Colloquial Cookin'

07-23-2009

The Return of the Colloquial Cook

Don't worry, no light-saber involved (yet). Just to let you guys know that my new blog is up - still a bit cranky and jet-lagged from the move, but pretty operational! Don't forget to update your feed. The new address is:

http://colloquialcooking.com/

See you on the other side of the mirror, mes bons petits. Be careful on your way there, and don't talk to strangers. Unless they're me and they're offering you Pierre Hermé's diamonds.

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Posté par Colloquial Cook à 13:00 - Permalien [#]


06-20-2009

Spent-Grain Bread

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The star of the show: spent grain, courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery

...

And the supporting cast:

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                      The (over)enthusiastic biga                                        The soaker

Let's give them a big round of applause.

Ok, so I must be the last schmuck sporting a cold mid-June. Which means a) I grumble (je ronchonne) and b) I bake. This, combined with the discovery of Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads was the open door to endless hours of grumbling baking. Hooray.

I started with the Anadama bread (good, good, and easy too), to get the gist of it (histoire de prendre le coup) - the delayed fermentation, the joys of enzyme activity and the such - and then moved on to a project which I felt had tons of potential. How about incorporating spent grain, that is, the leftover mashed grain (husks and all)  produced by breweries, in bread dough? That sounded like genius, and much more importantly, it tastes like genius.

First things first, with the kind help of Ben Hudson, from the neighbouring Brooklyn Brewery, I got myself a tubful of spent grain, which a bearded friend of Ben's identified as the leftover barley malts from a Pilsner brew. Ben, Bearded Friend, thank you very much. A spent-grain loaf is coming your way, along with my gratitude.

It takes two days to complete this spent grain bread, but it's two days well spent (<= pun).

On the first day, make the soaker by combining thoroughly 227g whole wheat flour, 1/2tsp salt, and 170ml water. Leave it at room temp for 12 to 24 hours, or in the fridge for longer. Make the biga by mixing 227g whole wheat flour, 1/4 tsp instant yeast, and 170g water. Knead (with wet hands) for two minutes, let the dough rest 5 minutes, knead for another minute. Cover with cling film, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

On the second day, take the biga out of the fridge two hours before mixing the final dough. Chop the soaker and the biga in tiny pieces, and add those to 113g spent grain, 156g whole wheat flour (I needed more than Peter Reinhart to achieve a kneadable consistency - he only uses 56g), a heaped 1/2tsp salt, 2 1/4tsp instant yeast, 3tbsp agave syrup, 1tbsp vegetable oil. Knead 2 minutes with wet hands, until everything is evenly incorporated. Knead for an extra 4 minutes until you get a soft and tacky (but not sticky) dough. Let it rest 5 minutes while you prepare a lightly oiled bowl. Resume kneading 1 minute, and put the ball of dough in the bowl. Let rise at room temp about 60 minutes. Shape it freestanding or in a loaf pan, and let it rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 425°F, put the bread in and turn the temp down to 350°F. Bake 20 minutes, rotate the loafs, bake 20 to 30 more minutes. Let it cool on a cooling rack at least an hour before slicing into it.

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The smell coming out the crust while still warm is amazing - caramel with malted overtones. The crust itself is very hard when it comes out of the oven, but softens as the bread cools and the moisture redistributes. This bread doesn't need to be toasted and although it is 100% whole wheat, it has no bitterness whatsoever, which results partly from early enzyme activity (I started my soaker and biga two days ahead instead of one), and from the addition of agave syrup.The inside of the bread is soft and pillowy, with just the right hint of chewiness. All of my tasters were pretty happy, I'd say.

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Thanks again to Brooklyn Brewery for being such good sports!

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 11:49 - Permalien [#]

06-12-2009

Pork Ragoût With Sage and Beans

I must be terribly naïve, or a little dim-witted (un peu nunuche) perhaps. I still don't understand why people google (and several times a day too) the words "kiwi porn", which in turns brings them to my uncanny fruit post. I mean, it's pretty damn flattering that I seem to be the world reference on kiwi porn, but who on earth are these people? If you are reading this after googling "kiwi porn", please leave a comment and let us know what you were looking for exactly, then seek urgent help from Fructophiles Anonymous.Thank you.

In the meantime, another stunning recipe adapted from Pork and Sons by Stéphane Reynaud.

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And don't tell me you're not salivating because I'm taking none of that crap (balivernes!).

Start a day ahead by soaking 2 3/4 c dried beans (pinto, brown, cranberry...) in a lot of water. When ready to cook, put the beans in a large pan with their soaking water (enough to cover the beans), a bouquet garni, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it, you may need to add water as you go along.

In a large frying pan (the larger the better, so it doesn't steam up the meat), melt 2 1/2 tbsp duck fat (or lard), and add 2 1/4lb boneless pork loin cut in large cubes, 2 onions, sliced, and 3 crushed garlic cloves. Cook, stirring constantly until the pork is evenly browned. Stir in 1tbsp of flour, cook 2 minutes, then add 2 1/4c white wine and stir again.

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At that stage, I transferred eveybody to my cast iron pot. Add 30 sage leaves (adjust according to your love of sage), a big can of San Marzano tomatoes (which you can crush to a rough pulp with your hands before adding), and a tbsp or two of tomato paste. Simmer 30 minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving a little bit of the cooking liquid. Taste them. If they are not cooked, add them to the pork, and simmer for an extra 30 minutes. Mine were cooked, though, so I drained and reserved them, and I let the pork simmer for an extra 30 minutes on its own, and added the beans right at the end, until warmed through.

Don't forget to season with salt and pepper (adding salt to beans while they cook hardens them apparently). This dish can be made a day in advance, left on the stovetop/in the fridge overnight and reheated the next day.

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Serve with a nice fresh loaf of rye bread to soak up the sauce.

Also check up my Sweet Sticky Rice update!

