed the pan with white wine, let it come to a quick simmer and then added the cooked pasta and tossed to combine.

Then I added the diced leek and a little bit of the pasta cooking water and at the end swirled in the butter.

For homemade pasta, the taste is really about the noodle.  You don't want to overwhelm the noodle with a lot of sauce, but rather just coat each noodle with a bit of sauce.  

Lastly, I plated and enjoyed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who really likes a roasted turkey at Thanksgiving?

Okay, so I know this post is about 3 weeks late.  I've been doing some traveling, lots of working, and some cooking, but just haven't had the time to post anything.  It's very easy to document what I'm cooking, but then it comes time to sit down and post the pictures and . . .

. . . laziness sets in.  Anywho, I'll try to be more diligent.  Enough procrastinating and onto the post.

Seriously, who really likes the obligatory bird at Thanksgiving aside from the fact that it's . . . well obligatory?  Most people buy the cheapest frozen turkey they can find at the local grocery store.  Then, they defrost it for days (otherwise you will end up with salmonella soup trying to quickly defrost that big of a beast).  On turkey day they throw it in the oven around 7 a.m. and then cook the #$&* out of it.  Seriously, I know people who cook it at 350 degrees for like 6 hours for a 20 lb bird.   Then, inevitably the breast meat is over cooked, and very dry, and people cover it up with subpar store-bought gravy.  Ah, all in the name of tradition...

Not this year. 

 This is really the first year that I had the chance to cook Thanksgiving myself.  My wife and I travelled to VA to have a bit of a family reunion with her side of the family during Thanksgiving.  Since it was my first year cooking Thanksgiving, I decided to buy a fresh, organic free-range turkey from Whole Foods.  In addition to wanting to support free-range poultry, I was hoping that a superior turkey, combined with some roasting know-how would create a seriously delicious bird.  Did it?

Well, sort-of.

Of course I can blame user error, but I'm also going to conclude that roasting a whole turkey (even correctly) is just a plain bad idea no matter if that turkey is free-range, frozen, shot yourself, or gilded in gold.  

Don't get me wrong, the turkey was good.  In fact, it was better than other ones I've had before (except for my brother's fried turkey, but that's a whole other topic).  But it wasn't stand on top of the table good.  I followed James Patterson's roasting suggestion in Glorious French Food for roasting the turkey (unstuffed) for about 9 minutes a pound at 350 degrees.  For a 18 lb turkey that's about 162 minutes or close to  2.5 hours.  The turkey came out very well browned and the skin was quite excellent.  The other thing that was quite nice were all the pan juices that I combined with some homemade veal stock I simmered with the turkey neck to make gravy with.  

The other thing I did this year was instead of carving the turkey, I removed the wings, drumsticks, and whole breasts.  Then I sliced each breast separately.  This yielded much more meat than carving the turkey and you could get much bigger slices of meat.  I would definitely recommend it.

I also made whole wheat stuffing with free-range pork sausage and dried cranberries, caramelized onion mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms with slab bacon and thyme, and roasted root vegetables.  At the end of the day is was all good, but the company was the highlight.  And I guess that's the point of it all.  

But still, next year I'm scraping the turkey and doing a standing rib-roast...

And now, your yearly dose of turkey pictures. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rustic white bean soup with sausage and caramelized fennel with arugula-almond pesto

So now that fall is essentially gone from NYC, the weather has been pretty overcast, cold and rainy.  Just the perfect weather for a hearty soup.  I had some pork sausage that I needed to use (also from Whippoorwill Farm in CT) and since fennel seeds are often used to make pork sausage, I thought it would be great to caramelize some fennel and add it to the soup.

The night before making the soup I soaked about 1.5 cups of cannellini beans  I bought from Fairway Market in NYC.  Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks at Fairway they have seem to stop carrying dried cannellini beans so I think I have to find a new place.  If anyone news a good place, drop me a line.

Anyways,  after a good soaking, I dropped them in a big pot of cold water, added a few pieces of leek tops I'd been saving in the freezer, some fresh rosemary, and a few cloves of garlic.  

