Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fire in the Rabbit Hole! (A home version of Next Restaraunt's Childhood Campfire)

Campfire!
 
It started out innocently enough, as it so often does.

Someone I don't know and have never met posed a question on the internet.  Well, a couple of questions, I guess.  I figured, as a citizen of the world, or perhaps more accurately, the internet, it was my responsibility to help this person I don't even know find an answer to their question.  I am here to help.  That question went like this:

"Edible Charcoal? Any ideas?  I googled and found out Next did an edible woodfire with sweet potatoes.  How?"

Now, I didn't know the answer to that question, though it did sound vaguely familiar.  But I had a secret weapon.  You probably haven't heard about it, but it often helps me find answers to things I don't know the answer to.  It's called Google, and you should probably check it out sometime.  Using this little known site, I quickly found an interview with Chef Beran in which he discussed the particular dish from the Childhood menu.  There wasn't much in the way of specifics, but it did state that he cooked sweet potatoes in a stock so that they came out looking like charcoal.  Then he figured out how to powder alcohol with aroma in order to set it all on fire.  I shared this info that I found on the internet back onto the internet, where hopefully it would be found by the mysterious internet stranger who I really had no other way to contact.  I suggested this may give him a place to start if he wanted to attempt this dish.

And then I went one step further.

In that interview above was reference to a lecture that Chef Achatz had given at Harvard.  I'd seen a recording of the lecture several years back, as it had served as the inspiration for my home version of the In The Rocks cocktail.  I hunkered down with another little known resource on the internet called YouTube.  Again, you may not be familiar with it, but it is basically a compendium of all things video on the internet.  Using this relatively unknown site, I located that specific lecture in it's entirety.  (I realize I am giving away an awful lot of secrets here, but perhaps with these useful tips, you too can help mysterious strangers on the internet.)  In that lecture, Chef Achatz drops a few more details about the dish.

I shared this new information that I had found on the internet back onto the internet yet again:  Sweet Potatoes cooked in a syrup of vanilla, cinnamon and blue corn to look like charcoal.  Tincture of Vanilla, Cinnamon and 95% Grain Alcohol powdered with tapioca malltodextrin and mixed with powdered sugar for the fuel to the fire.  Plated with apricot puree, streusel, bourbon ice cream, english toffee caramel sauce.

I really felt I was helping this mysterious internet stranger now.  And it probably could've ended there.  But I made one more lingering statement at the end of my internet post: 'Now I want to give this a try.'  


And down the rabbit hole I went.  You say something like that on the internet, and you are committed.  There is no turning back.  So, I went out and bought some Everclear.

190 Proof.

"Warning: Overconsumption May Endanger Your Health." Hmmm.  Health endangerment.  That's not what I'm looking for.

"Caution: Do Not Apply to Open Flame.  Keep Away From Fire, Heat, and Open Flame.  Contents May Ignite or Explode."  Excellent.  There it is.  Exactly what I need!

Marshmallow Tincture Ingredients
I didn't want to wait weeks for a proper tincture, so I thought I'd try a quick pressurized infusion.  I chose my aromatics: licorice root, vanilla bean, cinnamon, cardamom, and lavender blossoms.  Added those to everclear in a whipping siphon.  Charged with a couple nitrous canisters and in two hours had a nicely infused 190 proof grain alcohol.

Tincture of Everclear, Licorice Root, Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lavender

I took that, mixed with n-Zorbit, a modified tapioca starch used for turning fats and oils into powders and blended in the food processor.  Success!  The n-zorbit successfully absorbed the alcohol into a powder.  I sifted this with powdered sugar and spooned a little on to a plate.  Willfully ignoring the warning on the bottle, I applied an open flame to the powder.  Voila!  It quickly ignited and burned cleanly, leaving behind a slightly burnt, slightly caramelized crispy crust with a taste reminiscent of campfire marshmallows. 

 Combustible Marshmallow Powder was born! 
 


