Day Trippin'

Today I decided to take a trip to my local Asian supermarket (something I'd meant to do for some time now,) and I certainly was pleasantly surprised. What awaited me was a plethora of 'authentic Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Vietnamese products' of whom I am generally quite fond, as Asian cooking and ingredients have a special place in my heart.

While wandering the aisles for what seemed like hours (actually, it was hours) I found a wonderful selection of grocery list items that my usual HEB trips had failed to deliver. The oh-so -hard-to-find large tapioca pearls (giant 'faux caviar', beware,) shiro miso, lotus root, palm sugar, Chayote, curries and so much more leapt from the shelves into my basket.

Most notably, MT Supermarket has a fish and meat section to be reckoned with. The entire back wall of a gigantic store was packed with a wondrous selection of fresh fish and seafood, topped off by several large tanks full of live, swimming fish, as well what might be the largest pork selection ever (go figure.)

One item in particular caught my eye, and inspired this delicious and beautiful Thai recipe. Fresh, not frozen, head-on, prawns. Not really big shrimp, actual honest-to-gosh prawns (note the pincers.)

Grilled Prawns with Red Curry Vermicelli

1/2 lb. Prawns, heads removed, peeled (reserve heads)
1 T. red curry paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup Thai Basil, chiffonade
2 oz. Vermicelli (rice noodles)

Skewer the Prawn tails (head end down) to keep straight while cooking.
Season with salt, pepper and olive oil. Grill about 1-2 minutes a side.

Squeeze the 'goodness' out of the reserved Prawn heads.
Combine curry paste, coconut milk and the 'goodness.'
Bring to a simmer and whisk to dissolve.

Soak the vermicelli in water for about 5 minutes.
Cook in boiling water for another 5 minutes.
Drain. Toss with 1 T. curry and the basil.

1 Basil leaf
Lotus Root, peeled and sliced thin (about 1/8")
1 reserved Prawn head

Fry the basil leaf, lotus chips, and the Prawn head until crispy and golden.

Plate with more curry and enjoy.

All in all it was a wonderful dish, and it left me wishing I had bought about 15 more. These Prawns were like mini-lobsters, and had a similar flavor and sweet succulent ocean goodness. Grilling them lightly preserves that flavor and texture, and leaving the curry on the side allows you to regulate the heat level to your liking.

My New Favorite Salad

With my new toy arriving from Kerekes, I decided to take a few vegetables for a turn, and this salad was the glorious and delicious result.

Roasted Golden Beet, Carrot and Fennel Salad:

2 carrots, sliced
2 golden beets, roasted, sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
4 strips bacon, cooked and diced (reserve fat)
1/4 avocado, sliced thin
1/4 cup Basil, chiffonade
1 egg, poached
1 slice Ciabatta topped with Idiazabal cheese, toasted

Reserved bacon fat
1/4 cup white balsamic
1 T. honey
salt and pepper as needed

Whisk to combine.

Toss carrots, beets, fennel, bacon, and basil with dressing.
Top with poached egg, avocado, and a chiffonade of basil.
Serve with cheese toast.

The crunch from the vegetables and the bacon matched with the smoothness of the egg and the avocado created a lovely textural contrast, and the yolk from the egg added a velvety richness. The cheese toast was a nice textural element as well as a tool to sop up all of the delicious runoff.


The Lab - Pea Ravioli

For my first foray into so-called 'molecular gastronomy' I decided to try my hand at re-creating an inspirational dish from Ferran Adria, the master himself. El Bulli's Pea Ravioli are one of their signature menu items that helped propel El Bulli into 'Best Restaurant in the World' status. Off I go.

Seeing as it was my first experiment with these ingredients, I referenced the hydrocolloid recipe collection at khymos.org.

Pea Ravioli:

Settling Bath:
1500 g Cold Water
10 g Calcium Chloride (0.67%)

Combine the water and the calcium chloride. Stir to dissolve. Chill.

130 g Frozen Peas
162 g Water
3 Mint Leaves
1.5 g Sodium Alginate (0.5%)

Heat the peas in enough water to cover for about 4-5 minutes. Add mint leaves for the last minute or so. Shock in ice water bath. Strain.

Combine the sodium alginate and water, blend to mix evenly. (I found it worked best to use a tall container and add the sodium alginate to the water gradually, with the immersion blender running.)

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Cool to room temperature.

Combine the peas and the room temperature sodium alginate/water. Blend until smooth.

Dip a rounded (plastic measuring) Tablespoon into the bath, then pour the pea mixture just to fill the spoon. Dip the spoon into the bath, and rotate to release the 'ravioli.'

Let sit in the bath for two minutes (longer time creates a thicker coat) and then remove to a cold water bath.

Plate and serve immediately with sea salt and a mint sprig.

It took me a few tries to get the proper technique down for making nicely rounded shapes, but the results were spectacular. I found that coating the spoon with a little of the calcium chloride bath made it much easier for the mixture to release from the spoon, and helped to ensure the rounded shape. These 'ravioli' have a wonderful texture, the coating dissolves in the mouth and leaves just the essence of peas.


The Laboratory

Let the experimentation begin! I received my package from Willpowder today, and I can't wait to get into the kitchen and attempt to replicate all of the crazy things I have seen/read about. Ferran Adria and Wylie Dufresne beware.

I went for the gusto and chose three of the 'package' offers: Balls of Fury (Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride, Sodium Citrate, Calcium Lactate, and Calcium Lactate Gluconate), The Pantry (Lecithin, Egg White Powder, Tapioca Maltodextrin, Agar Agar, and Xanthan Gum, Honey Granules), and the Crazy for Meth (5 types of Methylcellulose.)