 

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 20:53 - Permalien [#]

05-27-2009

Bacon Fougasse

You try to read books in a New York research library. Frederick the Great's relationships with his Kapelle musicians have never been so thrilling. And clumps of old men with moustaches (what's with the moustache, I ask?) and an optional hunch keep chatting loudly right next to you. Inwardly, the teacher in you fulminates - but you can't, oh you can't shush them (pas moyen de leur rabattre le caquet). You know they get their daily buzz from coming to the library to clump and chat. You understand, it's nicer than the bingo club because you know what, it's SO QUIET IN HERE. And obviously, since they are going deaf, it's also nice to finally be able to turn off the "background noise" setting on their hearing aids. Saves them little batteries too.


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Well, why not take it on this bacon fougasse when you come back home. If kneading isn't sufficient to vent all this repressed (and yes, let's face it, ageist) frustration, save some of the fat from the bacon and stuff it in your ears next time you try to understand why Frederick the Great was called the Great when he really wasn't such a dazzling flutist.

The following recipe is adapted from Stéphane Reynaud's gorgeous book Pork and Sons. In a small bowl, mix one active yeast packet with 3/4c warm water, let it happily bubble along for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, measure 3 1/2c of flour (bread flour is better, but all I had was AP), a tsp of fine salt, and a scant (hehe, watch me put a full) cup of olive oil. Add the happy bubbly yeast, stirring first with a spoon and then turning the whole thing down on the counter to knead the hell out of it. Add 5oz of smoked ham or Canadian bacon, cut in lardons, and knead carefully until you are satisfied with the distribution of the said lardons. Personally - not that anyone cares - I roll out the dough, sprinkle it with the fatty bits (les bouts de gras), then roll it up like a yule log and coil it up before I start kneading it. Half the distributing job's done. Let it double in size, then punch it down, shape it like a fougasse (note the picturesque leaf slashing pattern), let it rise again, and bake it for about 30 minutes at 475°F on a silpat or parchment paper.


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I'm also glad of three things (maybe more, but I can't count beyond three). One of them is that my good friend Mallory from The Salty Cod won my La Cense giveaway, and that grilling season is on its way. In between showers that is. Second, a completely bizarre coincidence: after Julie from Oeufs Mayo passed on a blog award to this little silly blog (cheerio!), we discovered we had actually worked on several projects in NYC together. Small world. Finally, thanks to Marc's adorable sister and boyfriend, I'm going to be able to stay a week in San Francisco starting on Monday! If you know of fun bloggers in the San Fran area, who'd be keen to schmooze and have a bite, spread the word.

And for the time being, toodle-oo my friends. And remember, like Paul McCartney said, you'll be older too.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 21:26 - Permalien [#]

04-19-2009

A Pen and a Fork #2: Hot-Dogs

And A Giveway!!

"How much junk food does he eat?" Dr. Olman is asking.
"Oh," Janice says, with enthusiasm, "he's a real addict." His wife is, it occurs to Harry, a channel that can't be switched. […]
". . . tons of fat through his system," Dr. Olman is saying, "rivers of it, some of it has to stick. Marbled meats, pork sausage, liverwurst, baloney, hot dogs, peanut butter, salted nuts ...""He loves all that stuff, he's a terrible nibbler," Janice chimes in, anxious to please, courting, betraying her husband. "He loves nuts.""Worst thing for him, absolutely the worst," Dr. Olman responds, his voice speeding up, losing its drawl, `full of fat, not to mention sodium, and cashews, macadamia nuts, they're the worst, macadamia nuts, but it's all bad, bad." In his intensity he has begun to crouch above her, as if over a slippery putt. "Anything made with hydrogenated vegetable shortenings, coconut oil, palm oil, butter, lard, egg yolk, whole milk, ice cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, any organ meats, all these frozen TV dinners, commercial baked goods, almost anything you buy in a package, in a waxpaper bag, any of it, ma'am, is poison, bloody poison. I'll give you a list you can take home."

John Updike, Rabbit at Rest, New York: Knopf (1990)

Hot dogs? "Bloody poison"? Hm - probably, if you get them from a street vendor on Columbus Circle.
Now what about you use gorgeous Frankfurters from La Cense, made with grass-fed beef and without weird additives, and tuck them in a home-baked hot dog bun?

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Pictures curtesy of hot-dog bribed Marc

I borrowed the recipe for the buns from the King Arthur website and I am pretty sure it was a success considering the silence in which the four of us religiously devoured our 'dogs. As Marc gentlemanly pointed out, I was a "hot-dog virgin". Not anymore you'll be pleased to read. We garnished the buns with a stupendous green mango relish prepared by Marc, a few of the now classic ramps pickled by Stéphane, and sauerkraut fermented by Whole Foods (yeah, get off my back [lâchez moi les baskets]). 
Ah you should have seen us on the rooftop of my Williamsburg building, basking in the sun and preparing coals in a miniature barbecue to grill our Frankfurters before we embarked on an entirely different adventure involving hickory smoke, firemen and homemade Knackwuerste - traditional sausages from Strasbourg and a ubiquitous component of Choucroute Garnie [a larger, hands-on, from-scratch, down and dirty kind of project- shhh (chut)] . But more about the rooftop-smoking next time, or on one of my fellow bloggers' pages (et hop, stylishly flinging the baby in someone else's arms). And for a chance to win a $25 gift card, just pop me a comment (US residents only) and sign up for the grass-fed party before lunch, April 29 (Claire time, aka NYC time on the early side - 12:00). I will then randomly pick a winner (Wiener?).

I'll copy the recipe for the buns (it can be halved), just in case you have separation anxiety issues with this blog:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 packets or 2 scant tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2 cups warm milk (105°F to 115°F)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
6 to 7 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

This particular dough should be quite slack, i.e., very relaxed in order to make soft and tender buns. So you want to add only enough more flour, past the 6-cup point, to make the dough just kneadable; sprinkling only enough more to keep it from sticking to you or the board. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and then the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Because this dough is so slack, you may find that a bowl scraper or bench knife can be helpful in scooping up the dough and folding it over on itself. Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly-woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 18 equal pieces. This is done most easily by dividing the dough first into thirds, then those thirds into halves, then the halves into thirds. For hot-dog buns, roll the balls into cylinders, 4 1/2-inches in length. Flatten the cylinders slightly; dough rises more in the center so this will give a gently rounded top versus a high top. For soft-sided buns, place them on a well-seasoned baking sheet a half inch apart so they'll grow together when they rise. For crisper buns, place them three inches apart. Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.Fifteen minutes before you want to bake your buns, preheat your oven to 400°F. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with whatever seeds strike your fancy.

