Monday, July 31, 2006

Laundry Party 2

Ei-Nyung's Haricots Verts salad. This was a test run, and is missing some parts, but it still looks pretty fantastic.

Haricots Verts

My Black Cod dish

Black Cod & Garlic Puck on Parsley Coulis

So, since I did the Cod, I'll write about that. I'll let Ei-Nyung fill in the details on her two dishes.

Basically, this was supposed to be Red Mullet, but we couldn't find Red Mullet, so we got Black Cod from Whole Foods. (Color) (Fish) was apparently the order of the day. The recipe basically consists of five parts:

  • The Fish
  • The Parsley Salad
  • The Garlic Chips
  • The Palette d'ail Doux
  • The Parsley Coulis

The fish was actually remarkably straightforward. 1/8" of canola oil in a pan (we subbed vegetable oil, since we forgot to pick up canola), and fry the fish, skin side down (skin removed on the black cod, unfortunately) for 1 minute. Flip, and "kiss" the other side, for a total of about 1:30 cooking time. That's it. Oh, it was seasoned with salt & white pepper. I wish it had at least had the skin, because a lot of the appeal is the cripsing of the skin as it fries. Alas. Next time, I suppose.

The Parsley Salad was pretty straightforward - parsley leaves, good olive oil (the McEvoy Ranch olive oil that we got from the ferry building, in this case), salt, pepper, and some shallot.

Ei-Nyung sliced the garlic for me with a peeler. They basically got boiled, then shocked in milk three times, to mellow out the twang of the garlic, before getting a bath in 300 degree oil for supposedly 12 minutes. The first shot, I'd overheated the oil to ~350. I figured, well, that's a pretty standard frying temperature, so I tossed in a handful of the chips. Well, the problem is that there was so little mass in the chips that it did nothing to cool down the oil. Even though I'd pulled the pan from the fire, it was too hot, and the garlic crisped up in about 30 seconds. The recipe had said ~12 minutes at 300, so I let the oil cool down, and tried it again. The results were as they said, but honestly, I couldn't really taste much difference between the two. The garlic got browner than they'd suggested, I think, but the good thing was that because of the milk soaking, they weren't bitter - they just had a carmelized garlicky flavor.

The parsley coulis was pretty straightforward. It took a while to strip five bunches of parsley, but then the leaves & small stems were blanched in a huge pot of salty water, then shocked in an ice bath. After wringing out all the water from the leaves, they got tossed in a blender with enough water to get it all going. Why'd I wring them out before? Whatever. After blenderizing, the now Incredible Hulk-looking mass got drained in a fine strainer, to remove excess water. That whole thing stuck around in the fridge 'till the day of the party, when it got mounted with 2tbsp of butter. The recipe recommended Beurre Monte, but since it was only two tablespoons, regular, unprepped butter sufficed. This turned out quite impressive, I think - very fresh, an incredible green, and such a bright, punchy flavor. Ah, there was some salt there, as well, added as the butter was added, to taste. Good stuff. I think I hadn't drained it *quite* enough, because when I plated it, it was a touch thinner than I'd expected. Live and learn - I think as a sauce, this is supposed to be thicker than I'd originally expected.

Ah, the Palette. Or, as we called 'em, the garlic pucks. These we did the night before, because they needed freezing time. Basically, it's a whole bunch of hard boiled egg yolks, cream, and garlic that's been boiled three times then mashed. A lot of garlic - four heads of garlic, for a concoction that fit in our mini-food processor. (for processsing mini-foods, of course) The boiling basically cut off the harsh tones of the garlic, and the resulting mashed mess was remarkably subtle, airy, and delicate - the combined flavor was unlike anything I'd had before - I could imagine making scrambled eggs with the neutralized garlic, or an omelette - it'd be quite extraordinary. This, though, was destined for something else. Spread out on cling film, and tossed in the freezer. The next day, we cut them out into 1.5" discs with ring cutters, then dipped in cream, panko, cream again, panko again. Stupidly, this is one part where I misread the recipe - it's supposed to be flour, cream, panko, cream, panko. This'll have repercussions later.

So, back in the freezer they went. These things were incredibly, incredibly delicate. Picking them up, you had to pick them up like you're picking up... oh, I dunno - if someone handed you a disc of ice cream on a hot day, and said, "don't let that lose its shape," it wouldn't be too dissimilar. But I managed to get all the pucks breaded and back in the freezer without too many problems. Here is where I actually made a relatively smart decision. We had a choice of either making 10 large-ish discs from the mixture we had (~2" discs), or about sixteen 1.5" discs. I went with the 16 1.5" discs, because I thought I'd need some testers, given how freakishly fragile this ended up being. And that was a really good thing, because cooking them was nigh-disastrous.