You can find my detailed recipe here:  Combustible Marshmallow Powder Recipe

Now that I had my fire, I needed to bring together the rest of the dish.  Here, I took a slight departure from the Next dish that had served as inspiration for the concept and decided to go with pressure cooked bananas as my charcoal stand-in, rather than sweet potato.  I kept the apricot puree.  Rather than bourbon Ice cream, I went with butter rum sherbet.  And for a little crunch and texture, I made some sea foam powder.  This tantalizing concoction is a crunchy blend of sponge candy, brown butter solids, pecans, salt and butter all bound together with some more n-zorbit.

Brown Butter Solids

Sponge Candy




With all the components prepared, all that was left was to plate the final dish. Here is "Campfire":



And if you'd like to try it yourself, I've posted that recipe here as well:  Campfire
 
I have yet to hear back from the mysterious internet stranger, but I like to think that he is out there somewhere now, serving plates of food, and lighting them on fire.  And so, with my help, the world is a better place.

Campfire:  Apricot Puree, Sea Foam Powder, Butter Rum Sherbet, Pressure Cooked Banana, Combustible Marshmallow Powder


Diner's View of Campfire:  Apricot Puree, Sea Foam Powder, Butter Rum Sherbet, Pressure Cooked Banana, Combustible Marshmallow Powder



Here's links to the recipes for the other dish components as well.  Use them in this recipe, or adapt them for other applications:

ChefSteps Pressure Cooked Bananas
My Butter Rum Sherbet (a hybrid of ChefSteps and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams recipes)
ChefSteps Sea Foam Powder 



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cocktails: The Aviary at Home Edition

So for 2 years now I've attempted to go to the Aviary when I've been in Chicago.  And for 2 years I've struck out.  The reasons are numerous...turned down for reservations, they're closed on Sunday, couldn't get in without a reservation, turned down another couple times for reservations, I wasn't willing to head out there in the rain just in case I could get in without a reservation...you get the picture.  But the sad truth is that 2 years later I've never been able to sample their delicious looking cocktail craftwork.  So, without an ETA for my next Chicago visit, I decided to pay homage to the Aviary in my own kitchen.

One or two drinks wouldn't suffice, so I crafted a menu of 8 cocktail courses to prepare and serve over the course of a single evening.  Invites went out, and I had 10 willing participants for the evening, wife and I included.  Food was not on my agenda (no Aviary style bites) this was strictly about the cocktails.

If you don't know me, that probably all sounds good, but here's the thing:  I'm not now, nor never was a bartender.  Not only that, but I really don't have any experience making cocktails either.  So starting out by trying to emulate the James Beard winner for Outstanding Bar Program led by Tales of the Cocktail's American Bartender of the Year (Congrats Aviary and Charles Joly!) is a pretty big first step.  Go Big and Stay Home.  That's what they say.  If by they I mean I that is.  Plus all those cocktails and no need to drive home.  I'm already there.  Sounds like a hell of a plan.

I put the menu together so that each drink would highlight some sort of advanced technique or presentation.  Sometimes these would be obvious in the drink, sometimes they'd be more covert.  I started the prep work a couple days ahead of time to create the juices, syrups, and other components I'd need to compose the drinks on the big night.  Prep went well, so I was feeling good the day of.

I started off with a Negroni as a wake up call for the guests.  Something to let them know these were going to be Drinks, capital D.  The Negroni.  A classic cocktail, it deserved a classic Aviary style presentation.  So I served it 'In the Rocks". 

Negroni In The Rocks

This is a presentation I tried before...and failed.  Not this time.  I started a couple days ahead of time.  Since I haven't yet figured out how to get liquid Nitrogen at home, my method was to take dry ice and cheap vodka to make a chilling bath.  Then, I dropped water balloons into the bath until they had a frozen shell.  I popped the balloon, and drilled two small holes into the shell to drain the water out of the center, then placed the shells back into the freezer.  Cocktail (1 part Hendrick's Gin, 1 part Rosso Vermouth, 1 part Campari) was premixed and placed in the freezer several hours ahead so it didn't melt the ice immediately upon filling.  Finally, the drink was filled with a syringe through one of the holes and garnished with an orange twist.  When served, the guest took a spoon to rap on the side of the ice shell so that it would shatter and release the drink into the glass.