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Bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190°F. (A dough thermometer takes the guesswork out of this.) When the buns are done, remove them from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

Gee (ça alors), I've never posted such a long and detailed recipe for bread! Believe me, if you have the least idea about what you're doing it shouldn't take you more than 5 minutes putting things together, and 5 minutes of kneading - then you pretty much leave it to the yeast to do its thing.

OK, now I want another hotdog, so move along people, chopchop! (tout le monde dégage, hophophop!)

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 20:33 - Permalien [#]



04-17-2009

Uncanny Root Vegetable Moment

Can't remember what they're called.

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"Party animal turnips"?

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 09:29 - Permalien [#]

04-15-2009

Morel Macarons with Foie-Gras Ganache

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Last week I was lucky enough to receive a little ziploc through the mail, filled with dried morels kindly offered by Justin from Marx Foods, and the mission to come up with a recipe. I can't say I looked very far. Pierre Hermé's new book on Macarons (a jewel of a book that will make you an emotional wreck) and a foraging expedition upstate New York during which a few oblivious foodies gaily sauntered among dried leaves, made it clear that it would have to be autumnal looking macarons.To hell with spring and its frightful pastel bunnies (Au diable le printemps et ses abominables petits lapins pastel).

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Tut tut tut (hep hep hep), don't leave just quite yet. Macarons don't have to be your cooking nemesis. A little equipment is needed, true, but pretty much the same kind than for making silly old cupcakes, which doesn't seem to be a problem for 90% of the blogs out there who post cupcake recipes every week or so.
So.
In a large bowl, put 150g almond powder and 150g confectioner's sugar, sifted thoroughly, along with about 15 of your dried morels, powdered  (hello coffee grinder!). Pour 55g of pre-packaged egg whites mixed with 1/2tsp brown food colouring (if you so wish) on top, set aside.

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In a pan, boil water and sugar until it reaches 115°C. At that point, start whisking more eggwhites () in your stand-up mixer. When the syrup reaches 118°C, it's time for you to pour them on the whites as they are getting their little butt kicked by your Kitchenaid. Keep whisking until the temperature of the meringue drops to 50°C. Pour it all in the bowl containing the almond/sugar mix, and fold in large upward strokes until well combined. The batter should flow from the spatula, forming a ribbon. You're not aiming at preserving the air bubbles in the meringue here, so go for it.

Transfer to a piping bag with a large nozzle, and pipe little blobs on your silpat (they will spread on their own). Let it sit to dry on the countertop for at least 30 minutes before cooking them at 180°C for 12 minutes.

Make the ganache. Dissolve 1/2tsp powdered gelatine in 10cl of warm chicken broth, purée 125g of foie gras in your food processor and add the purée to the pan with the broth while gently whisking until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste - I thought pepper came through as a really important flavour to balance the sweetness of the shells. Don't skimp (pas d'économies de bouts de chandelles). Fold in 1/2c heavy cream, whipped, refrigerate. Yes, it's a little decadent, this recipe is, have you noticed? But you know what, if you go for it, just go all the way (faites pas les choses à moitié).

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When you are ready to assemble your macarons, sauté the leftover (rehydrated and finely diced) morels with a knob of butter and a little salt. You can either fold them in the ganache or layer some on top of the ganache within the macaron. Garnish half the shells with ganache and sautéed morels, sprinkle with a touch of fleur de sel for some crunch, cover with the other half of the shells, and store in the fridge for at least 24h to let the morel flavour develop.

Now now (allons allons). It wasn't all that complicated was it? Justin darling, I hope you like the concept. It was certainly fun to develop.Now people, head over this way and vote for me. I know, I know.

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Wait, why can I hear an echo of my own typing? Is everyone gone? Really? Oh shoot. I knew French sophistication was a dead-end. Next time, morel CUPCAKES!

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 07:29 - Permalien [#]

04-10-2009

Cured Salmon

The good news about having Marc over at your dinner party, taking pictures, is you can guarantee that all the food is going to look glam. The other good news is that every bite tastes as good as it looks. You'll have to take Colloquial Cook's word for it, dudes (va falloir me faire confiance sur ce coup, les gars).

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I am considering ways I could convince Marc (or blackmail him, what the heck - I occasionally give in to the odd spell of despotism) into coming back to France next year with me. I would sit him in the pantry, between the flour bucket and the spice rack, and he would make my food - subsequently, my blog - look consistently attractive. Actually, if I could get a three-for-one offer and get Stéphane to come and make latkes grilled in duck fat (and you should have seen him lovingly modeling those shredded potatoes like an old Jewish mama), and Stacey to badmouth neurotic New Jersey housewives while preparing duck rillettes tartines, I would be thrilled. They may have to squeeze in that pantry a little bit, but wouldn't it be intensely satisfying to have a dinner party in your closet and be able to pull it out any time you feel like a bit of a buzz? I think I have a concept® here.

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Well, we ate. Take a deep breath. Char-grilled new onions and romesco sauce (football helmet required when roomies step in to taste the leftovers), soppressata, chorizo and Pata Negra (ah - be still my heart), prune and liver terrine with a spicy apple chutney, fig-hazelnut-rosemary bread, Swedish cardamom and orange limpa, fennel-cured salmon, citrus gravlax. ...And breath out. Stretch, take a drink. Oh did I mention we had a *few* good (wooohoo) bottles including a Puligny-Montrachet which catapulted me right back to when I was a five year-old iddy biddy thing (quand j'étais toute petiote). Yes, French kids are taught about good things from an early age.

