Sunday, July 29, 2012

Random Beets and How to Make Vegetable Foams

Abstraction is not easy to love. For every 100 people in this world who feel trepidation when looking at a painting by Da Vinci or Caravaggio, there is probably only 1 who feels this way about Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. There is always this sentiments of "That's it? My 2 year old could have done it." A few scattered pieces of vegetables and a sauce smeared on a plate usually evoke a similar reaction as contemporary art. If the ingredients were in an unfortunate car crash, that's probably what they'd look like when the impact would toss them onto the pavement.

Enough eating out has made me numb to contemporary plating. I neither like it nor dislike it. I simply ignore it since the only part of food that normally interests me is the taste. But recently a question has been gnawing at me every time I eat out, "If I wanted to plate food this way, could I?" I was not as naive as to imagine it was "something my 2 year old could do." But I had no idea how hard it turned out to be.

The best way to describe my food is Rustic Mediterranean. Most of these dishes involve no plating and are served family style. When I worked in a restaurant, I picked up a few "vertical food" techniques and if someone held a gun to my head I could make my food look presentable by piling the side dish into a cylinder mold and fanning out a sliced protein around it, but I don't usually bother. Given my lack of presentation skill, smeared sauces and "randomly" scattered ingredients give me serious hibbie-gibbies.

Deciding to confront my fear of scattered and smeared food, I set up a little experiment. I had to put together a first course that could be worthy of a Michelin 1 star establishment. Trying to do that as part of our normal daily life while serving a meal to Jason and our kids proved impossible. So I set aside one afternoon for this deceptively simple little trial while Jason was at work and the kids were in daycare.

Giving a contemporary plating to the kind of stuff I normally cook seemed ridiculous. You don't scatter roasted vegetables on a plate and smear some pesto around them. I have quickly learned that most of my sauces can't be smeared or drizzled without looking greasy or runny or generally unappealing. I have also learned that leaving white space around a roasted or braised vegetable doesn't work. The juice and oil leak out and ruin the white space. I decided it was not worth reinventing the wheel. What do most chef's do for contemporary presentations? They cook stuff sous-vide.

The ingredients I decided to work with were beets, radishes, Japanese turnips, pork belly, coriander, rye bread, and spinach. It took 3 hours of active work (not counting all the dish washing), and 48 hours start to finish. There was a lot of trial and error to end up with the right textures. I cooked pork belly, coriander seeds and beet foam twice before I got them right. But the biggest challenge came when I had to put stuff on the plate. No matter where I tried to place those little beets, radishes, and spinach, the arrangement looked either too symmetrical or completely off-balance.

This experiment was not without its successes. My beet syrup didn't spread into a puddle. My foam didn't collapse. My beets didn't bleed onto a plate ruining all that white space. It was a delicious dish. The vinaigrette made with coriander infused pork fat was a killer, and so was the beet syrup. I know the experiment was about looks not taste, but making it all taste good was part of the deal. Overall, it looked decent (at least to my aesthetically challenged eye). All I needed was a catchy name that was absurdly incongruous to the effort involved. Maybe "ham on rye," or something like that, and my little dish could be part of a $100 tasting menu.

But I have so much to learn to serve this kind of food for a real meal. Plate composition and mis en place are real weaknesses for me. I am not used to handling so many components that are time and temperature sensitive. I felt clumsy, inefficient, and generally incompetent.  It reminded me of the first time I made Julia Child's French Onion soup when I was in college. I ended up on the bed crying into a pillow in my attempt to escape the vicious onion fumes. Good thing beet don't make you cry or by the time I was finally done with this plate, I'd be crying into a pillow too.

