Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's the difference between a Swiss and an Italian meringue?

"This Guy"
Last week I was stationed at my table in Union Square Greenmarket when "this guy" walked up and stared intently at my stand.  He was followed shortly by a thinner, but similarly dressed man who had a cameraman in tow. The two exchanged quick words in French and then the thinner man turned to me and asked, "What is the difference between a Swiss and an Italian meringue?"
This was clearly a quiz and not a question.
Now, I have no idea what the answer to this question is, and instead of simply saying "I don't know."  (It is one of my creeds of publicly offering cooking information - admitting when you don't know the answer - NOT spouting off false information)
But of course in didn't have the wherewithal to plead ignorance, and so stumbled through some bumbling explanation of the difference,  I claimed that the Swiss meringue is baked.  He politely congratulated me on getting the answer right (even though I didn't) and we chatted via his translator about my project before he moved on.
Ten seconds later an American "press-looking" person with a voice recorder hustled over and asked if I realized who that was.  I admitted I didn't have a clue.
"Joël Robechon"
I've never felt like such a fool.  For those of you that don't know,  Joël Robechon is THE all-star restaurant chef of France.  He was named "Chef of the Century" by Gault Millau, and he has 26 Michelin stars world wide, more than anyone else.

Moral of the story? . . .  Know when to say I don't know I guess. . . . or know your meringues.

For the record, the difference is that in a Swiss meringue you heat the egg whites in a double boiler with sugar to 110-120˚F and then whip them.  In an Italian meringue, you heat a syrup to softball stage (240˚F) and then add it to partially whipped egg whites.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blanching 101

By Lauren Rauh

Though it is an extra step, blanching can be a time saver and can take your cooking up a notch, in taste, nutrition, and aesthetics. Blanching involves quickly cooking vegetables and then shocking them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. This preserves in flavor, nutrients, and color. Blanching can also take out some of the bitterness of vegetables like broccoli rabe.  If you are preparing a dish, for example, that involves a long slow roast in the oven, you can save time by blanching the ingredients first to reduce the overall cooking time.

The first step is to get a big pot of water on the stove to boil. When you add the vegetables to the water the temperature of the water will reduce, if there is a lot of water in relation to the amount of vegetables the temperature will remain high. So a lot of water is important.

While the water is heating, clean and cut your vegetables. Heavily salt your water. (to the tune of 1-2 tsps of salt per qt. of water)  This is an important step since it will contribute greatly to the seasoning of your final dish. To test the seasoning, you just taste the water. If it's salty, your good.

Now set up your ice bath. Take a big bowl or pot and fill it with ice and very cold water. If you can, place something like a colander or steamer basket in the bath for easy vegetable removal. Restaurants are usually equipped with great tools that make blanching super easy, like wire baskets to sit in the ice bath and "spiders " (circles of wire mesh with handles) to remove the vegetables from the boiling water. I don't have either of these at home.

When the water comes to a full boil add your vegetables all at once. The amount of time you choose to cook your vegetables depends on what you will do next to prepare the dish. If you are planning on further cooking the veggies, say in a saute, then you should keep the blanching time to about one to two minutes tops to prevent overcooking. If the vegetables are to be served at room temperature or cold you will want to blanch them just to the desired tenderness. (usually, still with good vegetable texture, but no raw crunch) It's a good idea to pull a piece of vegetable out of the water and test it for tenderness with a fork or your teeth.

The Brussels sprouts took about three minutes. Also the smaller or thinner the vegetable, the less time it will need the boiling water. Haricort vert, for example, only need a minute or two, where as asparagus will need to cook for three or more minutes depending on thickness. Another determinate of "doneness" is the color of the vegetable. Ideally, blanched veggies should be bright and saturated with color; if they start to go brown or gray they have boiled too long.

Once the veggies are cooked enough, you must transfer them from the boiling water to the ice bath as quickly as possible. With few tools at hand, I used a pasta scoop.

Once all the vegetables are in the ice bath, they should remain there for the same amount of time that they were in the boiling water. It's up to you what to do next with your beautiful, bright, seasoned, and crisp vegetables.

Blanching is also an important step in preserving vegetables. If you went a little too crazy at the farmers market and you worry that your produce will spoil before you can cook it all, blanch off some vegetables, dry off or squeeze out any excess water and freeze those babies in zip lock bags!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Twitter Party

I'm not gonna lie, I don't exactly know what a twitter party is, but tonight I'm gonna find out.
I imagine drinks with umbrellas in them will be appropriate, but that's how I feel about everything.
If you're a twitter user you can follow me or check into .

It'll be a gas!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Braised Radishes

Radishes have met a similar fate as the cucumber, locked in American's mind as an ingredient that is only consumed raw.  Cooked radishes can be a very beautiful thing, and often catch diners off guard.
Next time you have guests over, give this recipe a try and I guarantee you'll garner gabbing about your gastronomic gifts.
 (Anyone a big fan of alliteration? 'cause it ain't easy!)