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I was very pleased with the citrus-cured salmon, but because I mostly eyeballed it, I don't really have a recipe. I know I started with a fairly thin, skin-on, 1lb piece of salmon, which took only a day and a half to cure (good when you're short on time). I packed it in several layers of foil, cosily tucked in a curing blanket made with about a cup of coarse salt and half a cup of brown sugar, mixed with the zest of many a lemon and orange (blessed be microplane graters), and a few tbsp of toasted and crushed black peppercorns. Then I put it in the refridg', pressing it down with a plate weighed down with canned goods. After a few days, the conjugated efforts of salt and gravity had squeezed enough moisture out of the salmon. It was firm, it was transluscent but darker, it didn't feel raw nor squishy (cru et ramollo) when you prodded it (quand tu le tatouilles). It was mercilessly pulled out of its cure, rinsed well and patted dry with paper towels.

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Thin slices work well. Get someone else to do it for you and your hands won't smell of salmon for the next week.Yes, French ladies have all kinds of tricks like that to twist men around their little finger (pour embobiner les hommes) into doing the dirty work for them. You learn that in lady-school, along with how to speak in a deep breathy voice. [A little aside here: a breathy voice is useful when you're ordering stuff from IKEA on the phone and they're reticent to deliver it. Make sure you talk to male staff, preferably from the warehouse. Fabulous.]

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Jamon iberico will give you a breathy voice if your vocal folds need a little push-up. It's "sex on legs" as the vulgum pecus has it, except it's a black pig's legs. But who gives a damn (franchement,on s'en tape).

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Oh, and don't go before you bite into the delightful (some might say oesophagus-perforating) sharpness of a lemon-passionfruit-ginger curd tarte.

We have this one cheesy coffee mug with an unidentified soccer player too. Any clue who that hunk may be? (mais qui est ce bellâtre?)

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 19:49 - Permalien [#]

04-05-2009

Uncanny Kiwi Porn Moment

Full frontal.


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This blog is becoming unacceptably filthy.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 15:24 - Permalien [#]

03-29-2009

Sweet Sticky Rice

Marc, Stéphane, Liz and myself made a poor attempt at going to the bacon take-down in Williamsburg on Sunday afternoon. It turned out, an hour before it even started, all the tickets were sold. Well we could have been cheesed off (ça aurait pu nous foutre en rogne) for being robbed of our bacon fest, instead we set off to have a nice beer and proceeded to sample oysters with dark miso, fresh tofu, black cod and shark fins in a funky maze of a Japanese restaurant nearby.


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It does feel like I over-ate that day (*burp*) - a little earlier, I made a rather large amount of coconut rice pudding after Jean-Georges Vongerichten's recipe (Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges ) and while shooting the result for the purpose of this blog, I helped myself to rather large quantities of it. Like Dutch courage, except it was Thai. Coconut rice pudding is amazingly addictive. If you top it with ripe, juicy, jasmine-flavoured Costarican mangoes and crunchy toasted black sesame seeds, you're right off to seventh heaven (c'est direct au septième ciel). Of course Jean-Georges being Alsacian makes me feel completely comfortable with this raving exoticism which is, as we know, so unlike me.


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Soak a cup of glutinous Thai rice (I used Arborio, it was fine) overnight, or at least for a few hours. Then steam it for 8 minutes (for Thai rice) - Arborio took 15 minutes. My set-up was pretty ludicrous, I stacked a rescued bamboo wonton-steaming basket on top of my cast iron pot, and lidded it with a pyrex dish. I'm sure you can do better than that.


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While the rice is steaming, make a simple syrup by dissolving (over low heat) 1/4c sugar and 1/4c water. Once the rice is cooked, transfer it to a bowl, pour the syrup on top and stir. Let it sit 5 minutes, sprinkle it with salt. In a separate bowl, combine a 14oz can of coconut milk (mine was the Trader Joe's "light" version for some obscure reason, but it did the trick) with a Tbsp of sugar - I used superfine sugar so it dissolved better. Give it a stir and add it, a 1/4c at a time to the rice mixture. I confess that I microwaved the rice for a minute a couple of times to help it soak up the milk, once in a while. But quite frankly, it's merely because I was being a glutton and I couldn't let it sit for hours. In the end, the rice absorbed the entire can of coconut milk. The more you wait, the more of a melt-in-your-mouth texture the rice develops. I made it at 1:00pm, and it was succulent by 5:30pm, to give you an idea. Perfectly edible by 1:30pm by all means (re-*burp*). When ready to plate, top with freshly diced mango, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds (I like black sesame seeds because I'm a sucker for chromatic contrasts). Dig in. Hmmmm and Ahhh.

UPDATE!! Enjoy your favorite Sweet Sticky Rice in no time thanks to the clever contraption called RICE COOKER! Just put 1c of rice and 1,5c of water in the inner bowl, and let it cook until it switches off to the "keep warm" setting. Transfer to a bowl, dump in the simple syrup (1/4c sugar melted in 1/4c water), the entire can of coconut milk, all at once. Stir, let it sit 15 minutes then add salt to taste! Serve with cold diced mango and toasted sesame seeds! Nomnomnomnomnom!

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Posté par Colloquial Cook à 20:40 - Permalien [#]

03-25-2009

A Pen and a Fork #1 : Beef Jerky

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"And so the winter crept slowly on, and the brief, brilliant summer flitted in, then out, like a golden dream. The second snows were upon the little fort, the second Christmas, the second long, long weeks and months of the new year. An unspoken horror was staring them all in the face: navigation did not open when expected, and supplies were running low, pitifully low. The smoked and dried meats, the canned things, flour, sealed lard, oatmeal, hard-tack, dried fruits--_everything_ was slowly but inevitably giving out day upon day. Before and behind them stretched hummocks of trailless snow. Not an Indian, not a dog train, not even a wild animal, had set foot in that waste for weeks. In early March the major's wife had hidden a single package of gelatine, a single tin of dried beef, and a single half pound of cornstarch. "If sickness comes to my boys" (she did not say boy), "I shall at least have saved these," she told herself, in justification of her act. "A sick man cannot live on beans." But now they were down to beans--just beans and lard boiled together. Then a day dawned when there was not even a spoonful of lard left. "Beans straight!"--it was the death knell, for beans straight--beans without grease--kill the strongest man in a brief span of days. Oh, that the ice bridges would melt, the seas open, the ships come!"

