Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Swiss Apple Spätzle (Spaetzle)

I have recently discovered a fabulous blog called FXCuisine written by François-Xavier from the shores of Lake Geneva.  It has everything a great blog should: gorgeous photography, captivating stories, clearly written recipes, and pounds (or kilograms in this case) of butter.  The only reason I haven't been cooking from it all the time is the inaccessible rustisity phenomenon (IRP).  Legs of lamb get roasted over an open hearth and pasta shapes require very particular equipment.  It's kind of like molecular gastronomy recipes that require you to build a small nuclear reactor in your kitchen.  I call that molecular gastronomy phenomenon (MGP).  You read, you fantasize, and leave it at that.  But there was an FXCuisine recipe, Swiss Apple Spaetzle that was completely accessible to me and was only waiting for the right kind of apple -- honeycrisp.  I saw it in the store today and in about 20 minutes, the spaetzle was ready.  It was applicious!  The idea of a dessert pasta might sound strange to you, but I grew up on blueberry and cherry vareniki (Ukrainian pierogies), so apple spaetzle felt like a happy childhood memory I made as an adult.

Thanks François-Xavier!

Here is my adaptable of the recipe.

Special equipment: You’ll need a small-hole grater and a spaetzle maker.

Serves 6-8 for dessert

For the batter:
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
7.5 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1.5 cups scooped and leveled)
2 apples (Honeycrips, Granny Smith, or Cortland)

To finish the dish:
1/3 cup home-made breadcrumbs (or panko)
1/4 cup calvados
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (a good squirt)
2 Tbsp sugar (or to taste)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)

  1. Peel and grate the apples on the small-hole grater.   Don’t squeeze out the juice – you need it in the batter.    
  2. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and salt with a whisk.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in 8 oz of grated apples (about 1 cup).  Stir in flour to form a thick batter.  Let it rest 10 minutes.
  3. Heat water to a boil in a saucepan that is narrow enough so that the short ends of the spaetzle machine can rest on its rim. 
  4. Combine breadcrumbs in a large skillet (ideally non-stick) with 2 Tbsp butter and cook over medium heat stirring often until golden.  Remove from skillet and set aside. 
  5. Add calvados to skillet and boil it down to reduce in half.  Take off heat. 
  6. Salt the boiling water lightly and reduce heat to medium.  Set the spaetzle maker over a piece of foil and set the square container in the tracks.  Fill the square container with batter.  Set the spaetzle maker over boiling water and remove the foil so that the batter can start to pour out.  Move the square container quickly back and forth along the tracks until all the batter is in the pot.  Stir with a slotted spoon to make sure no pieces are stuck to the bottom.
  7. When spaetzle float, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the skillet with calvados.  Add remaining 2 Tbsp butter, cut into 4 pieces, and a quirt of lemon.  Stir well.  Repeat with remaining batter until all spaetzle is cooked.
  8. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and mix to distribute.  Top with breadcrumbs and serve immediately. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

50 cooking videos project

12 months
1 flip video camera
1 Sony Vegas Movie Studio
1 crazy culinary instructor
50 videos

During the next 12 months (Sept 2011 - Sept 2012), I will be working on making short videos to demonstrate cooking techniques. My goal is to make 50 videos that will cover topics like how to sharpen a knife, how to cut various vegetables, how to sear meat, etc.  

These videos are for you, my dear cooks, so please chime in.  I have my list of topics.  Most of them are techniques that I teach in my classes that produce the reaction of "Aha!  So that's how you do it!"  If you want to see how to do something in the kitchen, leave me a comment, and I'll consider adding it to the list.

Wish me luck!

Update: Here are the videos:
  1. Claw and Pinch Grip
  2. Dicing Carrots, Celery, and other Vegetables
  3. How to slice an onion
  4. Dicing an Onion Video
  5. How to slice a shallot
  6. Dicing and Mincing a Shallot
  7. Slicing and Mincing Garlic
  8. Mashed Garlic
  9. Herbs
  10. Celery Root Peeling and Cutting
  11. Peeling and Cutting Butternut Squash
  12. Ginger (and Pear Ginger Tart Tatin)
  13. Julienne and Brunoise
  14. Slicing and Dicing Bell Peppers
  15. Slicing Fennel
  16. Browning Meat
  17. Testing Fish for Doneness
  18. Washing Swiss Chard, Kale, and other Leafy Greens
  19. Roasted Swiss Chard
  20. Deglazing a Pan and Making a Sauce
  21. Trimming a Rack of Lamb
  22. Deboning a Chicken (to make a boneless breast roast, and bone-in leg roast)
  23. Searing Fish
  24. Seared Duck Breasts
  25. How to Cook and Eat a Whole Fish
  26. Homemade Pasta Part 1: the dough video
  27. Homemade Pasta Part 2: shaping video
  28. Homemade Pasta Part 3: cooking and saucing
  29. How to Poach an Egg Video
  30. Stirring the Pot
  31. Poached Eggs for Company
  32. Asparagus 2 Ways: Ribbons and Blanched
  33. Seared and Grilled Asparagus
  34. How to Steel a Knife
  35. How to Grill Fish
  36. How to plate your food so you get laid

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Raw Fish Western Style (Arctic Char with Quinoa)

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a raw fish dish?  Sushi, right?  As much as I love sushi, I think there is a whole frontier of western style raw fish dishes that is left unexplored by home cooks.  Even the restaurant chefs rarely venture into this territory.  The inspiration for this post was my recent trip to Seattle.  I noticed that raw fish dishes appeared a lot more often on the menus of New American restaurants there than they did in Boston.  One of the restaurants, Anchovies and Olives even had a whole section of the menu devoted to raw fish preparations.