You might be wondering why I didn't just try to recreate one of the recipes from Alinea, French Laundry, or Under Pressure?   Wouldn't imitating the masters teach me something? I have great admiration for Alinea at Home type of cooks. Such patience and dedication amazes me, but their approach would kill me. It reminds me of paint by number. Follow steps 1 through 100 and you too can paint Mona Lisa. That's not cooking -- it's my idea of hell. There is a lot of detail in these books, but they don't teach the cook the fundamental techniques or how to think and solve problems. What makes Julia Child such a great teacher is that she doesn't just tell you exactly how wide your onion slices should be, she tells you to learn to sharpen your knife and use a claw grip. She doesn't just tell you how many minutes to cook the onions, she tells you what they should feel like, smell like, taste like. Books like Alinea and Under Pressure claim that you don't need this touchy-feely stuff. Just weigh every ingredient to a hudredth of a gram, cook at a precise temperature for precise time, and voila -- nothing to worry about.   Grant will even tell you where to place each component on a plate. But change one small condition -- the thickness of your fish, the shape of your plate, or lack of one ingredient and this perfect system goes crumbling down.

Are there any sharable tidbits that I picked up from my 3 hour rendez-vous with what boils down to a beet salad? Of course!  How about a beet foam? Though this is the technique for aerating any vegetable juice or broth. This produces a relatively loose foam instead of the whipped-egg-white style foam I wrote about earlier.

Vegetable Foam (some chef's call this "Air")

Special equipment:
  • Scale with 0.01g precision -- I use a tea scale that sells on amazon for $12-15
  • Immersion blender
Here are some ideas of liquids you can use:
  • beet juice or stock
  • carrot juice
  • tomato water (salt chunks of ripe tomato, let sit 30 minutes, drain the water to use for foam)
  • porcini liquid (soak 1/2 oz dry porcini in 1 cup boiling water, drain through a sieve lined with paper towel)
  • any fruit juice
  • cucumber juice
  • water or stock infused with saffron and drained
250 grams liquid
0.75g soy lecithin (not the lecithin sold at health food stores)

  1. If you are a bit short on liquid, add enough water to make it 250g (about 1 liquid cup).
  2. Warm up the liquid in a 2 quart pot. The size of the pot actually matters. You want the liquid to be deep enough so that the blade of the immersion blender can reach it, and you want the pot to be wide enough so that the liquid is exposed to lots of air after you get your immersion blender in there. Doing this in a tall narrow container that tightly holds your immersion blender doesn't work. I tried.
  3. Add soy lecithin to the liquid and whisk to dissolve.
  4. Immerse the blender into the pot and blend on high speed moving the blender around. You want the blender just skimming the surface of the liquid so that a lot of air gets beaten in. When enough foam forms on top, let it sit for a minute to stabilize. Skim it off with a spoon and use to top your dish.
Tips and basic principles:
  • More lecithin will not get you more foam or more stable foam. In fact it can destabilize it.
  • Lecithin is an emulsifier found in egg yolks, but soy lecithin is vegan and safe for people who can't have eggs.
  • Don't divide this recipe in half. The liquid won't be deep enough for your blender.
  • For more tips, and excellent chemistry reference written for a lay person (more from a cook's perspective than a chemist's), check out Hydrocolloid Recipe Collection on Khymos Blog. The best reference I've found so far.
  • Try to serve within 5 minutes after foaming.
*     *     *

Some notes about the dish I made. This is for my own use to remember which mistakes not to make the second time.