Pauline Johnson, "Mother o'the Men" in The Moccasin Maker, University of Oklahoma Press [1913] (1998), 188

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New York is hardly in Yukon territory, and the Hudson certainly cannot compare with the Klondike, but I don't give a hoot (rien à cirer).It stills feel good to have a tin of dried beef in your pantry.

Hence this beef jerky project, another genius recipe by Michael Ruhlman. Not a cakewalk (c'est pas du gâteau), though, when you don't have a dehydrator or a vast wind-swept and sun-drenched plain at hand. No, a rooftop in Williamsburg doesn't cut it. Granted, the prepping is easy as pie (simple comme bonjour). You get extra lean beef - eye of the round here - you slice it as thin as your patience, practice and knife allow you, you dump it in a box in the fridge, tossed in some seasoning (chipotle in adobo, onion, garlic and a lot of black pepper for me, please), then forget about it for a day or so. Then you slow-dry it in your oven.

If I have learned one thing from making this, it is that it's not about precision. The guys out there who dried beef - natives, gold diggers, grizzli bears - did not anxiously wave a thermometer out of their tipi/cabin/cave to check that external temperature was 90°F. Unlike me. You see, the configuration of my oven knob suggests that its lowest setting is 200°F. But because there are no numbers below that on the said knob doesn't mean that it's not going to still heat up. I feared that gas would start leaking in the oven and the resistor which sets it on fire woudn't work. Then I considered coming back from work and finding a great big smoking crater in place of my building, with beef strips hanging from the nearby tree branches. I therefore sat in front of my oven with a thermometer, leaving the door ajar, and monitered it for a while. Well it never went as low as 90°F or even 120°F as another blogger suggested, but it must have oscillated between 130 and 150°F (door propped open). I put it at 7:30am before going to work, and took it out at 6:00pm when I came back.

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I'd never had beef jerky before so I didn't know what to expect or look for. Fortunately, my roomies were once more glad to guineapig for me and give me a piece of their mind. Apparently, right out of the oven, it was slightly too crisp. It should have been more leathery. But after a few hours, I had some for dinner, and it had gone softer. Still extremely chewy by all means, don't get me wrong. My inner grizzli was very pleased and kept going back for more. If I hadn't liked the jerky, I had a back-up plan involving making baby moccasins for the latest addition to the bean-eating community. Phew, that was a close call, sweetie pie (Eh ben mon petit chat, t'as eu chaud)!


Posté par Colloquial Cook à 08:24 - Permalien [#]

03-22-2009

Hot Cross Buns

If you were born (to baking at least) a year ago, you may never had kneaded anything. At best you may have kneaded (accidentally I hope) your pie dough and realised it was BAD. Then more articles than you can shake a wooden spoon at were written on how kneading was not only perfectly optional but completely unecessary. I'm not even going there, there isn't a blogger around who isn't gloating with his/her first no-knead wonderloaf, me included. Kneading is *so* out (c'est tellement ringard). People who still knead nowadays are likely to be people who continue to send letters with actual stamps, use a landline or drive a horse carriage.


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I hate to be old-hat, kids, but I wouldn't give kneading up so fast. Like those hot cross buns - if someone comments that they have achieved perfect buns with a no-knead method I'll slap'em in the back of the head (je leur colle une beigne). You don't want to mess with good old methods if you're going to make something as traditional as, say, cannelés or hot cross buns. Besides, they don't take long, and kneading is really easy.

Opening a parenthesis, I have seen hot cross buns with ICING crosses in Boston last weekend. I won't comment on this double heresy but basically people, I don't think the Archbishop of Canterbury (or me) would be too impressed by this systematic candification of Easter. There. Parenthesis closed.

Start things off by mixing a yeast sachet (7g) with 1 tsp flour and 1 tsp sugar, and diluting the mix with 60ml of lukewarm water. Let it bubble like crazy while you mix the rest.

In a large bowl, mix 2c bread flour, 1 tsp mixed spices (cinnamon, clove, allspice - pumpkin pie spice mix works fine), 1.5 tbsp sugar, and a couple of pinches of salt.

Rub in 1.5 tbsp of soft butter, add 3/4c raisins, and pour in the bubbly yeast mix. Then while you mix, add about 100ml lukewarm water until you reach a chewing-gummy (?!) consistency. Flour your countertop and knead five minutes like you mean it. Give it a hard time. It's tough love (c'est l'amour vache). Put it back in the bowl, cover loosely with cling film and let it rise about 40 minutes. Mine almost quadrupled in volume. It's its way of being appreciative of you taking the time to massage its gluten (hence "hot" cross buns). While it rises (oh shut up), you have just enough time to do the proverbial "Jane Fonda workout". Or watch your rommate do it while you eat toasted soda bread with raspberry jam.

Punch the dough down, split it in 8 (I did six but they ended up being slightly too big), re-knead them vaguely and shape into balls, huddle them snuggly on a silpat or parchment paper, let them go wild for another 20 minutes or so. And they will, trust them.


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Stay on the flippin silpat you freaks.


Prepare the crosses: in a small bowl, make a paste with 1 tbsp flour and enough water to get a spreadable but not runny consistency. Don't put any sugar in (I did, bad girl [oh la vilaine]), because it will promote browning and we don't want that. We want them to stay really pale. Transfer to a small sandwich ziploc bag, cut off a small corner and draw crosses on the buns.


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Bake in a preheated oven 16 minutes at 400°F, or until nicely browned. If you so wish, glaze them with a simple syrup (1tbsp sugar+1tbsp water melted on low heat). They are best warm out of the oven. The archbishop loves them with a smattering of Devon salted butter and a nice cuppa Darjeeling.


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Or so he was telling me at lunch today. Rule Britannia.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 07:28 - Permalien [#]

03-16-2009

Irish Soda Bread

It's the leprechauns' no-knead bread. My roomies love it. It never survives the evening.