Negroni "In The Rocks"
Negroni "In The Rocks" no longer








Foster

For the second cocktail, I wanted something a little sweeter to balance the Negroni.  I had prepared a batch of Banana Juice, blending the bananas into a puree, adding a little bit of amylase to break the starchy banana into sugars, cooking sous vide, filtering, and then adding a little Pectinase at the end to help clarify.  I also made a brown sugar simple syrup.  I mixed Eagle Rare Bourbon, Banana Juice, and Brown Simple in a 1:1:0.5 ratio.  Shook with ice and strained into glasses.  Garnished with a frozen banana slice (I had planned to brulee these, but didn't get to it...) and a vanilla bean slit lengthwise and then cut in half.  Like Bananas Foster in a glass.


Foster:  Bourbon, Banana Juice, Brown Simple, garnished with frozen banana and vanilla bean


Fuzzy Navel

The next cocktail was my wife's idea, and mostly her work.  She wanted Fuzzy Navels, and asked if we could use the isi siphon to infuse schnapps into oranges.  I took the opportunity to discuss what a great investment a chamber vacuum would be.  Then, I suggested a ghetto chamber vac method I saw Dave Arnold demonstrate in a video once.  We used Pectinase to supreme some tangerines.  24 hours in the fridge wasn't quite long enough to completely supreme the segments, but it was close enough that we could finish the job by hand.  Then, a couple of segments were placed into a syringe through the backside.  We drew some peach schnapps up into the syringe, evacuated any remaining air, then covered the tip.  This creates a makeshift chamber.  Then, pulling out the plunger will reduce the pressure enough that you can start to see the liquids bubbling.  Just like a chamber vac only smaller, cheaper, and more difficult to use.  I'm not sure if this is low enough pressure that they are boiling, or just entrapped air exiting the orange segment.  I'd guess probably the later.  Regardless, after a couple of pulls, the tangerine segment gets a pretty good infusion.

Fuzzy Navel: Ghetto Chamber Vacuum Infused Supremes


Thai Cactus

Next up was a piece of classic Aviary serviceware that I employed into the evening.  Crucial Detail's Porthole was designed for the aviary, and it is gorgeous.  It almost doesn't matter what you put in it, it makes it look good.  But you need it to taste good too.  I was interested in infusing tequila with prickly pear and agave, then mixing with heavily carbonated seltzer to make a Cactus soda.  But then I saw dragonfruit at the market, so I grabbed that, and a persimmon and guava and a jalapeno.  Added a piece of lemongrass, a slice of lime, a sprig of mint and a sprig of Thai basil.  I filled the porthole with about 250 g of Tequila and 50 g of agave syrup right before the guests showed up and let it infuse for roughly the next 2 hours until it was time to serve.

Thai Cactus Porthole to the Left
Thai Cactus Porthole to the Right
After about 2 hours, the tequila was pleasantly pink and had infused nicely.  I mixed roughly 1 part of the infused tequila base to two parts heavily carbonated water and ice.  The carbonation really brought the jalapeno forward in the mix.  When the soda was fizzy, this was a little much, but after the bubbles subsided a bit, it was really quite delicious, with just a tingle of heat in the finish.

Thai Cactus Tequila Spritzer

 
 Churchill's Breakfast

Next up was supposed to be Mary Pickford, but she was still getting ready, so we went on without her.  For the next cocktail, I had used the isi siphon earlier in the day to make a 2 hour cold brew coffee.  This is a delicious way to make coffee, but also delicious for cocktails.  I mixed Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Cold Brew Coffee, and Maple Syrup in a 4 : 1.6 : 1 ratio added a few shakes of Angostura bitters and shook over ice.  Then, I torched a Cinnamon stick until it was smoking below an overturned glass to let it fill with smoke.  I then righted the glass and quickly strained the cocktail into it.  The still smoking Cinnamon stick was dropped in to garnish in a recipe from one of my favorite sites ChefSteps.  