I'll digress for a second here - when we decided to throw this thing, I figured we'd end up with one or two things that turned out well, and that everything else would in some way be a minor or even major disaster. This was, to me, part of the wacky fun - to see how we'd get bamboozled by recipes that were more complicated than anything we've cooked before. To my very pleasant surprise, everything everyone brought, without exception, was extraordinary. Clearly, people had spent a lot of time and effort doing things *right*, and holy crap, am I glad in that context that in the end, I didn't fuck this up completely. And we have some incredibly awesome friends.

The first disc I tried to cook, I cooked in too much oil. I'd misjudged how deep the oil was, and instead of coming halfway up the puck, it was bascially being deep fried. The oil started to bubble, and *stay* bubbled, which I thought was odd. It bubbled enough that I could no longer see the puck in the oil. And so I reached in with a spatula, and gently pulled it out. It was about maybe .75" in diameter now, which means the bubbles must have been the protein in the egg yolk getting cooked by the hot oil as it broke apart. Hooray. Ok, so the oil was too deep, right? Shallow oil, no problem. I tried another in shallower oil, and had much the same result.

Hotter? No. Colder? No. Four down, 12 to go, and I had to have 10 that worked. I tried dumping out the oil, and just leaving enough to have a very thin coat on the pan. Put in puck number 12, and it began to cook. Bingo. Ripping hot, it browned the outside before it could fall apart, giving the panko the structure it needed to keep the puck intact. Nicely mottled on one side, flipped it over, and finished the job.

For the actual cooking of the pucks at dinner, the first six were slightly undercooked (all done in one batch), but good enough that they were served. I was worried about them breaking up if I tried to flip them again, frankly. The second batch were perfect.

Assembly was odd, because the pieces of black cod weren't uniform, or as thin as they appeared in the picture that accompanied the recipe. Supposed to be two pieces of fish, criss-crossed, but the size made it a bit difficult to get it all to stay. The parsley coulis went into the ring cutter, set in the center of the plate. The puck on top of that, two piece of fish on top of that, a few leaves of the parsley salad, and a couple garlic chips. Voila.

About four bites of food. Six hours of prep.

Good times.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


So, tonight we had some friends over for a French Laundry-themed dinner party. The thing was that you had to make a recipe from the French Laundry cookbook, and bring it with you. The dinner consisted of:

  • "Cornets" - Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche: Eric & Christy made these, one of the French Laundry's signature items. This was all about contrast. The soft, delicate tartare against the cripsy cone it's served in, or the chunky meat of the salmon contrasted with the smooth richness of the creme fraiche. Delicious little bites.
  • Gazpacho, served in hollowed out tomatoes: Steve made a fantastic, slightly spicy, rich gazpacho, which he served in hollowed-out tomatoes. A really nice touch, which lent a perfect fresh balance to the delicious soup. Easily the best gazpacho I've ever had.
  • Gruyere Cheese Gougeres: Ei-Nyung made these, which were basically a savory pat a choux, made with Gruyere. Holy smokes, these were good - fresh out of the oven, they were beautifully light, crisp on the outside, salty and nutty from the cheese, and warm, soft, airy on the inside. I probably ate eight of these over the course of the night, and would have been happy to have eaten eighty more.
  • Salad of Haricots Verts, Tomato Tartare, and Chive Oil: Ei-Nyung's second dish, this was a complex piece of work, with many time-consuming steps. But oh, goodness, it was worth it. The tomato tartare was the epitome of "TOMATO!" flavor, but not overbearing or overpowering in any way, when combined with the beans, frisee, or chive oil that accompanied it. The beans were coated in a flavored cream, and though this seemed odd when I first saw it, after adjusting to the idea, the flavor and texture were incredible. Delicious and beautiful, I'd eat it again and again.
  • "Fish and Chips" - Red Mullet with a Palette d'Ail Doux and Garlic Chips: This was my dish, and unfortunately, the Red Mullet was replaced by Black Cod. I'm sure this is a really awkward substitution, but we didn't really know what else to do. Unfortunately, the cod's skin was removed, which was another knock against the dish, which is supposed to have beautifully crisped skin. Alas! Still, this was essentially a stack of a parsley coulis, the Palette d'Ail Doux (a egg yolk & garlic paste, formed into discs, frozen, then breaded and fried - remarkably subtle and airy), two pieces of fish, a parsley salad, and some deep-fried garlic chips. More on the preparation later, but though the fish was not what was intended, the various flavors seemed to work together well, and the texture of the firm fish worked well with the light, airy garlic puck.
  • Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete with Tellicherry Pepper and Baby Mache: Joe's contribution, a whipped brie, served with croutons, and Baby Mache, with some really beautiful old balsamic that he's kept stashed away in his little safe (at least, I imagine this is how he stores it). Instead of Tellicherry pepper, it's standard pepper, but still, the brie, balsamic, crouton, and mache combo was spectacular.
  • Lemon Sabayon - Pine Nut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone Cream: Sean & Hoa brought these tarts, which were absolutely perfect. I can't really imagine any way to have made them better. The acidity of the lemon is cut by the richness of the mascarpone, and the pine nuts in the crust lend a subtle but distinct flavor that I never really would have expected. These things were worthy of being photographed for a cookbook. Stunning.
  • Strawberry and Champagne Terrine: Holly's terrine had an incredible strawberry punch, apparently from drying the strawberries overnight. The bold stawberry flavor was balanced by some mint, and the delicate flavor of the champagne jelly. Delicious, light, and a perfect way to end a meal.