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Gold pots suck for soda bread.

We are talking ultra speedy bread-making here. The measurements don't need to be terribly accurate. I have put in brackets the unauthentic pimping-up that I make or not, depending on my supplies and my feeling flush.

Preheat your oven on 425°F with your cast iron pot inside, lid on. In a bowl, put 2 cups of flour (whole wheat, all purpose, or a mix of the two).

Add 1/2 tsp salt and 3/4 tsp baking soda. [Rub in a tablespoon of unsalted butter if you want your loaf to have that extra oomph. Think of butter as Irish soda bread's wonderbra®.] [Add a handful or two of raisins/dried cranberries/walnut pieces/whatever].

Pour about 7oz of buttermilk (I never ever measure it - I pour and stir with a spoon until it is moist enough to all stick together), and shape it in a ball with your handy-pandies. Don't bother kneading.


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Cut a cross on top of the dough, sprinkle with flour/rolled oats. Pop it in the cast iron pot, bake with lid on for 25 minutes, take the lid off and bake an extra 5 minutes. Let it cool as much as you can before you unleash your roomies. Wearing a football helmet may ultimately be a good idea. Or a colander.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 19:46 - Permalien [#]

03-08-2009

English Pork Pie

You want lard AND butter, you want ground forcemeat AND diced Berkshire ham, you want PORK PIE!

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Today's pictures are all Marc's - he uncannily captured the spirit of that pork pie.

Man, that pie was so mean I was on the verge of proposing to myself.The pork pie adventure started in Astoria in a dodgy Mexican grocery store and finished in Williamsburg at a lovely dinner party with Giff, Stéphane, Marc and his wife Liz. They're all such good laughs (une belle bande de joyeux lurons).

It all kicked in when I started reading Michael Ruhlman's spectacular opus on pig, Charcuterie. Disclaimer: do not buy this book if you have the slightest tendancy to monomania. It will drive you nuts (il te rendra zinzin). Fellow blogger Matt Wright will almost certainly concur. It's an obscenely delicious ode to pig and its fat, but also to the art of curing, smoking, sausage and pâté-making and what not. Falling faint yet? (tu te sens tourner de l'oeil?) The detail which caught my attention in choosing the English pork pie recipe was - I shall not blush nor deny - the concomitant use of lard and butter in the pastry. After depriving myself of cholesterol-laden food for so long, I needed a fix. As you will realise soon enough, I not only got a fix but it's likely I OD-ed.

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I wasn't going to give the recipe first because it didn't seem fair on Micheal and his hard work, but since the recipe's proportions for the dough were so completely off (I guess mistakes were made in downsizing the recipe for a domestic use), I take advantage of this nifty little blog of mine to give perplexed charcuterie amateurs some helpful hints. By all means, people, run buy the book, you won't regret it (well maybe you will when bikini time comes, if you're not into natural buoyancy aids - it's still far anyway).

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Ah - oops, obviously, not one of Marc's pictures. 

For a nice lardy crust (yes, and smell your hands after you're done with the dough. Groovy ain't it?):

1 stick (4oz, 113g) cold unsalted butter
1 stick (idem) super cold lard
1 lb all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten (you may not need it all)
1 to 1,5 tsp salt (taste to check, you may need more)

Rub the diced fat in the flour with the tip of your fingers until you reach the "sandy" stage. Add the salt. Then pour enough egg in the flour to gather up the dough in a ball. Work quickly so that the fat doesn't melt (it's ok if some fat lumps remain) and the gluten doesn't become tough and rubbery. Wrap the dough in saran wrap, and refrigerate. This step can be done a day ahead if you're short on time. It also freezes well.

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Oh no, Marc and Liz are not on the picture!

The tasty innards of the pie

The proportions for the meat filling are also pretty different from Michael's, since I intended to make a larger pie, and also one that looked like what we usually get in France (yes, I know that I'm straying from the English theme but people, I was feeling nostalgic. Bear with me.)

1 1/2 lb (about 700g) ground pork shoulder (grind your own if you have a grinder) (no, not your own shoulder)
1.4 lb (about 600g) thickly diced Berkshire ham (two great big fat slices)
1/2 c finely diced onion (I used a cool CSA red onion)
1 tsbp minced garlic (don't be shy!)
2,6 tsp table salt
1 heaped tsp of black pepper corns, which you bash to a powder in your mortar
1 tsp of finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, packed (more if you are a thyme lover)
1/2 c cold chicken stock

On low heat, cook the onion and garlic in a tbsp of butter until soft and transparent but not coloured. Let it cool, add the thyme, and refrigerate until you use it. Again, that can be done ahead of time.

In a large bowl, combine the cold ground shoulder with the salt, ground pepper and onion mixture, add the stock and mix until combined, then fold in the diced ham until it's all harmoniously distributed (harmony and pork pie are not antinomic, folks, quite the contrary).

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Roll out two thirds of the dough in a disk (diameter about 30cm), put in on a silpat or parchment paper, stack the filling at the center of the dough rather high (diameter of the filling, about 18cm; height about 12cm), then fold and wrap the dough around the sides of the meat mountain. I found that you can erase the creases in the dough by rubbing them down patiently with fingers dipped in cold water.

Roll out the remaining third of dough in a circle (about 20cm in diameter), make a steam vent in the center. Before you pop the top on, brush the side that's going to be inside with eggwash (one egg beaten with a tsp of milk). Stick it on top of the pâté, and weld the top with the sides. Brush the entire thing lavishly with the eggwash.

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Bake in a preheated oven at 425°F for at least 20 minutes, or until the crust is nice and golden, then reduce the temperature to 325°F and bake until the interior temperature reaches 150°F. It took me a good 50 minutes. I also had to take the tray out several times to empty the succulent juices seeping through the bottom, for fear that the crust would go soggy. When you're good to go, take the pie out, give it five minutes and then slide it onto a cooling rack so that the pie doesn't sit in its juices. Some juice was also coming out of the steam vent and I emptied it. I guess it would be ok to leave it if you were going to eat it warm, but I was going to serve it cold on the day after.