Torching a Cinnamon Stick
Cinnamon Smoked Stemware

Churchill's Breakfast:  Rye, Coffee, Maple Syrup, Bitters, Cinnamon Smoke

Hot Cider

That tease Mary was still running late.  So next up was Hot Cider.  I mixed 200 ml of Laird's Old Apple Brandy with 400 ml of Riesling add added to the bottom vessel of another Aviary inspired service piece, the coffee siphon.  To the top vessel I added a sliced Granny Smith Apple, Raspberries, Cranberries, Hibiscus, Ginger, Sage, Lemon Thyme, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, and Honey.  I think this set up worried some of my guests.  They asked if I'd ever put alcohol in it before, and expressed concern that it might 'blow up'.  That didn't happen and wasn't really a risk, though I nearly overflowed the upper chamber.  Although it looks like there is plenty of room for all of the liquid in the bottom chamber in the top, they must be fairly similar in size.  Minor disaster avoided, and another round of drinks was served.     

Coffee Siphon Cocktails:  Apple Brandy, Riesling, Many Aromatics

Coffee Siphon Cocktail: Aromatics: Apple, Cranberry, Raspberry, Hibiscus, Ginger, Sage, Lemon Thyme, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice

Coffee Siphon Cocktail: Post Infusion

Coffee Siphon Cocktail Served: Hot Cider

 Mary Pickford

Finally Mary was ready for her debut.  I used Pectinase to clarify fresh pineapple Juice.  I made Grenadine from scratch - Juice pomegranates, add sugar, pomegranate molasses, orange flower water, vodka, luxardo.  I was out of Luxardo, after making a big batch of Maraschino cherries this summer.  On the bright side, I had jars filled with maraschino cherry juice which is roughly 2 parts Luxardo, 1 part simple, and whatever natural tart cherry extract has occurred in the last 5 months.  I froze the grenadine into hemispheres.  Unfortunately, the spheres never froze solid.  I delayed this course to try to let them get a good freeze, but they were more of a slushee texture.  Not able to wait any longer, I warmed up an alginate bath and set to spherifying the grenadine.  I lost a few, but had enough back ups to be covered.  Then, I combined the pineapple juice with Ron Zacapo rum, a dash of Luxardo-maraschino juice, and orange bitters.  I carbonated the cocktail mix in the isi siphon and poured into glasses.  I added a grenadine sphere to each, and an orange twist.  Mary was worth the wait, and when that grenadine bomb goes off at the end of the drink it's freaking awesome. Thanks to Hans at ChefSteps for updating Mary for these modern times. 
Modern Mary Pickford: Rum, Pineapple, Spherified Grenadine

Grenadine Sphere in Mary Pickford
Modern Mary, View from the Top


The Grenadine Bomb - Reverse Spherification


Chocolate Orange Martini


The final drink of the night was a chocolate - orange martini.  I quick infused vodka with cocoa nibs in the whipping siphon, then mixed 2 parts infused vodka, 1 part Cointreau and 1 part cream.  Strained and topped with dark chocolate shavings.  Probably my least favorite of the evening, but not really my type of drink either. 


Chocolate Orange Martini

And that wraps it up.  8 cocktails, 10 people, myself included.  With many drinks planned, I kept the pours on the small side.  It was fun, mostly delicious, and I got to do some cool new techniques I hadn't tried before.  I still want to get to the Aviary, but in the meantime, I'll have to settle for this.  Here's the menu for the evening:





Magnificent Lardon Presents:
The Aviary Throwdown
November 9, 2013







Negroni In The Rocks
Hendrick's Gin, Campari, Rosso Vermouth, Orange Twist

Foster
Eagle Rare Bourbon, Banana Juice, Caramelized Banana, Vanilla Bean

Fuzzy Navel
Tangerine, Peach Schnapps

Thai Cactus
Espolón Tequila, Agave, Tuna, Dragonfruit, Guava, Persimmon, Lime, Lemongrass, Jalapeno, Mint, Thai Basil, Soda Water