More to come, including pictures, and some discussion of our part of the preparation process. Appoximately six hours of cooking for three dishes.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

French Laundry Party I

Seppo & are hosting a French Laundry party this weekend. There are a total of 9 participants. We'll be reporting back with the menu, pictures, and reviews. :)

We'll be having another soon to include people who can't make it this time around.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Shrimp & Orzo

T minus 15 minutes: Put water on to boil in medium pot over the "power boil" burner.

T minus 14 minutes: Put frozen uncooked shrimp under a small trickle of cold water to thaw, per directions on bag.

T minus 13 minutes: Peel some garlic.

T minus 12 minutes: Put sautee pan on medium heat, add about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil. Note: extra virgin olive oil is sort of wasted at this step because of the breakdown it experiences during cooking. Best to add the good stuff later, after it comes off the heat.

T minus 11 minutes: Add orzo and big pinch of salt into boiling water and lower to normal high setting. Love the power boil. Stir every so often.

T minus 10 minute: Peel shrimp.

T minus 7 minutes: Press garlic through garlic press (er, redundant) into warming oil. Add a sprinkle of red pepper. Pop open some anchovies and plop some in.

T minus 6 minutes: Add shrimp and big pinch salt.

T minus 5 minutes: Chop some parsley and basil, while keeping the shrimp moving in the pan.

T minus 4 minutes: Add a little white wine into the shrimp if you want.

T minus 3 minutes: Take orzo off heat and drain. Dump into shrimp.

T minus 2 minute: Add julienned sundried tomatoes (preserved in olive oil) into shrimp & orzo mixture. Also plop in some frozen sweet peas and a spoonful of capers. I put in some of the caper juice too to add a little brightness. I like capers so I add a lot. Toss around over heat.

Remove from heat when peas seem warmed up and serve with chopped basil, parsley, and some cheese grated directly onto bowl/plate over shrimp & orzo. I also added a glug of some super awesome extra virgin olive oil. Between the last step and eating, I had time to wash my orzo pot and the strainer, so after dinner, all I had to clean up was the sautee pan.

The best part of the meal is that I was just using leftover ingredients that we had lying around in our pantry and in the fridge.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Manresa: Seppo


Took Ei-Nyung to dinner at Manresa, in Los Gatos. She's been eyeing it for the better part of the year, and the tasting menu sounded really interesting. So, since the tasting menu is the sort of thing that everyone at the table should order, to have the whole experience, that's what we did.

And good lord, what a variety of stuff (apologies for the poor focus in many of the shots):

Olive Madelines & Red Pepper Jellies

Olive Madelines and Red Pepper Jellies: When you look at the plate, it looks rather straightforward. You get a madeline, and a little sugar-covered jelly. Everything in your brain says, "Sweets!" and when you take the first bite, that thought is justified. My first bite was of the madeline, a slightly crusty, soft, sweet, typical madeline in every way - an extremely good, velvety sort of texture. And then it creeps up on you slowly, this sense of, "Huh. This is like the Transformers," as the subtle olive taste becomes the dominant note. It never feels overpowering, and the sweetness and savoriness really sets the stage for the major flavor contrasts for the rest of the night.

The red pepper jelly is similar - it takes a moment as your brain processes the little bursts of sweetness that come from the sugar that coats the jelly, and then tries to re-sort the flavors you're experiencing, because at first, it just doesn't make any sense. It's like eating a red pepper, in jelly format, and it's really clear that the pepper's been roasted, with a sweet, smokey, charred flavor. In the future, when all nutrition comes in condensed, abstract form, I hope the chefs at Manresa are around.