Day 1
  • pork belly (bought it sliced 1/3 inch thick, 3 inches long)
    • salted, peppered, vacuumed sealed, sous-vide at 190F for 1.5 hours. chilled in ice water, refrigerated
    • removed from bag and tasted -- too tough.
    • simmered for 1.5 hours covered in a skillet on very low with a little chicken stock, bay leaf, and whole coriander seeds
      • I first tried deep frying coriander seeds, but they came out too hard and unpleasant, so threw them in with the pork to simmer. they came out great -- with a little crunch, but relatively soft.
    • removed bacon out of braising liquid, chilled, refrigerated
    • discarded bay leaf and reduced braising liquid over high heat. by the end there was slightly more fat than juice left. cooled and refrigerated.
  • beets (candy striped and regular red)
    • peeled, cut into wedges, sprinkle with a little salt and sugar.  Vacuum sealed with a little butter.  I gave each beet type its own bag to preserve the color.
    • sous-vide at 190F for 50 min
    • chilled in ice-water. refrigerated.
  • radishes
    • cut in half, sprinkled with a little salt and sugar. Vacuum seal with a little butter.
    • sous-vide at 190F for 10 min
    • chilled in ice-water. refrigerated.
  • Japanese turnips
    • cut into wedges, sprinkle with a little salt and sugar. Vacuum seal with a little butter.
    • sous-vide at 190F for 10 min
    • chilled in ice-water. refrigerated.
  • beet broth
    • I happened to have some left over cold beet borsh, so I strained it and used the liquid as beet broth
Day 2
  • pork coriander vinaigrette
    • warmed up the braising liquid in the microwave until fat melted
    • stirred in red wine vinegar and dijon mustard
  • warmed up 250g of beet broth in a small wide sauce pan. added 0.75 grams of soy lecithin and whisked to dissolve
  • seared pork belly in a little grapeseed oil, removed, set aside
  • Toasted very thinly sliced rye toasts in the same skillet where pork belly was cooked, removed and set aside.
  • Removed the vegetables from bags, reserving all the liquid in a cup
  • warmed up the vegetables in the skillet, removed and set aside
  • poured reserved juice, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar into the skillet and reduced until syrupy, poured all but 1 tsp into a squeeze bottle.
  • arranged 3 pieces of bacon on a plate and brushed with pork vinaigrette
  • coated beets with the beet syrup remaining in a skillet and arranged on plate
  • arrange a couple of radish and turnip pieces on the plate
  • dress baby spinach with pork vinaigrette and placed behind the pork belly
  • tucked in rye toast
  • arranged a few rye seeds from the vinaigrette on the plate
  • painted a few beet syrup swirls on the plate
  • whipped the surface of the beet broth with immersion blender. scooped off the foam and arranged several dollops of it on the plate

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Possibility of Tokyo

"What if I went to Tokyo for a week to take cooking classes?"  I asked Jason.  "You know how we talked about me going to a conference somewhere.  Well, I am not big on conferences.  It's all schmoozing and no cooking, and it wouldn't cost any less than going to Japan.  Of course, this is completely crazy and you are welcome to veto this."  Jason thought about it for a minute.  I could see him trying to figure out the kid drop off and pick up schedule in his head, the traffic, the possibility of working from home, and everything else involved with taking care of a 2 year old and 5 year old all alone.  "I think we can make this work," he said.  "How many chances will you get to go to Tokyo and have someone to stay with?  Go ahead and talk to Junko about it."

Junko and Stephen are the reason that my dream of going to Tokyo had a chance of materializing.  We became friends the first week both of our families moved to Natick, MA.  Our daughters were the same age and we frequently got together for play dates.  We were devastated when we found out only a year after we met that they have to move to Tokyo for work.  Our daughters still talk about each other even though they haven't seen each other for 2 years and when Junko and Sophia were visiting Boston this week, it was like not a single day has passed.  The girls were giggling, dancing, and playing together instantly.  Junko gave us an open invitation to visit them as a whole family, but the maximum amount of flying and jet lag that you can get on this planet with 2 little kids was more than we could sanely undertake.

Having kids put the idea of going somewhere alone into the realm of science fiction.  There are times and places for things.  This is the stage of my life when I should be joining a PTA, chaperoning school trips, and redecorating the house.  But there is a strong chance I'll go mad if I go down this perfectly reasonable path.  Putting all form of adventure on hold for the next 15 years because of guilt hasn't worked well so far.  But why should going somewhere by myself be so unreasonable?  Professional women do it.  All my friends who are doctors, engineers, and researchers go to conferences, and they love it.  Of course, they have to do it.  Their managers are requiring them to go and paying for all the expenses.  Since I run my own business, I don't have to do anything unless I decide that it's worth it and am willing to pay for it.  I have finally decided that it is indeed worth it.  Jason and I joked that it was cheaper than therapy and infinitely more fun.

After everyone went to bed, I went to my computer and started searching for cooking classes in Tokyo in English.  By 1am, my hope was deflated like a souffle that wasn't eaten quickly enough.  I knew Tokyo was expensive, but I never realized quite how expensive.  I guess people weren't kidding when they told me about $12 for a glass of coke.  Everything I found was in $400-500 range for 3 hours of instruction.  I just couldn't bring myself to spend this kind of money on a trip that was making me feel a little guilty to begin with.

