Oct. 9th, 2005 10:46 pm
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Okay, who here has successfully cooked planked salmon? Yes, you, I want to talk with you.

I bought this plank set (extremely thin planks) from Sur La Table, Maple, Alder, and Cedar 'planks.' Yes, I know, overpriced yuppieware, but I love smoked foods and was curious. So we tried one (a piece of one, actually) with a salmon fillet tonight.

Easy part # 1: Soak the plank in water. Done.

Tricky part # 2: Toast the plank so it doesn't warp. "Nothing's happening," reports M. "Turn the grill to medium high per their instructions," says I. Two minutes later, I say, "Oh, look, there's the warping we were supposed to be preventing." Oh well.

Easy part #3: Leave plank on grill. Close cover and wait until plank is smoking. Okay, done.

Tricky part #4: Put the salmon on the plank. Hmm, I had them leave the skin on when it was filleted because we usually grill skin-side down. But to get smoke flavor, it seems like the flesh should be in contact with the plank. So it's skin-side up, flesh-side down. My, that's a thick fillet....

Tricky part #5: How long will it take to grill, given that the plank is insulating the flesh? Or is it?

Easy part #6: We agree that we should flip the fillet to skin-side down on the grill. One hamburger spatula and one fish-lifter later, the salmon is flipped and the plank removed (and run under water to cool the smoking embers).

Tricky part #7: Gee, now the top is cooked by virtue of contact with the hot plank while the skin side is underdone. Exactly opposite of our usual 'is it done yet?' dilemma. Is it done yet?

Easy part #8: We decide it's done and consume it along with black rice, mixed greens, and grilled okra. It was a bit overdone, but still okay
Yet for all that, there was relatively little smoke flavor! Was it worth it? Could we have done it differently? What if the fillet had no skin side? Many questions, no answers.

Fig feast

Aug. 27th, 2005 01:04 pm
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My fig bush is in overdrive mode, so tonight we had a fig feast. [ profile] spikeiowa, Tom, and Peter visiting from Rhode Island attended.

The menu:

Finger appetizers
Bread & cheese
Fig salsa (eaten on bread with cheese)
Fresh fig wedges
Pickled figs

Sit down appetizers
Roasted figs with gorgonzola and bacon
Grilled figs on rosemary skewers
Served on a bed of greens

Fig-stuffed pork loin with fennel wedges
Roasted red onions and figs
Wild rice

Chocolate-stuffed baked figs with ice cream and orange vincotto

The cheese was a sumptuous selection provided by Spike & Tom, courtesy of the Milk Pail. The red onions and green figs were a particularly striking combination visually that tasted great as well.

Many figs gave their lives for this dinner.
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This is it! I made it last night, and it's perfect -- creamy & custardy, full of fruit, not too sweet, not crusty or grainy. Sweet dark cherries suspended in golden custard. Your definition of perfection may vary -- some traditional clafoutis recipes are more like cake than custard, but this is what I like.

My personal innovation, of which I am quite proud, is baking it in a boiling water bath. It's a non-traditional technique for clafoutis, but it keeps the edges from getting overbaked and grainy. If you think of clafoutis as a custard rather than a cake, it makes perfect sense.

Leaving the pits in the cherries is very traditional; just warn your guests. The pits supposedly add more flavor, but the biggest benefit is that the cherries don't bleed as much in the custard, so you get lovely contrast between dark cherries and golden custard instead of purple-grey custard.

Your fruit must be top notch, every one of them. This isn't like a cobbler where over-ripe and under-ripe fruits can compensate for each other. Each cherry stands on its own, suspended in custard. See my previous post on types of cherries. Really good Bings would probably be okay too, but do get a gean-type cherry if have the option. You can use other kinds of fruit in clafoutis (I intend to make apricot, peach, and fig as the season progresses), but cherry clafoutis is the ne plus ultra.

Oh, and the pronunciation: klah foo TEE. The 's' is silent, hence the tendency for foreigners like myself to leave it off, as I did but corrected in my previous post.

The recipe )
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I made a pretty good clafoutis aux cerises today. I've been on a desultory search for the perfect clafoutis recipe, trying one or two each cherry season, sometimes even making ones later in the season with apricots or figs. But cherries are by far the most traditional clafoutis fruit.

A clafoutis is somewhere between an eggy cake and a custard, and the recipes range along that continuum as well. The amounts of flour or milk called for vary tremendously. Often the clafoutis come out sadly rubbery instead of having just enough resistance to bite through. Tonight's had good texture, though the batter was too sweet, imho. But it's the closest I've come to my dream clafoutis.

One trick I've learned is that you need soft cherries, not crisp ones. And this isn't like waiting for the peaches on the counter to soften. There are two classes of sweet cherries. Cherry geekery and recipe follow )

Rose fest

May. 12th, 2005 10:40 pm
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Today I made:

Rose jam, phase 1 (mash rose petals and sugar together, leave overnight)

Rose honey (steep rose petals in warm honey, strain)

Rose butter ('simmer' rose petals in melted butter, strain)

Rose vodka (steep rose petals in vodka, the first of 3 steepings)

The remaining petals I'm letting dry for use in a moist potpourri, a strange concoction I've always wanted to try. It involves layering partially dried rose petals with salt and pressing them with a weight. It takes a while to make but is reputed to last for years.

