Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everlasting milk

I hate milk.

There, I said it. I never liked milk, but as is common wisdom, milk gave you strong bones and made you tall. When I was in elementary school, the teachers in the cafeteria wouldn't let me leave until they had given my milk carton a good shake and there was nothing left inside. I would try to confuse them by filling up the carton with random garbage. My loving parents, in hopes that I would grow strong and tall, made me drink milk every morning. I kept up this routine until college, when I made my own decisions about what to eat in the morning (which was usually nothing, out of laziness).

When I started cooking, I learned that there were many dishes that require milk. Milk was everywhere, in béchamel, custards, mashed potatoes, all kinds of dishes. I didn't mind it in its other forms, but cooking with milk usually meant buying a carton at the supermarket, using it once, and letting the rest go to waste because it spoiled.

I kept up this pattern until recently, when I discovered aseptic milk. Aseptic milk, such as Horizon Organic, does not require refrigeration, and is in convenient 8 oz packages to minimize waste. Now, I know it doesn't taste exactly the same as refrigerated milk, but hey, I'm cooking with it, not drinking it. It sure beats the flavor of powdered milk. The best part is that I hardly waste milk anymore, and I no longer have to go to the grocery store whenever I encounter a recipe calling for milk. I buy it in bulk (from Whole Foods) and store it in the pantry. What a wonderful invention!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Comfort food: meatloaf

Growing up, my dad would do a lot of the cooking, and one thing I would always look forward to was his meatloaf. I would eat it with Worcestershire sauce and/or ketchup, and it was usually served with some kind of potato and salad. It was a fun break from the usual Chinese food we had growing up.

My wife felt like eating meatloaf this week, so I dug up an old email sent to me from my dad with the recipe. The perfect thing to eat it with was, of course, the mashed potatoes from my previous post!

It tasted just like at home--except the TV wasn't on in the background this time.

2 lbs ground beef, replacing up to 1 lb with ground pork if desired (and don't use the lean stuff!)
1 egg
1 carrot, grated
1 stalk celery, small dice
1 onion, small dice
1 granny smith apple, small dice
1 cup Quaker's 3-minute oatmeal
ground pepper, to taste
several healthy pinches of salt
1 tbsp soy sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Mix all ingredients together
  3. Line a loaf pan with aluminum foil or parchment if you're lazy like me and don't want to clean up afterward
  4. Bake at 350°F for 1½ hours. The top should be a deep brown color.
  5. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Joël Robuchon's pommes purée

...aka the best mashed potatoes EVER!

After eating at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Vegas, I was inspired to try to recreate his famous pommes purée. Somehow "mashed potatoes" doesn't sound right given the level to which Robuchon has taken this dish. I found his recipe, along with quite a bit of discussion, on the eGullet forums. Two pieces of equipment were important to the recipe: a ricer and a tamis. I had never used any of these, nor did I own them.

One of my wife's bosses surprised her by giving us a ricer! We were very excited. For those who don't know what a ricer is, it's basically a device that squeezes on the food and forces it through small holes about the size of a grain of rice, hence the name. It is more efficient and produces a more even result than using a potato masher.

The second piece of equipment, the tamis, is even more obscure. It's a flat bottomed sieve with a rim around it (kinda like a Chinese steamer), so that when you push food through the sieve, it comes out very smooth. I didn't have one, nor was I going to go out and find one, so I decided to try using a regular sieve.
The recipe is intense: 2 lbs of potatoes (about 3 russets), and 2 sticks of butter! I ended up using 1.5 sticks in an attempt to be "healthier" (who am I kidding?). I followed the recipe as best I could, and it was quite a workout. I was sweating by the time I was done whipping the milk into the puree, but man was it worth it. It was delicious.

Trying to push the mashed potatoes through my sieve did not happen very easily. I gave up after trying a few minutes. The stuff that did go through the sieve, however, had taken the puree to a whole new level of refinement. The texture was so smooth, even, creamy, and luxurious. No wonder they only give you a small portion at the restaurant--it's quite a bit of work!