That's when I remembered about Elizabeth Andoh.  I've used her recipes before with great success and was wondering if she was still teaching in Tokyo.  People call her Julia Child of Japanese cuisine for good reason.  She is fluent in both languages, has lived in Japan since the 70's, went to culinary school in Japan, and wrote several cookbooks about Japanese cuisine in English.  What better person to learn from than Elizabeth!  I found her site (, but to my disappointment learned that she was not currently offering any classes.  I couldn't even find her e-mail address.  "Oh well, maybe it wasn't meant to be after all," I thought.  "There is always a sushi academy in LA."

But I wasn't ready to give up on Tokyo so easily.  The next morning, I thought of someone who could help me reach Elizabeth -- Matthew Amster-Burton.  Matthew is a food writer from Seattle.  We share many interests: Japanese knives, feeding children without relying on chicken nuggets, dry-aged meat, and understanding why things in the kitchen work the way they do.  When we finally met in person on our trip to Seattle, it felt as if we have known each other for years.  A few years ago, Matthew went to Japan with his daughter.  Surely he'd know how to reach Elizabeth. I e-mailed Matthew and got an immediate reply with Elizabeth's e-mail and reassurance that I don't have to bankrupt my family on this trip.  I e-mailed Elizabeth right away, but didn't have high hopes.  Imagine how many e-mails like mine she gets.

That very day, I was up to my elbow in dough when my business line rang.  I picked up the phone with one clean hand, squeezed it under my cheek, and tried to extricate myself from the goop.  "Helen's Kitchen.  How can I help you?" I answered. "Hi Helen, this is Elizabeth Andoh."  I almost dropped the phone into the dough.  Elizabeth Andoh?  The Elizabeth Andoh?  "Elizabeth Andoh from Tokyo?" I asked hesitantly.  "Yes, but I am now in New York, which is why I am calling," she replied.  "I got your message and wanted to talk to you. You are a teacher, and you sound serious about learning Japanese cuisine.  I am trying to put together a group of 3-4 people like you for a very intensive 3 day program.  My hope is that you can pass this knowledge to your students in the US."

Good thing Elizabeth was doing most of the talking because I was speechless.  "This can really happen!" I thought.

If you have any travel advice, leave me a comment.  I am interested in everything: where to get the best priced airfare, where to eat, what places to visit, knife shops, ceramic shops, classes, demos, guidebooks, good websites, Japanese language sites.  Oh, and toy shops.  I'd better bring home some wicked good toys, and hello kitty stuff for my kiddos.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

13 minute egg

What?  Another perfect egg?  Haven't the last 3 perfect eggs been perfect enough?  Let me quote Thomas Keller: "When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about."

This egg is from Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot -- the book I gave a rather unflattering review a month ago.  With this egg, the author's have redeemed themselves.  Saying that it was worth the puny $15 I paid for the book seems silly.  A perfect egg is priceless in my opinion.

Cook a large egg at 167F for 13 minutes.  That's it.  No special equipment, no complicated procedures, no unusual ingredients.  Technically, there is an ice-water bath after cooking and then reheating at 140F.  I skipped these steps since I just needed 2 eggs for my lunch. Although I don't believe that cooking should be quick and easy, some of the best and most elegant ideas are the simplest, just like a good mathematical proof.  I didn't bother with sous-vide supreme; just baby-sat a little pot for 13 minutes.  When I peeled the top of the egg, I noticed how solid it looked compared to 142F sous-vide eggs.   I worried that there was no way it would just pour out, and was expecting real trouble trying to extricate this delicate orb from its shell.  But to my surprise, a few gentle shakes made it slide right out.