It's fun to play with the rose petals now that I no longer feel obliged to make jelly with them.

Today's petals featured Mr. Lincoln, Double Delight, Gertrude Jekyll, Sharifa Asma, Magna Charta, Miriam Wilkins, Rose de Rescht, Evelyn, and Comte de Chambord. Many earwigs were harmed in the harvesting of these petals.
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Monday I moved all the files relating to my now defunct boutique jelly business out of the file cabinet and into long-term storage. I then moved a bunch of Master Gardener material into the now vacated file cabinet. Woo hoo! All winter long I kept intending to do it some rainy day, but did I? No. So I figured It Was A Sign when we got rain on Monday (awfully late in California for a rainy day, usually no rain from April - October).

Yesterday I organized the planting of 60 tomato plants for the Master Gardeners tomato trials. I think we even got the right ones into the right holes. Later I shelled a million fava beans while watching Alton Brown and Jaques Pepin. Ate half for dinner, made the rest into a garlicky salad for later.

Today I listed 2 items on Craig's List. I've been vaguely thinking of doing this for the past year. First time listing, we'll see what happens. Also made rose petal jelly (for friends & family only, no more selling). Made socca for dinner, as best I can considering I don't have a copper 'plaque' or a hot wood-fired oven. Went great with the fava bean salad and roasted artichokes with garlic & lemon. Mmm.

Socca de Nice

Beet blood

Apr. 12th, 2005 09:40 pm
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Many beets have given their lives for tonight's borscht feast. Actually, they were on their last legs anyhow, bolting due to the onset of warm weather. I roasted them yesterday while cooking and freezing several packages of beet greens (yum!), then made borscht with the roasted beets today, tasting each one to make sure it hadn't gone bitter. Most of them were still good, much to my surprise and pleasure.

I feel more secure knowing there are 4 quart containers of borscht in the deep freeze.

The varieties I grew this year were: Cylindra, Detroit Dark Red, Feuer Kugel, Golden, and Dewing's Early Blood Turnip. Love the name of that last one.
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Foie Gras Crème Brulée
Mâche Salad with Apricots and Roquefort
Seared Foie Gras with Rhubarb Purée
Carrot Fennel Soup
Escalopes of Foie Gras with Grapes

Served with Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2002
and Champagne J. Lassale

Herb-Roasted Chicken with
Winter Squash and Beet Greens

Served with Domaine de Durban Côtes du Rhône Village Beaumes de Venise 2000

Juniper Sorbet and Fig Caramels

Served with Corenwyng (Dutch Genever)

About a year ago [ profile] spikeiowa and I went halves on a whole foie gras from a French warehouse. For various reasons, the dinner with it got put off, so I finally put the foie into the freezer until we could schedule it. Today was the day.

It was fabulous! First, though, I had to learn about foie gras and figure out which recipes really called for the raw, unadulterated foie and which were assuming a partially processed product. Tricky. A recipe for foie gras in pastry with apples left me in doubt, for instance, so I left it out.

The Foie Gras Crème Brulée was fabulous, and economical to boot, only 100 g of foie gras needed. Yet the flavor was marvelous. If you're ever in a position to be butchering a whole foie, set aside 100 g of scraps to wow your next dinner party. M searched the garage and managed to reassemble his propane torch to provide the bruléeing. The champagne was particularly nice with this one. Notes: Add salt & white pepper. Use a water bath. Use 1 tsp white sugar/custard cup.

Seared Foie Gras with Rhubarb Purée was also great. It was my first time searing foie gras, and I actually had the heat too high for the first side. (Odd, since electric has the reputation of not being able to get as hot as gas, but this isn't the first time that I've used high heat and apparently exceeded what the recipe writer expected -- and yes, I have heavy bottom pans). Notes: I only made the rhubarb purée. I used half the sugar called for. I strained off the excess liquid and reduced it down to use as the rhubarb sauce. I seared slices of foie gras instead of whole lobes. The Muscat de Beaumes de Venise went superbly with this and the next foie gras dish.

Escalopes of Foie Gras with Grapes is a very traditional recipe. Yes, I peeled the grapes (while the Crème Brulées baked). I found some red muscat grapes -- wonderful flavor! And peeling did make the grape texture match the velvety foie texture -- lovely. I learned from my first searing experience and seared these at a lower heat and starting with a tbsp of butter. Astonishingly complex flavor considering the only ingredients were butter, foie gras, sweet wine, crème fraiche, and grapes. We wiped our plates clean.

The herb-roasted chicken was a Rosie (organic) with lemon juice and herbes de Provence on a bed of rosemary. Squash was Triamble, an amazingly dense Australian variety that I grew last summer. Beet greens were from my bolting beets, whose greens taste great even if their roots don't.