I've ordered every single raw fish dish I came across -- all for the sake of research.  It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.  Here are some trends that I noticed and my thoroughly opinionated comments.

Moroccan Lemon is the New Soy Sauce
At least half of the raw fish dishes used Moroccan Lemon for seasoning.  Moroccan Lemons (aka Preserved lemons) are salty and briny with a huge kick of umami, and work well with any raw fish.  I give this trend two thumbs up.   I used to make preserved lemons myself, but now I just buy them at Formaggio's (some Whole Foods markets carry them too). None of these places display them, but if you ask in the cheese department, they'll be able to get you some.

Nuts and Grains
Pine nuts and farro might not be the first ingredients that come to mind, but they make lovely accompaniments to raw fish.  The crunch of the nuts provides a nice textural contrast to the flesh of the fish.  We like tempura crumbs with raw fish, so why not nuts?  And if rice goes so incredibly well with raw fish, why not farro or quinoa?

Some fruit worked: grapefruits, oranges, tart apples.  Some fruit didn't: rhubarb (too sour) and cherries (too sweet).  Rhubarb had potential.  If it was cut paper thin, it might have worked.  That's true about most of the ingredients in raw fish dishes.  Size is crucial since it controls the texture and flavor intensity.

When all else fails, try fennel
Fennel was used a lot and for a good reason.  Its subtle minerality complements the flavor of the fish without overpowering it.

Tartars are out, slices are in (unfortunately)
Only one of the raw fish dishes that we could order was a tartar and that was a shame.  Slices work well in Japanese preparations because they are served with soy sauce, a liquid seasoning that can be easily and evenly distributed oven a slice to season it.  I found the seasoning to be very inconsistent in all the sliced preparations that we ordered.  In some cases, the fish was topped with chunky salty ingredients, like moroccan lemons, olives, and capers.  You either got a bite of fish that was too bland, or a bite that was overpowered by a big salty chunk.  The sprinkling of salt on the slices was very inconsistent.  It's hard to distribute salt evenly over such a thin slice, especially since it doesn't have a chance to absorb.  That's when tartars would have come in very handy.  By cutting the ingredients small and mixing them together, it would be possible to make the seasoning much more even.

Why are slices more prevalent than tartars these days?  I am guessing it has to do with presentation.  Tartars look good shaped with a cylinder mold and that's the vertical food look that is now passe.  These days, chef like to keep things low.  Have you noticed how all the vegetable purees are now smeared over wide rectangular plates?  Thinly sliced fish helps to keep things flat.  I just think it's a shame that the looks come before the taste.

I was so inspired by all the ideas I got in Seattle that our first meal in Boston was an arctic char tartar.

If you decide to make this dish, make sure you first learn how to manage risk when working with raw fish.  This dish requires very accurate cutting technique.  Here are some videos on keeping knives sharp and using a claw grip.

Arctic Char Tartar with Quinoa

Serves 6 as the first coarse

Fish substitutions: farm-raised salmon frozen for 7 days (or sold as sushi-grade), branzino, hamachi

1 Lb arctic char, skinned, bones removed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3/4 cup cooked and cooled white quinoa

3/4 cup zucchini, cut into 1/8 inch dice (about 1 small)
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 preserved lemon (skin only), very finely minced (it's a quarter of a lemon, not 1/4 cup!)
1/4 cup finely minced fresh herbs (any mix of cilantro, chives, tarragon, dill, mint)
a few shakes of cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander (optional)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, and stir very well.  Taste and add more salt, lemon juice, or olive oil as needed.  Serve immediately.  Quinoa and all the vegetables can be prepped in advance, and fish can be diced.  But don't add lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper until ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to keep your knives sharp (video)

If you buy a high quality knife (like a $100 Wüsthof), it will stay sharp for a long time.  Right?  Wrong.  All European style knives need daily maintenance.  There are many ways to maintain your knives.  Here is one that doesn't take any practice to master.

The tool I am using in this video to sharpen is Accusharp.

Here are some FAQ from my Knife Skills class.

Q: Is it ok to cut on my counter? 
A: Only if it’s a butcher block.  You should only use your knife on wood and plastic.  No glass cutting boards, please!  Here are some common surfaces people abuse their knives on: granite countertops (or any other hard countertops), pyrex dishes, skillets, and plates. 

Q: How should you store knives? 
A: Butcher blocks, magnetic strips, or knife trays that go into your drawers.

Q: Taking my knife to a professional sharpener is a pain.  He asks me to drop the knife off and then pick it back up.  Is there any other way?
A: Yes!  I got this wonderful tip from Matthew Amster-Burton in Seattle.
Buy yourself a Victorinox Forschner Fibrox chef’s knife once a year.  That's the knife I am using in all my videos.  Use Accusharp or steel on it daily.  In the end of the year, buy a new one (Amazon sells them for about $28) and give your old one to a friend or sell it on Craig’s List. 

Q: What do you think about electric sharpeners by Chef’s Choice?
A: They are great, but expensive.  But if you get on one, you won’t have to see a professional sharpener ever again.  If you are going this route, I’d splurge on the model that has adjustable angle in case you ever get Japanese hybrid knives.  It sells for about $170.

Q: What should I do to maintain my serrated bread knife?
A: Nothing.  It doesn’t require daily maintenance.  Every couple of years, take it to a professional for a new edge. 

Q: Can I put my knives in a dishwasher?
A: I suggest that you don’t since it’s hard to secure them and make sure they don’t bump into anything.  I also suggest you don’t put knives into the sink under a pile of dishes or in dish rack (unless it’s empty and the knife won’t touch anything).