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I didn't need to make an aspic, because there was no space between the filling and the crust once baked, possibly because I used so much ham, which doesn't shrink when cooked.  Not that it needed the aspic either, mind you. Once completely cooled, I put it on a dish, clingfilmed the whole shebang, and put it in the fridge.

Well I hate to brag, kiddos (je ne veux pas me faire mousser, mes bons petits), but that pie knocked our socks off. It was perfectly self-sufficient, although nicely paired with grain mustard, pickles, frisée, and one (or two) (or three) glasses of delectable Brunello di Montalcino and Crozes-Hermitage. How perfectly European in spirit. For dessert, Marc baked, as we were licking our chops (pendant qu'on se léchait les babines), a wonderful sticky toffee pudding - the most gooey and volcanic-looking treat to finish off with. I shamelessly scraped the sticky bits at the bottom of the plate, squandering the little French glamour that I had managed to uphold to that point.

The leftovers were almost even nicer on the day after. What? You're still reading? Chop chop, off to the butcher's, ladies and gentlemen. Et que ça saute!

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 16:43 - Permalien [#]

Uncanny Citrus Moment

It's a girl!

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Papa Pomelo and Mama Tangerine are proud to announce the arrival of sweet little Minneola Tangelo. Mother and father are doing well and baby's in my stomach.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 10:32 - Permalien [#]

02-19-2009

Zimtsterne

"Here she goes again with her stupid cookies cutters and crappy photomontages". Well snap out of it people (faites pas la gueule) it's now officially one of my specialties. But today I feel like I'm perfectly entitled to it. You see, I have the flu.

(here, dramatic pause to let people express their commiseration)

I'm feelin' the pain (je dérouille sévère). No, I am, seriously. I'm going blind in my left eye, I can hardly taste the difference between peanut butter and chicken liver pâté, and my muscles feel like I've wrestled a yeti. Besides I'm miles away from home (3635 to be precise) and I have to make my own chicken soup. How much does that suck?


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So I feel entitled to indulge in a lousy photomontage, cut me some slack. And if you were wondering, yes it is Hillary Clinton pointing her space-shooter at you.

Zimtsterne are miracle Alsacian and German cookies and ladies and gentlemen I weigh my words. Not only do they taste fabulous (otherwise I wouldn't bother posting, duh) and they are cholesterol free, but I also claim that they lower your cholesterol. It's my excuse to stuff my face with them and my answer to my doctor who wants me to quit egg yolks and butter and start running the marathon. Take THAT mister quacky quack.

Cinnamon ("Zimt" in case you wondered) is the real star here. As you will see, very few ingredients - use good quality so that every flavour really shines through. The original recipe, in French and grams, is available on Pauline's blog, but as I know you're going to give me hassle big time (je sais que vous allez me chercher des crosses) if I use grams, I'll translate and convert it for you.

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2 egg whites
1 1/4 c plain sugar (yeah sorry guys, I said good for cholesterol not diabetes)
2 1/2 c almond flour (from whole unpeeled almonds, not the white kind. Trader Joe's carries it. Or stick raw almonds in the blender)
1Tbsp lemon juice
2Tbsp cinnamon powder

Whisk the eggwhites with a big pinch of salt, and when they are stiffening, add the sugar progressively. It should become glossy. I did it by hand (with my flu muscles, woohoo), so I never got a voluminous meringue, it's just *fine*. Put aside about half a cup of that meringue. In what remains, fold in the almond powder, the lemon juice and the cinnamon with a spatula until it coalesces into a ball.
Sprinkle your worktop liberally with caster sugar, and roll the dough, keeping it thick (about a third of an inch). Dipping your star cookie cutter in water every so often, cut out stars and put them on a silpat or parchment paper. Ice the top with the remaining meringue (it's fiddly - my stars were tiny, I used he back of a spoon, but apparently a piping bag works). Let it stand 12 hours at room temp (overnight is good). After this considerable long time, turn your oven on at 460°C and bake for 5 minutes (a little bit of an anticlimax). The meringue should not brown. They are incredible when still warm, and amazing when cooled. I challenge you to have just one.


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And now I will go back to lying in my bed in the dark and strumming my guitar to melancholy Johnny Cash tunes. I love that husky voice of mine. It's hot.

Or not.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 19:59 - Permalien [#]

02-13-2009

Matcha Shortbreads

Some recipes are harder to post than others. You slyly nibble at the raw dough (tu grignotes la pâte crue en douce) and faster than you can say Jack Robinson there is hardly any left in the bowl. Bottom line is, no pictures. Or you end up cooking whatever remains of the dough. And eating the shortbreads so fast you don't have time to locate your camera. Or there isn't enough light in the room and it doesn't cut it (ça le fait pas) (is there EVER enough light in that room? do I live in a cave?). Or a dinosaur sneaks up on your glass of milk and tries to hijack your cookie. It engenders an endless taxonomic debate with your flatmate on the exact genus of the saurian in question (Brontosaurus? Diplodocus? Matchasaurus?)



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Yes, sometimes it really is a miracle that there is any evidence left at all that you baked something.

Talking about saurians, I can't help but notice that many an unwitting reader of this blog stumbles on it accidentally, brought in this neck of the woods by concerns of an epistemological or philological nature.

It's all credit to them, of course, and since some questions have been recurring lately, I'd like to make a point.

"what kind of animal does oxtail come from" "is oxtail really what it is"

Yes. Ox. Tail. You got it.

"why is a walnut called a walnut"

Because the Romans brought it to the UK.



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Those sablés have been made by half the blogosphere (Yeah zero novelty factor - geese, I'm such a lemming), and it's Sunday morning, two very good reasons not to re-post the recipe. All hail Kelli and Fanny. When you bake the cookies, keep a very close eye on them and take them out as soon as you start seeing the sides changing colour (hardly even browning). It took only ten minutes in my oven. They will solidify as they cool, and you want to keep them as "sablé" as possible. Besides it would be a shame to lose that crazy green tint and subtle diplodocussy flavour.