Juniper sorbet is actually flavored with cinnamon sticks as well as juniper berries and gin. I learned the recipe years ago in a class at Byerly's in Minnesota, and I adore it. Complex and delicious. Spike bought the yummy fig caramels somewhere -- it was a great combination. Dutch gin is different from the standard London (dry) gin. Again, wonderful, complex flavors.

I had a blast planning this menu! I was particularly pleased at coming up with a main course (roast chicken and winter squash) that could happily cook away in the oven unattended while I dealt with the 5 more labor intensive appetizers. It all worked out beautifully.
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Mackerel is good! Fresh from 99 Ranch (on sale for $1.19/lb -- normally an exhorbinant $1.69/lb), stuffed with fennel greens and lemon zest, slashed and sprinkled with salt, grilled until crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Yum! Must grill mackerel more often.

Terry G. is visiting, so we indulgently had fresh Dungeness crab last night and fresh mackerel tonight. We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium today, so we knew what we'd be in the mood for. I gotta say, it's a toss up which one I liked best. I mean, crab is great, but that mackerel, mmmm. I swear, if it cost as much as salmon, it would be just as revered. But the status quo is fine with me -- I'll eat all the cheap mackerel I can manage.

We checked out the Forest of Nicene Marks on the way back. Must go back and hike when drier. Then we took the very scenic Soquel-San Jose road home. Tomorrow: Copia.

Garden note: Purple Cape cauliflower (OP, from Seed Savers) is very late and not purple throughout like Graffiti (F1) is. It was nicely late, whereas Graffiti was all done in January (from a September planting). But it's oddly greeny-white with just a coating of purple over the tops of the florets. I think I'll stick with Graffiti.

And yes, I've ordered Cheddar, the new orange cauliflower.
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Dinner tonight was chicken in white wine sauce (slow cooked with leeks, carrots, and salt pork -- yum!) and a side of peeled green wheat. We're fans of grains other than white/brown rice: wheat berries, rye berries, black rice, kamut, black barley, etc. One day I was in an international market and spied a packet of Peeled Green Wheat. Of course I couldn't resist, although at $2.99/lb it's more expensive than most of the other grains.

It's delicious!! Apparently it's wheat that's picked before it's totally dry (hence 'green'). It has an amazingly rich flavor, as if it had been cooked in chicken broth, not just water. No other grain compares. I particularly like pairing it with chicken dishes since they enhance each other's flavors.

They must treat the green wheat somehow to stop its natural enzymes from causing it to deteriorate. There's an Egyptian grain called freekeh which is green wheat that's been smoked and chopped. I can definitely taste the smoky flavor in the latter, but if the former is smoked, it's very, very lightly. A mystery.

So I cooked a packet tonight. Since many grains take 40-60 minutes to cook, I've taken to cooking large batches of them and freezing the extra in 2-person serving sizes. Not only does it save time, it means I'm cooking the grain while it's fresh instead of letting it go rancid in storage (whole grains have oil in them that can go bad). The alternative, of course, is to store the whole grain in the freezer and cook as needed, which I also do, but having ready-to-heat packets of grain is just so nice. The green wheat actually only takes 20 minutes, one of the quick ones, but I'm still happy to have a new stack of round containers in my deep freeze awaiting future meals.

I'll rave about kamut and black rice, our other current faves, at some future time. But if you ever see Peeled Green Wheat (imported from Peru -- the brand pictured in the link is the only one I've ever seen), do give it a try.
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Dinner tonight: salade composée, with smoked salmon (from the neighbor, just caught & smoked), beets in mustard yogurt sauce (fresh sweet beets from the garden), new potatoes (also from the garden), steamed broccoli (ditto -- garden broccoli is SO much better than store bought, it's hard to believe), and 2 hard-boiled eggs, on a bed of romaine dressed with a garlic (from the garden, again) vinaigrette (try cognac vinegar if you have a chance).

Life is good.
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The Santa Clara Master Gardener Spring Garden Market is this coming Saturday, so we're all in full prep for it. I just spent many, many hours getting the tomato seedling lists (111 varieties!) ready for copying. And I'm locating many objects in the house destined for the Green Elephant Table (no, [ profile] spikeiowa, no tins. But many baskets!).

Yesterday I potted up seedlings -- tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. My own, that is, not MG. Although I do still have custody of the several dozen Ferris Wheel tomatoes that we hope to deploy about the Santa Clara Valley. This tomato was superb last year, both in my garden and in our research facility. I got the seeds (10 only!) from someone who got them from the USDA seed base. They've been out of circulation for decades now, but it's time to reintroduce them. Whee!

Tonight we had a belated corned beef and cabbage dinner. Heavenly. My own cabbage even, an Early Jersey Wakefield. Plus Lutz beets, although I roasted them rather than boiling them.

Tomorrow: red flannel hash.


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