Breakfast Radishes w/ creme fraiche

Sweet French Breakfast Radishes and Creme Fraiche w/ Tarragon & Chervil: This dish establishes the other major melody of the night's eating - really, really fresh ingredients whose flavors are allowed to shine. The radishes were bright, crisp, and slightly sweet - perfectly delightful to eat raw. But the creme fraiche complemented the vegetable's brightness perfectly - the tang of the creme fraiche highlighted the sharp "fresh" flavor of the radish, while adding a nice herby harmony to the whole thing.

Citrus Foam w/ Rhubarb Gelee & Horchata Foam

Citrus Salad w/ Rhubarb Gelee and Horchata Foam: Tasted like orange, grapefruit, and possibly some lemon & lime in small pieces under chunks of a sweet rhubarb gelee, as the title would imply. We didn't make out what our waitress said the foam was at the start, so it was really confusing, as the horchata provided a really familiar, but not-instantly-recognizable flavor. This was odd, in that it was purely sweet - sweet and tangy citrus + sweet rhubarb + sweet and creamy horchata foam. Still, it wasn't overbearing, and didn't feel out of place at all.

Ei-Nyung Eats a Croquette

Sweet Pea and Spring Lettuce Croquette: I'm not sure Ei-Nyung's recollection that this was a Pea & Spring Lettuce croquette is accurate - the pea part, definitely, but I didn't clearly hear the waitress, and I don't think Ei-Nyung did, either. This was a small cube that we were advised to eat in a single bite. So, I popped it in my mouth, and the outside was crisp and crunchy. As I bit through it, I can't even recall a specific flavor, other than the sensation that the interior of my mouth had been coated in "deliciousness." It had the sweetness of the peas, but was otherwise just a slightly sweet, earthy, velvety kaboom of flavor. And then it was gone. I wouldn't mind having had two of these, one of which to experience in exactly this way, and one to pick apart, and figure out what, exactly, I was tasting.

The Egg

The Egg: This came in an eggshell. We were told it was a layered dish, and the recommendation was to dip the spoon in to the bottom, and scoop out that way. It was basically a whipped egg white mixed with sherry vinegar, a couple layers of some sort of other creamy stuff, chives, and the yolk at the bottom, gently cooked. Then, a small touch of maple syrup was added. This actually really stymied me, because when I dipped my spoon in, I hit the solid edge of the cooked yolk (just barely solid, but still solid), and what happened was that the yolk pushed to the side, "turning" the entire interior of the dish. So, I ended up with a spoonful of the white, which was really vinegar-y, and since I didn't have any of the other cream, and the maple, this one spoonful totally blew out my palate for the rest of the dish. It's really unfortunate, because as I scooped around, trying to reconstruct what it *should* have tasted like, I got a sense that the sweetness of the syrup, the tang of the vinegar, and the creaminess of the other layers, whatever they were, would have been quite pleasant, indeed. But, unfortunately, my experience was a bit less than ideal.

Foie Gras & Strawberries

Twice Cooked and Mesquite Grilled Foie Gras With Balsamic Strawberries a la Plancha: This was a quarter-inch thick slice of foie gras, sitting over a grilled, balsamic marinated strawberry. The smokiness and buttery-ness of the foie gras, mixed with the slightly firm, juicy, tart, sweet strawberries was a very interesting combination. There was a very fine dice of some other vegetables as well, but I couldn't make out distinctly what they were. As tasty as this was, it actually brought up an issue I wish I'd raised earlier, when the waitress asked if we had any dietary restrictions. I don't have anything I *can't* eat, I just have things I'd prefer not to eat. Not because of taste - I'd eat pretty much anything at a place like this - but rather, I'd simply rather not have foie gras and veal, and I'd hope that if I requested not to have them at a place like this, that's pretty well the only way I can really "vote with my pocketbook," in the dim hopes that veal & foie gras stop being "made."

Sea Bass Sashimi

Sashimi of Summer Sea Bass: This was, I believe, marinated in a white Dashi, and was accompanied with some julienned radish, nori, and white sesame seeds. The bass was cut thick enough that you got a good sense of its texture and flavor. THe first few bites were excellent, but by the end of the dish, I'd realized my only noticable complaint of the night, which is that a couple of the dishes (noted later) were a touch overseasoned. Still, we've had similar dishes at Morimoto, and Chez Panisse. Though the seasoning was better at the other two, I'd put this in the middle, for the actual components of flavor, with Morimoto's version head and shoulders above the rest.