Braised Radishes

1 bunch radishes, washed and quartered
1 bunch ramps, cleaned and trimmed of roots, slice them thinly and keep the pink parts (stems) separate from the green parts (tops) (If ramps aren't available, use scallions)
1/2 cup red wine, preferably fruity such as merlot, pinot noir, grenache, etc.
1 tbsp butter, cut into little pieces

1. Heat a sauce pan well over medium-high heat, put in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and drop in the stems of the ramps.  Add a pinch of salt and cook for about a minute, until just translucent.
2.  Add the radishes and wine and bring it to a boil.
3. Once it boils, reduce the heat to low and cover. (you could also throw it in a 350˚F over if you are baking something and have space) and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the radish are nice and tinder.
4. Just before serving, fold in the butter and the tops of the ramps. (if they've cooled, heat them up a little bit before you do this.)

Print this recipe!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Duck Dinner Recap

Thanks to Jimmy for having me guest chef this dinner, it was fun.

The First Course: Smoked Duck Breast with Pea Shoots and Red Mustard Greens, Duck Fat Potatoes, in Buttermilk Dressing. 
The Salad was Paired with Juliet,  a tart and tasty ale.

A bowl of duck cracklin's, a garnish for the entree.

Slow Roasted Duck, with Asparagus, Fiddleheads, Green Lentils and Port Foie Gras Reduction
The main course was paired with Madame Rose, a complex and slightly sour beer. My personal Favorite of the night

Thanks to Joe Ogrodnek, who helped me out with the event.
Dessert: Salted Caramel Custard with Bourbon Whipped Cream.

Dessert was Paired with Big John, a very yummy stout.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What is Seasoning?

hmmmm . . .
This is a great question.  "Seasoning" is a word that gets thrown around a lot in world of cooking.  Whatever it is, it seems to be the thing that distinguishes the good food from the not-so-great.
I recently listened to a podcast of Thomas Keller on splendid table, and he defined "seasoning" as anything used to enhance the flavor of an ingredient or dish, without being distinguishable in and of itself. 
He then narrowed seasoning down to two things: salt and acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) As opposed to say . . . black pepper, whose distinctive flavor asserts it self in addition to flavors that are already present.
To elaborate, say there you have a flavorful soup.  You slurp a spoonful and the taste is there, but it's not quite amazing.  You add a healthy pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice and NOW your soup tastes amazing.  You pick up on all of the flavors, without detecting the distinct flavor of lemon or salt.
I find this to be where most cooks, professional and amateur, go wrong.  They have the ingredients and make the effort, and even build good flavors, but they're simply not enhanced with enough seasoning. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Order Up!

by Lauren Rauh

Ever wonder what happens after you've ordered your meal in a restaurant? You've probably seen your waiter wander over to a computer punch a couple buttons and after hopefully a short period of time your yummy, hot dishes arrive on the table. There is definitely no rocket science required to produce your meal, but a series of well orchestrated steps are followed to ensure you get what you ordered. To illustrate this event, let's say you and three friends are out to for dinner and order three appetizers and four entrees. Your waiter puts the order in the computer by punching the appropriate buttons for each dish (if there is no computer then a hand written ticket is brought to the kitchen by the waiter).

A ticket then prints in the kitchen with your dishes on it designated into two courses. The ticket will also say your table number, how many people are at the table, and have position numbers next to each dish to mark who ordered what.

When the ticket prints, the expeditor (the person who organizes the orders and orchestrates the timely send out of meals, a.k.a expo) will read out the order usually in this fashion:

"Order in: Six oysters, a market salad, and a pot pie, followed by 2 bass, duck, and a chicken."

Then he'll distribute the tickets to the appropriate cooks so that there is one on each station and one for the expeditor. My station does not receives tickets though, because for one, I am next to the expo and can read his tickets if necessary, and also because I usually only make first courses and desserts. In other words, when I hear an order it must be made as soon as possible. The other stations are hot appetizers, and meats and will often have more than one course to keep track of. Having a ticket to read is important to organize the timing on dishes as well as to remind the cook of orders. Meats is almost always a second course (unless it is the only course). The cook needs to keep an eye on the order tickets because there is often a delay in the preparation to allow the table to finish their first course. So, back to your order.

When the expo says "followed by" the kitchen knows that the first dishes are appetizers and the last four are main courses; the oysters, pot pie, and salad must be prepared, sent to the table, and eaten before the meat dishes are prepared. Once the appetizers go out, it is up to the waiter to be aware of the proper timing for the next set of dishes. When the table looks like it is nearing ready for it's food the waiter will send a "fire" ticket to the kitchen. This ticket let's the expo know that the second courses can be prepared. When things get crazy and tickets are constantly coming in while others are being fired, the expo's job can get tricky. Sometimes he will make the call to hold back orders or fire others before the waiter has sent a ticket to keep things running smoothly. When dishes are ready, the expo makes sure the food runners (they bring the food to the table) know what table they are going to and that they have the correct dishes. And that, ideally, is that.

Though I have perhaps explained a simple process in a complicated manner, when there are over 20 tickets on the board, it no longer feels simple. Cooks must rely on memory, organization, multitasking skills, and a knowledge of how long dishes take to prepare to coordinate the send out of orders in [preferably] the sequence that they printed. This requires communication with other stations and a blind trust in your expeditor. Perhaps the main goal, however, is to appear to the customer that receiving their meal is as simple as order in, order out.
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