Diplodocuses taste of green tea. Fact.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 09:48 - Permalien [#]

01-25-2009

Cannelés Bordelais

Carrying on with the Tour de France of scrumptious edibles, next stop is Bordeaux. Call me stir-crazy, but I'm having a bloody good time (j'ai peut-être la bougeotte mais qu'est-ce que je me poile). Cannelés belong to a long tradition of making fiddly little cakes with improbable ingredients that almost get you arrested at customs. These obscure delicacies combine the exquisite chewiness of a crêpe-like batter with the unrivalled crisp of a beeswaxed (not bikini-waxed) crust. Heady aromas of vanilla, rum and lemon zest hug your tastebuds in the sultriest of embraces (there, now I'm beeswaxing lyrical, someone slap me please [flanquez-moi une mandale]).

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Of course, tradition oblige, every housewife/bakery in Bordeaux and across France have their own take on the recipe, and it works for their set-up: molds, oven temperature and the like. One constant however is the traditional and idiosyncratically shaped copper molds. Unless you have a spare kidney for sale, it almost impossible to get them in the US. Grit your teeth and deal with it.

How can you tell whether a recipe is good or bad?

I'll help you.

[Teachers are like that. They like to give the answer straight after they've asked the question, to show their students they are still better than them. It's rewarding, in a cheap kind of way. Basic didactics - no, no, don't thank me, I'm always happy to share my teaching tricks with you lot.]

The following pictures (visual memory being the most widespread kind) will astutely rest my case:

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Geddit? (Pigé?)

So, with no further ado, to the ad hoc recipe. And I'll spare you the details of the recipe that DOESN'T work. But if you're good, kids, I'll show you a couple of pictures which will entirely redefine the concept of culinary disaster. Zen Chef kindly provided me with two different batches of the crepe-like dough (one of which, as mentionned, didn't quite pass), in exchange for the molds and beeswax, and I spent my Sunday afternoon trying to come up with something that remotely looked like cannelés.

2 cups milk
4 tbs butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 lemon (optional but fancy)
1 tsp pure almond extract (ibidem)
1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup beewax
1/4 cup butter

Combine milk, butter, lemon zest, and the vanilla pod with its scraped beans, bring to a boil. Let it steep for 45 min. Whisk the yolks, the egg and the sugar, whisk in the rum and the almond extract. Then combine the flour, the milk mixture and the eggy mix until perfectly smooth. Let it rest for 24 hours in refrigerator (in a plastic bottle, to make pouring easier), or make ahead and freeze.

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When you're good to go, turn the oven on at 425°F, and put the molds in the oven for about 10 minutes so they're nice and hot. Meanwhile, melt the butter and the beeswax in a saucepan - on low so that you don't make noisette beeswax. Take the molds out, and with a pastry brush, quickly paint the inside of the molds with a thin layer of the magic lubricant. Turn the molds over onto a grid so the excess beeswax drips out. [Nota: I didn't have a brush, so I ladled a small amount of beeswax in each mold (held with a towel) and coated the sides by *expertly* rotating them - yeah right (ben voyons)]. Let it cool down upside down a minute, then fill them up with the batter, leaving a third of an inch at the top for rising. Believe me, it rises bad [ça lève grave].

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Put all the molds on a tray to catch potential overflows, and stick everything in the oven for 50 to 55 minutes. It is a long time, but it needs to caramelise, and there's nothing more unsightly than a chalky cannelé. Over the 50 minute lap, read Raising Frogs for $$$.

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Take the tray out of the oven, let the molds cool until they can be handled, and unmold the cannelés. They slide out effortlessly thanks to the butter and beeswax coating. You say a little prayer for the hard work of the bees and you hope that it won't cost you an extra week in Purgatory for pillaging the poor insects' habitat in the very dead of winter.

Leave to cool about an hour so the flavours have a chance to develop, then munch away.They are best eaten on the day. Take it as a zen meditation practice on the transience of things in general, and of crispy crusts in particular.

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Microscopic examination of cannelés provides reliable evidence that the stuff dreams are made of is indeed speckled with vanilla seeds and rum-flavoured. Well I guess now that's settled.


Top tip: wax doesn't come off easily. Correction: it doesn't come off at all. At best it transfers to something else. Make sure it doesn't tranfer to your clothes/towels/sponges because it's a pain in the backside (to say the least) to get rid of it afterwards (c'est râlant à nettoyer). You can try to plunge your utensils in boiling water, but then the pan will be coated with wax. The best option so far is just to wipe everything thoroughly with kitchen paper, and discard promptly before it transfers elsewhere.

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Last but not least, kudos are in order: Marc hosted on Saturday the most uncanny party, getting us to chew on freeze-dried berries and eat raw lime and kumquats, proving that entertainment + bizarre doesn't necessarily result in burlesque dance shows with creative uses of body parts. Point made. Well done Marc and thanks a million.

Ah, and the cannelé horror picture show. Kids, don't watch.

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No, I haven't completely lost the plot (je n'ai pas complètement perdu les pédales). The original recipe DID advise to prevent the cannelés from popping from their molds (they have a tendency to do that) by weighting them down with a cooling rack and a heavy pan. That didn't quite work out for me. Oh crap. Et merde.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 14:42 - Permalien [#]

01-20-2009

Five Minute White Bread

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Easiest post ever. I'm jumping on the five-minute bandwagon. The consensus requires me to tell you to go buy the book (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking). Or borrow it from a friend. You make the basic white dough, you shape it something fancy, you get rave reviews from your roomies (vos colocs sont emballés). Win-win. 

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A smidgeon of French-imported raspberry jam (un chouia de confiotte) is all you need on warm bread. At heart, we know we can be low-maintenance. Blessed be recession.

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 17:10 - Permalien [#]

01-18-2009

Uncanny Staircase Moment

Today in the Uncanny series:
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my life in a giant cake cooling rack

careful with those stilettos

Posté par Colloquial Cook à 20:28 - Permalien [#]



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