Parisian Melon Soup w/ Almond Tofu

Cool Persian Melon Soup w/ Almond Tofu: This, to me, was the most bizarre and confusing dish of the night. It was basically a yellow soup, with a dab of a beige-ish blob in the middle, and a couple very, very small balls of the melon that made up the soup. Don't get me wrong - this was *delicious*, but it was really weird, to me, because the three dominant flavors were the sweetness of the melon, the earthiness of the almond tofu (which was basically almost liquid), and butter. The particular interplay of butter flavor (which was probably, in fact, butter) and the almond flavor was really weird, and the weirdness was heightened by the sweetness of the melon. It felt like an awkward date, where the best friend of one of the people keeps telling weird and slightly inappropriate jokes.

It took a good portion of the dish to get my brain to understand what the heck it was eating, and once that happened, it was remarkably good. Deep, interesting flavor, unusual contrasts, and again, a delicately balanced contrast of savory and sweet. Good stuff.

Dover Sole & Vegetable Gazpacho

Dover Sole Roasted on the Bone With a Vegetable Gazpacho with Cardune and Chantrelle Mushrooms: I've never had Cardune before. It had the texture of bok choy, and the flavor of something like artichoke. It was so completely unexpected and delicious that short of the first bite of the olive madeline, this was my favorite bite of the entire night. I'd love to find more of this stuff, just to spring it on friends in some random dish. The sole was very well cooked, and the whole dish excellent - a couple of perfectly cooked vegetables, and a very smokey, crisp-on-the-outside-delicate-on-the-inside piece of fish. One of my favorites. (very slightly overseasoned)

Veal Sweetbreads

Braised Sweetbreads w/ Chantrelle Mushroom With Charred Lettuce of some sort and corn and something pudding: The description was too long, and so neither of us could remember the specifics. The sweetbreads were surprisingly good, and the grilled lettuce (?!?!) complemented it well. But the notion of eating veal really put a damper on the dish for me, so that was that.

Roasted Rabbit

Roasted Rabbit w/ Rabbit Consomme: Man, this is getting long. This was a small cut of a roasted piece of rabbit, with some sort of stuffing, fingerling potatoes, and a small quarter of a carrot, which I thought was a very odd touch. This was really good, but honestly, if they had said it was chicken, and not rabbit, I'm not sure I'd have been able to tell the difference. (slightly overseasoned)

Curried Goat

Curried Kid Goat w/ Sweet Peas: When the waitress put this on our table, the first thing we noticed was just a punch in the face of curry aroma. Tasty, sure, but *POW*. So, it was really weird when we ate the dish, and found the curry flavor to actually be mild enough to clearly make out the flavor of the meat, and be complemented by, instead of overpowering the peas.

Hibiscus jelly & Watermelon Sorbet w/ Strawberry

Hibiscus Jelly with Watermelon Sorbet and Strawberry: The strawberry was good - not extraordinary, but definitely good. THe hibiscus jelly was incredibly floral, and pungent (in a good way). Very clean-tasting, and sweetened just right. The watermelon sorbet was *awesome*. I could have eaten a huge scoop of it, but alas, the scoop we got was tiny - maybe a #20 melonballer. Great stuff.

Cherry Souffle & Basil Ice Cream

Cherry Souffle with Basil Ice Cream: The cherry souffle appear to have been made in an egg holder. It was this little tiny souffle, with a small scoop of light green basil ice cream. Both were creamy, and beautiful. The souffle was hot as all hell, and it was hard to eat at first because to get a good scoop out, you had to steady the egg holder it came in, but you couldn't, because it was ripping hot. Still, once it had cooled a touch, it was just a great, fluffy consistency, with a subtle cherry flavor that went well with the also subtle, but distinctly basil ice cream.

Churro w/ Tonka Bean sugar &

Churro with Hot(?) Chocolate: The small churro was dusted with sugar and tonka bean, which is a bean that's sometimes used instead of pure vanilla when making vanilla extract. The chocolate came in an espresso cup, and was surprisingly not at all hot. Cold, in fact. Intentional, I believe, but weird. I've never had chocolate that was liquid at that temperature, and still as thick as that, and as chocolate-y. The churro was like eating air - incredibly delicate, yet still crispy and flavorful.

The Mess at the End (plus Strawberry Jellies & Chocolate Madelines)

Strawberry Gelee with Chocolate Madelines: The strawberry gelee was incredibly flavorful, and the chocolate madeline was also excellent, but to be perfectly honest, after the other dishes, which were almost all challenging, unexpected, or surprising in some way, this, which was exactly what it looked like, was a bit of a letdown. Which may have been the surprise, in and of itself.

All in all, an excellent meal. Not cheap, by any stretch, but an experience I'd heartily recommend.