Mary Pickford
Ron Zacapa Rum, Pineapple Juice, Luxardo, Orange Bitters, Grenadine Sphere

Churchill's Breakfast
Bulleit Rye, Cold Brew Coffee, Maple Syrup, Angostura, Cinnamon Smoke

Hot Cider
Laird's Old Apple Brandy, Riesling, Simple Syrup, Granny Smith Apple, Cranberry, Raspberry, Hibiscus, Ginger, Sage, Thyme, Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice

Chocolate Orange
Cocoa Nib Infused Reyka Vodka, Cointreau, Chocolate Shavings




The original plan / cheat sheet


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cooking Paraphernalia, or My Family Has Become Concerned About My Habit

On Friday, I recieved a new toy to play with that left some of my family and friends concerned.  It looks like this:


Rather than explain what it is (a coffee siphon) and what it does (hot extractions), I shot a little video of my first attempt with it, to demonstrate to all that I'm not going all Walter White...Enjoy!





Salmon was cooked at 46C, plated on a bed of Baby Bok Choy, Scallions, and Enoki Mushrooms, then finished tableside with the Dashi Stock and Salmon Skin Chicharróns.

46C Salmon, Baby Bok Choy, Enoki, Scallion, finished with Tableside Dashi Stock

46C Salmon, Baby Bok Choy, Enoki, Scallion, finished Tableside with Dashi Stock



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Cook Avoids Seppuku

Sometimes you just say, fuck it, I'm going to cook up some poison.  In this case, maybe a mild irritant more than poison, but still verging in the realm of poison.  Yes, I'm not going to give up on this poison thing.  Legend has it, that if a diner dies from eating Fugu, the chef must take his own life using the same knife with which he prepared the fatal fish.  Since I was cooking only for myself, this didn't reasonably seem like a potential outcome.  If by chance the poison ended my life, I couldn't very well raise my blade in one final act of solidarity.  Also, I wasn't cooking highly toxic blowfish, but merely a weed capable of inducing paresthesia in any unlucky passerby who happen to touch it.  So carry on...

I had a big bunch of stinging nettles that I thought would be good for dinner.  Since it was just me, I figured I was only risking my own discomfort if things went south.  I'd never cooked nettles before, but I have been stung by them.  In small doses not too bad, but not something you want to unnecessarily subject yourself to.  So, I donned some gloves and set to separating the leaves from the stems.  Soaked the leaves in cold water, then tranferred to boiling water.  They smelled delicious when they hit the boil, and I kept them in there for about 5 minutes until I deemed them safe to eat.

I toasted some pistachios, some garlic, some dried tart cherries, and tossed with the cooked nettles and rice.  I added some feta cheese, and topped with some gratuitous smoked belly that I'd recently made and pickled mustard seeds.  It was pretty tasty, but I think I killed the nettles.  By the time they left the boil, they were sapped of much of the intoxicating (pun semi-intended) aroma that they had when they first went in.  Next time, maybe a litlle less cooking would be ok. 

Rice with Stinging Nettles, Toasted Pistachio, Dried Montmorency Cherries, Feta Cheese, Topped with Gratuitous Smoked Belly and Pickled Mustard Seeds

Stinging Nettles, Toasted Pistachio, Dried Montmorency Cherries, Feta Cheese in Rice, Topped with Gratuitous Smoked Pork Belly and Pickled Mustard Seeds

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Scalloped' Potato Poutine


This weeks Chefsteps challenge was to highlight a dish from a local restaurant and recreate it with a modernist spin. 

About a year and a half ago, a food truck called Kangaroostaurant showed up at the Saturday morning farmer's market.  We stopped by for breakfast that morning and have been going back to be fed by Kelly, Jay and the crew ever since.  They are a proud part of the community, sourcing almost all ingredients from local farmers and purveyors.  They started out doing prep in a commercial kitchen for rent, but quickly outgrew it.  Then they found a space at the girl scout commercial kitchen for a while, but knew that was temporary too.  Again they moved, into the kitchen at the Riverview Gardens, a local green space and community center.  All of these kitchens gave them a base for their operations, but it wasn't until this winter that they found a home and opened the Kangaroost.  As on the truck, the menu changes almost daily based on whatever is fresh and local, and highlights the best food products available in our community.  I'd describe the cuisine as global comfort food produced locally.