I slowly simmered them until they were soft and creamy.  I let them cool in their cooking liquid.

Next, I diced up a couple of carrots, some leeks, and sliced some fennel.  Here's the mise en place:
I then started to caramelize the fennel.  I'd say it took about 25-30 min on low heat and resulted in a really rich brown:

Next, I browned the sausage.  I wanted to have fairly large pieces of sausage in the soup instead of having ground sausage.  Therefore, I just used a spoon to spoon out irregular sausage pieces into a pan.  After they were brown I removed them to paper towels:

Next, using the same pan with the fat and fond from browning the sausage, I added the leek and carrot dice.  I let this sauteed for a few minutes, then added the caramelized  fennel:

Then, I deglazed the pan with homemade veal stock, scraped up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan and then added the cooked white beans and the cooked sausage.  I brought it up to a simmer and let the flavors meld:

While the soup was simmering, I got started on the arugula-almond pesto.  Well, actually it wasn't really a pesto.  It was just arugula+almond+garlic+olive oil.  Taking these ingredients, I put them in a blender and blitzed them.  Unfortunately, the other weekend I broke my food processor so I had to use a blender.  I ended up having to add too much olive oil to get everything to mix and so the result wasn't really what I was looking for, but it still did the trick:

Next, I toasted some slices of baguettes and spread some of the faux-pesto on each slice.  Then I put the soup on the bowls and served it with the pesto-topped-baguette.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Coriander two ways: crusted and pan seared pasture-raised NY Strip Steak, chickpea hash and puree of celeriac with cilantro.

My thinking behind this dish went something as follows:  chickpeas, crispy chickpeas, chickpea hash (what the hell is that?), celeriac, green celeriac, cilantro celeriac, coriander, coriander beef, coriander crusted ny strip steak.  Sure, let's put it all together.  You might as well name this dish the four C's: chickpeas, celeriac, cilantro, coriander.  The alliteration is killing me...

As you can see, it was a very scientific approach.  

The first thing to do is to prepare the chickpea hash.  Now, you may be asking yourself.  What the hell is a chickpea hash? In fact I was asking myself the same thing when I decided to call it that (before I made it).  It still might not be the best name, but it's all I got and I think it kinda fits.  Essentially it's a chickpea patty (with lots of good stuff in it), that gets breaded and fried; kind of like a falafel.  I'm skipping ahead, but here's a picture of it finished:

Okay, so on to making this self-proclaimed chickpea hash.  Essentially it is a chunky hummus with more spices that's bound with an egg and then fried.  Getting the consistency is the only tricky part because otherwise it will fall apart when you have to pan fry it.  

The first thing I did was to roast a couple of garlic cloves for around 35 min in a 380 degree oven.  They are here:

I then combined the roasted garlic with about one-half a can of washed chickpeas, some olive oil, a bit of salt+cracked pepper+one farm egg.  I blitzed this in the food processor until it was smooth.

After getting it nice and smooth, I transferred the hummus-like mixture to a bowl.  I then added the other half of chickpeas and another whole can to the food processor.  I just pulsed these chickpeas to get them to break up and be chunky.  I added that to the pureed chickpeas and then added some chopped green onion, shallot, and about a teaspoon of ground cumin.

After mixing well, I covered a plate with aluminum foil, got out two metal pastry crust molds, and poured in the chickpea mixture.  Here's what they looked like.
These bad boys went into the fridge for about an hour or so.  The mixture was pretty soft and the fridge helps them firm up.  About 15 minutes before frying them, I put them into the freezer to firm up even more and to make them easier to handle.  Even with all this hullabaloo, they were still very difficult to handle, but the taste made up for the effort. 

While the chickpea mixture was in the fridge, I got started on the celeriac.  I personally think celeriac is wonderful.  Its other name is celery root which tells you basically all you need to know.  It has the flavor of celery, but a little milder, and without the crunch or strings that come with celery.  It is often added to mashed potatoes, or roasted with other vegetables.  I think it can stand up on its own though as it does here.  Here's a picture of the gnarly root.