I managed to peel and eat the first one before it overcooked.  It was better than any sous-vide egg.  No more snotty white!  This white was exceptionally delicate, but solid -- what a poached egg tries to approach, but never does completely.  The yolk was warm, but completely liquid. By the time I found my camera and took the picture of the second egg, the outside of the yolk has solidified just a bit.  It was still a lovely egg.  But not perfect like the first.  If I was making these for company, the ice water bath would be a must.  Besides, reheating them at 140F would make peeling easier.  Handling a 167F object was a bit painful.  Next time I cook a couple of eggs for myself, I'll try 12 minutes instead of 13.  Since I'll have to give residual heat a chance to finish cooking the eggs, I won't be forced to peel and gobble them up in 1 minute.

I served these eggs with meatballs braised in red wine.  There was no master plan to this.  These meatballs surreptitiously happened to be the only thing in my fridge at the moment.  The combination was reminiscent of the Burgundy classic Oeufs en Meurette (eggs in red wine sauce).

What about 142F eggs that are then peeled and re-poached to firm up the white?  That was the best solution I had until Aki and Alex's recipe, but it was a hack.  Re-poaching firmed up the outside of the egg, but the white texture wasn't even.  The outside formed a firm film while the inside was still jelly like.  It gave the egg a more traditional look, but the texture was not perfect.   Of course, the 13 minute egg might not be the last "perfect" egg on my blog.  There might be a more perfect egg in this universe, but for now this will do.

13 minute eggs

Large eggs (about 57g each)*
Special equipment: Immersion circulator or a Kitchen thermometer

With immersion circulator:
  1. Set up a water bath for 167F.  Prepare an ice-bath.  Add the eggs to 167F water and cook for 13 minutes.
  2. Remove the eggs to the ice-bath for at least 10 minutes.  Can be stored for up to 2 days in the fridge.
  3. When ready to serve, set up a water bath at 140F.  Add the eggs and cook for 10 minutes.  Peel the top of the egg to make an opening slightly bigger than an inch.  Pour the egg out onto a temporary plate.  Carefully pick it up with a large spoon leaving the loose white behind and transfer to the final plate.  Repeat with remaining eggs.  If you are cooking lots of eggs and want to prevent them from getting cold while peeling, return them back to 140F water after making an inch opening in the shell.  Then the procedure of pouring each egg and serving will go a lot faster.
To simulate an immersion circulator with a pot and thermometer: Use a pot that can hold as least 3 times as many eggs as you are actually cooking in a single layer.  For example, if you are cooking 2 eggs, you need a pot that can hold at least 6.  Every 2 minutes, stir the water gently and check the temperature.  If the pot is cooling off, turn on the heat.  If the pot too hot, turn off the heat and add an ice-cube or two.

* July 30 update: Be very careful with egg size here.  I tried this technique on the eggs I got from a farmer's market, and 13 minutes of cooking wasn't nearly enough for the eggs the farmer told me where "Large."  Turned out they were much bigger than a standard Large egg.  A standard large egg weigh 57g in shell and cooks for 13 minutes using this method.  The ones I was cooking were 70g.  For a standard Extra Large Egg (64g), try 14 minutes.  For Jumbo (71g) try 15.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Got foam?

I got the stuff!  These substances are known to induce euphoria in some people.  But since they are legal, I can tell you what they are and where I got them.  The two powders are versawhip and xanthan gum.  My source for them was Mark DesLauriers from ArtEpicure cooking school.  Mark is one of my favorite chefs.  We can talk about food for 3 hours and barely scratch the surface of all the interesting topics.  We were talking about foams.  I just got the ISI Siphon, the thing that functions like Reddi-Wip.  You put in the substance of your choice, pressurize it, and in theory get foam.  I did get foam, kind of.  Just not the kind I wanted.  The only thickener I played with was gelatin. First time, I used too little gelatin, and the foam turned into a puddle by the time I got the dish to the table.  Second time, I used too much gelatin and got something that looked like a thick mousse of strange consistency -- too spongy and unpleasant.  After doing some reading, I had a suspicion that a siphon might be a wrong tool all together.  I didn't want stiff mousse like foams.  I wanted liquids that were bubbly, but still very sauce like.  I had a strong suspicion that I needed thickeners other than gelatin.  Maybe lecithin or agar agar?  Maybe I should try an immersion blender instead of siphon.  Oh bummer, why did I just spend $120 on this gadget?!