Kangaroostaurant

Kangaroost

On occasion, they offer their version of what may just be Canada's greatest contribution to global cuisine:  Poutine.  I don't think most folks in Wisconsin know what poutine is.  Fries?  With gravy? And cheese curds?  Stop it.  That's more deliciousness than most of us can handle.



Kangaroost Poutine

For the challenge, I thought I'd do a modernist version of Poutine in honor of the Kangaroost.   

I started off with the gravy.  I made a brown beef stock in the pressure cooker, then reduced it by about half to intensify the flavor.  I seasoned the jus, and thickened with 1% Xanthan and 1% Iota Carageenan to provide some thermal stability and gravyish consistency.  I wanted to keep the gravy lighter, so I didn't use flour.  I'd never worked with Iota Carageenan before, but as luck would have it, I had apparently been thinking ahead during a modernist pantry order, and I had some on hand.  I wanted a gel structure that would be stable when hot, and that I could break apart the gel matrix and it would reset.  Iota C seemed perfect for this.  It seemed to work ok, because as I heated the jus back up it got nice and thick.  Hopefully it would hold together with the potatoes through the cooking process.  



Then I took potatoes and thinly sliced them, dipping the slices in some cream with salt and pepper.  I laid the potatoes out in a flat sheet, overlapping slightly to create about a 12" x 12" square (or an 18 x 12 rectangle judging from the pic).  Then I put another layer of potatoes on top of these.  I topped the potatoes with the gravy gel (this didn't spread as well as I'd hoped), then rolled as tightly in plastic wrap as I could (this also didn't roll as well as I'd hoped, but I eventually managed).  I compressed the torchons with a few more wraps (ok, ok, an excessive number of wraps) and then cooked in the sous vide circulator at 90C for about 45 minutes.  Luckily, I made 2.
Potato Sheet

Potato Sheet with Gravy - Not the prettiest picture

Potato Torchon - well wrapped

I removed the first one from the circulator, unwrapped and sliced into pieces about 3 inches long.  These went into the deep fryer to get nice and crispy on the outside.  And after a few short minutes in the fryer, they came unwrapped and I was left with a batch of potato chips.  Like I said, lucky I had 2.  I stuck the second potato torchon in the fridge overnight to try again the next day.   

I had to rethink my dish at this point.  Deep frying the potatoes didn't work.  For my second and final attempt to finish the dish, I sliced the potato roll into about 1" long rounds.  The resting period in the fridge had certainly helped them bond together a little better.  Then I pan fried these until crispy, flipping over to get both sides. 

For the cheese, I had some Red Barn Heritage Weis Cheddar that I grated finely.  This cheese is fantastic and made locally here.  It took the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in it's category at the 2012 World Cheese Championships, which I guess isn't too bad of a showing.

Red Barn's Heritage Weis Cheddar


As I looked at the components in front of me, the final plating started to take shape.  It wasn't the original plan, but I think it turned out better.  I put down a bed of the finely grated cheddar, then placed the potato rounds on top.  I finished with Maldon Sea Salt and chopped Chives.  It might not look like poutine, but I think it looks pretty good. 

'Scalloped' Potato Poutine
  
Modernist 'Scalloped' Potato Poutine

*Also...Big thanks to Heat for pointing out the obvious!
 

n occasion, they offer their version of what may just be Canada's greatest culinary contribution:  Poutine.  I don't think most folks in Wisconsin know what poutine is.  Fries?  With gravy? And cheese curds?  Stop i - See more at: http://forum.chefsteps.com/discussion/589/culinary-challenge-10-put-your-own-spin-on-a-favorite-dish-from-wherever-you-live#late