After top and tailing it, you then peel it using your knife and end up with this:
which you cut up exactly like you would do with a large potato.  Since I'm going to puree this with cilantro, I decided to blanch the cilantro to bring out its green color even more.  Since I have to boil the celeriac, I used the same pot to blanch the cilantro.  Here's the set up for blanching the cilantro:

For blanching, all you do is place the vegetable in question in a boiling pot of water (some need 30 seconds like cilantro, others like green beans can go minutes) and then immediately put the vegetables in a bowl of ice water.  You should see the vegetable immediately pop with more color.

Using the same boiling water I cooked the chopped celeriac for about 15-20 minutes until they were soft.  I then transferred the celeriac to a food processor with some cream+black pepper
After blitzing and adding more cream, or olive oil, to get the desired texture, I added the blanched cilantro:

and pulsed to combined.  I checked the seasoning, added a bit of lime juice and some kosher salt.  I then put it aside while I went to prepare the steaks.

I decided to pair all of the above with a pasture-raised NY strip steak.  As I talked about in my last post I get my pasture raised beef from a farm in Lakeville, CT called Whippoorwill Farm.  Here's a picture of the package:
And, after trimming:
Then, I toasted a bunch of coriander (the seed of cilantro, hence the two ways), crushed them in a mortar and pestle, combined it with cracked black pepper + kosher salt and then pressed this mixture on all sides of the strip steak.

I let this rest while I got started on frying the chickpea hash. In actuality, I made the chickpeas and the steak at the same time, but I'll present both of them separately. I took out the chickpea hash from the freezer and coated both sides with freshly toasted bread crumbs.

This part was a bit chaotic for me as I realized that turning these buggers was going to be a big challenge.  I'm guessing I didn't have them in the freezer long enough because there was no hope of turning it over without the filling running out.  Therefore, I just patted the breadcrumbs on the top and hoped for the best when I went to fry them. 

 I put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a hot fry pan and then gingerly set the chickpea hash down.

I let them fry on one side for about 5 minutes or so (they definitely take longer than the steaks) on about medium heat.  After I thought one side was done, and I was totally guessing, I decided to try to flip them.  Now, these things are like lava; hot hot lava.  And the damn metal ring around it doesn't help.  Actually it does help because it keeps everything intact, but that metal is also damn hot.  So my strategy (because I only have one spatula), was as follows.

I used a spatula to slide underneath one of the suckers, then, using a metal pastry knife on top, I quickly flip the whole thing over onto the metal pastry knife using some sort of kung fu body origami with my hands.  It eventually worked but resulted in a few close calls.  These things took longer to cook than I anticipated so I had to flip them a few times and got better every time.  Here's what they look like after one side got nice and toasty.

Since this was my first time making them, I had no idea how long they would take.  I was a little bit worried that they egg would still be raw in the center, so I actually used an instant read cooking thermometer to check the center of the hash.  When it came to about 165 degrees I took them off the stove and removed the rings.

As for the steak, I simply pan seared it in an extremely hot pan on all sides.  The sides with the largest surface area I seared for around 2 minutes, and the smaller sides I seared for around 1.5 minutes for a total of around 7-8 minutes.  Here's the progression:

And then I let it rest for around 5 minutes while I finished the chickpeas.

After letting it rest for about 5 minutes, I sliced the strip for plating.  This can be seen here:

The steak was really perfectly done; a nice crust on the outside and still red/pink in the middle. 

 Next up, I started to plate.  I started with a round of the celeriac/cilantro puree (which had been reheated)

on top of which I placed a chickpea hash.

And then I added the sliced strip steak with a spring of cilantro:

Let me just say, this dish was awesome.  It was really terrific.  The coriander crust on the steak added a really nice lemon/herbal taste that didn't overpower the beef at all.  The chickpea hash had a great texture and taste and of course the celeriac/cilantro puree added a creaminess to the crusty chickpeas.  If I do this again, I'm definitely going to change the way I make the chickpeas.  Instead of cooking it on the stove the entire time, I'm going to treat it like a piece of meat and cook one side on top of the stove, flip it, and then bake it to continue cooking it.  I think this will solve a lot of the problems I had with it.