After hearing my foam woes, Mark disappeared into his study and came back with a recipe for grapefruit foam.  The equipment was very basic by scientific cooking standards -- just a blender and a mixer.  The trouble was I didn't have any versawhip or xanthan gum.  That was easily remedied.  Mark pulled out his crate of chemicals and made little sample baggies for me.

I followed the recipe to the letter and hundredth of a gram.  The only difference was using an immersion blender instead of a regular one (I don't actually have a regular blender).  An immersion blender didn't allow me to create a vortex in grapefruit juice and pour the powders in.  I just dumped all the powders into grapefruit juice that was sitting in a pyrex measuring cup (2 cup) and buzzed everything together.  Then whipped it in a mixer.

The resulting foam was like whipped egg white with grapefruit flavor.  This effect was produced by versawhip - enzymatically treated soy protein that behaves like albumin in egg whites.  It was incredibly stable.  When I took a look into my KitchenAid after we finished dinner, most of the substance was still foamy.

I served this grapefruit fluff with scallops ceviche, skipping mango this time and adding grapefruit sections cut into pieces before serving.  Here is how to section citrus in case you are wondering.

"If you minus the screaming kids, this is like a good restaurant," said Jason.  "I mean a really good restaurant."

Whipped Grapefruit Juice

Warning about improvising
Just don't.  Improvisation is my natural state in the kitchen.  I am the first person to substitute an ingredient, make a recipe without all the necessary equipment, and eye-ball amounts.  It doesn't work with these kinds of recipes.

Equipment and unusual ingredients
  • Scale with 0.01g precision -- I use a tea scale that sells on amazon for $12-15
  • Regular or immersion blender
  • Mixer --  I use a KitchenAid stand mixer, but a hand mixer will work
  • Versawhip (rough price: $25/Lb)
  • Xanthan gum (rough price: $20/Lb)
250 grams fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (you'll need 2 grapefruits)
1.25 grams salt
3.75 grams versawhip
0.38 grams xanthan gum
  1. Pour the juice into a blender.  run on medium speed to make a vortex.  Pour salt, versawhip, and xanthan gum into the vortex and blend on high speed for a few seconds.  If using an immersion blender, combine all ingredients in a tall container that is just large enough to hold your immersion blender (I use a 2 cup pyrex glass measure).  Blend on high speed until combined and starts to foam.  
  2. Pour the mixture into a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Whip until soft peaks form.  Alternatively, move into a bowl and use a hand mixer.
I served it immediately, but I bet you could keep it in the fridge and re-whip before serving.

By the way, my allergic to eggs son can eat this stuff.  If you had a good experience using versawhip in baked good, pancakes, etc, instead of eggs, would you mind sharing a recipe?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inconvenient Food: Blueberry Vareniki

I popped a few blueberries into my mouth while unpacking groceries.  They were local, but I didn't expect much.  The only reason I reached for them was because I was really hungry.  Suddenly, I was transported to my childhood.  I was 8 or 9 and concentrating very hard on stuffing the entire varenik into my mouth.  "Be careful," said my Mom.  "They squirt."  I figured that if I stuffed the whole thing into my little mouth, it would be a contained explosion. I carefully bit down on the sour-cream covered dough that popped like a balloon.  The sweet and tangy blueberry juice hit my puffed cheeks.  It snacked on these blueberries raw when helping my mom seal them inside vareniki (Ukrainian version of pierogies), but they were nothing like this.  Somehow wrapping them in dough with a little sugar and boiling them made a teaspoon of blueberries taste like a cup swallowed in one bite -- immensely bright and juicy.

Friends of ours, who were visiting from Tokyo this week, were coming over for dinner.  I still had to finish unpacking the food, cook dinner, and pick up the kids from daycare.  I looked at the clock.  An hour and a half left.  Without a moment's hesitation, I got out the flour and started the dough.
I don't know if I would have done this last week.  The practical side of me would have insisted on sticking with the planned menu and do what's easiest.  Who starts a pasta from scratch project when time is of the essence!  No matter how much I love to cook, 5 years of motherhood have made me wary of serious culinary undertakings.  It was a subconscious decision to stay away from anything adventurous and inconvenient.  Lately I've been reaching for safe, easy, and comfortable whether I am deciding what to cook, where to go on vacation, what to wear, or what classes to teach. We are conditioned to think that convenience is always a good thing.  But is it?  If it's not worth the risk, the time, and the effort, what is it worth?