Next time I try this, I will use truffle salt, which I'm sure will be awesome. I will also boil the potatoes a little longer and a little slower, as I feel they were still a bit undercooked in the center. Next Thanksgiving, I'm going to volunteer to make a big batch of this!

Pommes Purée
2 lbs russet potatoes
8 oz butter (I used 6 oz)
3/4 to 1 1/4 cups milk brought to a boil and kept hot
sea salt to taste
  1. Starting with cold water, boil unpeeled potatoes until a fork inserted meets barely any resistance (may take 30 min or more)
  2. Peel potatoes while still hot (the potatoes are incredibly easy to peel at this point)
  3. Push the potatoes through a ricer into a pot and stir over very low heat until steam no longer escapes (about 5 minutes)
  4. Add butter by vigorously stirring potatoes until incorporated
  5. Add 3/4 cup milk in a slow stream while vigorously whipping potatoes, incorporating air into the mixture
  6. Add salt, more milk as necessary, until desired taste and texture
  7. For that extra level of refinement, pass through a tamis

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lamb and grits

During one of our trips to Costco, my wife spotted a package of lamb chops and decided she wanted lamb for dinner. No problem, I thought. Lamb chops sound fancy but it can be cooked simply with salt and pepper on a cast iron skillet for a quick meal.

Now that we had the protein, I pondered what to do about starch. The only bread we had was sandwich slices, and that didn't seem very good. I didn't really want to eat it with rice, either, since it seemed too boring. I decided a nice creamy polenta would work best. Once I got home though, I realized I didn't have any polenta. Crap. Hmmm...what about grits? It's the same thing, except a different color, right? What the heck, I decided to do it. Add some sauteed veggies on the side and we were set.

For the grits, I just followed the directions on the back of the box, substituting 1 cup of milk instead of water. I also added some leftover white wine from a previous meal. I wanted it to be a little richer, so I added butter. To give it some flavor, I added a handful of dried thyme and black pepper, to taste.

For the lamb, I simply seasoned it with salt and pepper, and cooked it on a cast iron grill over medium-high heat. This gave it a nice seared outside while keeping the meat done at medium.

1 cup grits
1 cup milk
2 cups water
splash of dry white wine (optional)
1 tsp butter
thyme, to taste (maybe 1 tbsp)
pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
  1. Bring water, milk, and wine to boil
  2. Add grits, thyme, salt and pepper
  3. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick (about 5 minutes)
  4. Add more water until desired consistency is reached
  5. Add butter
  6. Adjust seasoning to taste
Lamb chops
lamb chops
dry white wine (optional)
  1. Season lamb chops with salt and pepper
  2. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet on medium-high heat
  3. In batches, sear both sides of the lamb, cooking a few minutes per side until desired doneness
  4. Remove lamb chops.
  5. Deglaze with white wine, reduce by half, and pour over chops.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Tale of Two Fondues

Sorry for not posting in a while. My wife and I were in Vegas, where we shared an awesome meal at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. I also recently fell sick to the flu, but fortunately it happened after our trip to Vegas or else I wouldn't have been able to taste anything!

Nonetheless, I had the chance to try two fondue recipes for a get-together we had for our friend's birthday! There were 13 people over--a whole lot of cheese. We don't actually own a fondue set, so we borrowed a friend's alcohol burner, and we made use of a Chinese electric hot pot.

The two recipes we tried were Alton Brown's recipe from an episode of Good Eats, and the other was based on the more traditional Swiss recipe. One of the nice things about using a hot pot instead of a fondue set is that the hot pot is bigger and can accommodate more people than your standard fondue set. This worked out well and there was plenty of room for people to reach in and dip their food.

In addition to pieces of bread, we also served broccoli, chicken/apple sausages, potato wedges, roasted bell peppers, and sauteed mushrooms. It was a success! I must say, however, that I enjoyed the Swiss recipe much more than Alton Brown's. I am a big fan of AB, but the fondue had kind of a lumpy texture, and I didn't enjoy the flavor of the smoked Gouda. The Swiss recipe had an even texture and a more subtle flavor that worked better with the variety of ingredients we were using.