I am used to pierogies being made for an army and taking hours.  My Mom does not produce these things in smaller batches and for good reason.  No matter how much she makes, they get eaten.  But I only had one little box of blueberries to use and I was done in slightly over an hour.  The KitchenAid pasta roller and the food processor did help.  I guess a little convenience is not such a bad thing after all.  

Blueberry Vareniki

Serves 4

For the Dough
9 oz all-purpose flour 
2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1 tsp table salt) 
1 large egg, plus enough water to equal 5.2 oz of liquid ingredients

For the Filling
Semolina flour (or more all-purpose flour)
Tart blueberries

For serving

Sour cream or yogurt
More sugar


(At least 1.5 hours before shaping)
  1. Put flour and salt into a food processor bowl and process for 10 seconds.
  2. Whisk the wet ingredients. With the processor running, pour the wet ingredients into the food processor through a feed tube and mix until the dough comes together into a ball. You might need to scrape the sides and rearrange the dough if it gets stuck. If you are not getting a ball after 1 minute of mixing, drizzle in a little more water, 1 tsp at a time.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and start kneading. After the first 2 minutes of kneading, the dough should be soft, pliable, and slightly tacky, but not sticky. If it continues to stick to the work surface, add a little flour and continue kneading. Knead for 8 minutes total. Don't short cut this step. Kneading is what develops gluten and makes your dough elastic and workable later.
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24.
Here is a video of the dough technique with slightly different proportions for Italian Pasta.

Rolling and Filling
  1. Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper and sprinkle with semolina flour (all-purpose works too).
  2. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Roll them out using a pasta roller to the 6th setting.  Start on setting one and increase the setting on each pass.  Don'g forget to flour the dough frequently to prevent sticking.  Rolling pin works too, but it's an acquired skill to get dough to be 1-2 mm thick.
  3. Cut the dough ribbon into circles that are about 2.5inches in diameter with a cookie cutter.
  4. Put a spoonful of blueberries and a pinch of sugar into inch circle of dough.  Try different blueberry amounts until you figure out how much you need for your circle size.
  5. Pinch the edges together to form a half circle shape and place on the semolina covered cookie sheet.  If the dough is sticking to you and not to itself, flour your fingers.
  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add vareniki, cook for 2-3 minutes (depending on their size and the thickness of the dough).  Bite into a corner of one to test the dough texture.
  2. Remove vareniki into a warm bowl using a slotted spoon.  Toss with butter and sugar to taste.  Serve with sour cream or yogurt.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sous-vide Chicken Thighs

Sorry, no picture folks, but I finally found the perfect sous-vide temp/time for chicken thighs.  150F for 1.5 hours.  It was Nom Nom Paleo blog that showed me the light.  I used boneless skin-on thicken thighs cured overnight like for confit.  Actually, it wasn't as much salt as traditional confit.  I seasoned them at about 0.8% by weight and added some black pepper, shallots, and fresh sage to the mix.  The next day I dried them off, and vacuum sealed with duck fat (about 2 tsp fat per thigh).  I cooked them in 150F bath for 1.5 hours.  Chilled in ice water and weighed them down with a cast iron skillet in the fridge for a few hours to flatten the skin.  Then I poked the skin all over with a paring knife to help the fat render and seared them in cast iron skillet until golden and crispy.  The meat was very juicy and skin very crispy.

If you have some sous-vide ingredient/temp/time that you've used successfully, let me know.  For chicken thighs I've found everything from 180F for 8 hours to 150F for 1 hour.  I wish there were better sous-vide resources available for home cooks than the ubiquitous advice that you can leave things in the bath as long as you want because they won't overcook.  I hear Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine at Home is coming out in October.  Let's hope it will pull us out of sous-vide dark ages.