Stay tuned for a host of fun experiments to come.


Mother's Day/Birthday Celebration

To celebrate Mother's Day as well as my birthday, the family, the girlfriend and I went to Jeffrey's here in Austin for dinner last night. We'd done the fine dining rounds for previous birthday/holiday dinners, Uchi, Wink, Zoot, Fino, Vin Bistro, but never Jeffrey's. The 'crown jewel' as it has been called had yet to be experienced. Off we went.

Although parking was a little limited, the restaurant is in a lovely part of town, and has a very nice ambiance. I could nitpick the space and the service, but I'll focus on the food, which was, good, but not great.

To start, we were offered an amuse bouche of Chilled Avocado Puree with Smoked Salmon and Cucumber. Delicious. (If not for the appetizers/soups this would have been the highlight of the meal.)

We chose three appetizers to share: Crispy Oysters on Yucca Root Chips with Habanero Honey Aïoli, Smoked Foie Gras with Vanilla Poached Pear, Pistachio Slaw & Onion Marmalade, and Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with Balsamic Dijon Sauce & Baby Mushrooms. The appetizers were fabulous. Presentation was lovely, and portions were big enough to share amongst 5 people. My favorite was the Smoked Foie (and I'm not normally a huge foie fan,) that paired well with the poached pears and onion marmalade.

Next came the soups: Chilled White Asparagus Champagne Soup with Crab and English Pea with Wild Mushroom and Asiago Cheese. The best fine dining restaurant in Austin and the Pea Soup was the consensus best dish at the table, go figure.

Finally, for the entrees, we had: Prosciutto Wrapped Salmon, Seared Peppered Tuna, Wagyu Hanger Steak, Braised Short Ribs, and Duck & Shrimp. While nothing really stood out as horrible or was sent back or spit out, nothing jumped up and grabbed our interest as we shared entrees around the table.

Now Jeffrey's can be checked off the list, and all in all, it was a good dining experience. I've had better, but I wouldn't turn down a meal from there either. Good company, good food, great dinner. Thanks to mom, dad, Kate and Jaime.

Duck & Shrimp

Balsamic Braised Short Ribs


Morel Season, oh boy!

Emily from Marx Foods (a nice internet-based distributor of fresh, in-season food items) recently pointed me towards an interesting and rewarding contest they are currently hosting on their website. All it requires is your favorite mushroom-based recipe and you could win two whole glorious pounds of fresh Morel mushrooms. Here's my entry, a delicious Asian-themed risotto utilizing my personal favorite mushroom, Maitake (or Hen of the Woods.)

Maitake Mushroom Risotto:

1 lb. Maitake Mushrooms (trimmed of stems, stems reserved, broken apart gently)
Butter (as needed)

Rinse the mushrooms and dry gently. Saute gently in melted butter. Season with salt, pepper, touch of lemon juice. Set aside.

Mushroom Broth:
1 T. canola oil
1 cup leeks, sliced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
trimmed Maitake stems, rough chopped

Sweat veggies in the oil until translucent, add stems and 4 cups water. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Strain.


1 T. Olive Oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 cup Sushi Rice (or any other short-grain rice)
3 cups mushroom broth with 1/2 cup white wine, kept hot
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Sauteed Maitake mushrooms

Sweat shallots in oil, add rice and stir until outside coating of rice is translucent.
Add broth/wine just to cover, stirring occasionally, until rice, when stirred, pulls away from the bottom of pan, then repeating until rice is al dente and creamy. Stir in sauteed mushrooms, cheese. Serve drizzled with a nice olive oil and shaved Pecorino.


Sunday Dinner

In light of the fresh Halibut at my local store, and my desire to use the 'faux caviar' tapioca in practice, our Sunday dinner this week was:

- Pan Roasted Halibut with Balsamic Caviar, Crispy Polenta, Sunchoke Puree with a Roasted Beet and Fruit Salad

Halibut - marinate the filets (about 6 oz. portions, skin off) in a nice Spanish Arbequina olive oil as well as some lemon thyme. Season with salt, grains of paradise. In a hot (cast iron) pan, add olive oil, sear filets (herb side down) and then flip, and finish in the oven (firm not flaky). Rest.

Tapioca - use the technique from my previous post and soak in a mixture of 1/4 cup balsamic, 1/4 cup white balsamic, and 1 tsp. Worcestershire.

Polenta - heat a pan, add 1 Tablespoon of oil, minced garlic (1 clove) and 1/2 cup polenta. Toast about a minute. Add 2 cups water, cook until the liquid is absorbed. In a cool, oiled pan (sheet tray also works,) add the polenta, spread evenly and chill. Remove from the pan when set, cut into circles, sautee to color and crisp, finish in a 350 F oven.

Sunchoke Puree - skin and slice the (3 large) Sunchokes, simmer slowly in 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 cup milk until softened (careful not to burn.) Puree (add more cream if necessary.) Mount warm sauce with butter.

Beets - coat (2) Chiogga beets in olive oil, salt, pepper, and enclose them in foil and roast at about 350 F for an hour. Cool. Cut into squares/circles and slice thin.

Salad - dice asian pear, kiwi, pickled loquat (homemade,) and sun-dried tomatoes, and then toss them with sunflower seeds, salt, grains of paradise, and a chiffonade of Japanese mint.

Plate and enjoy!

I found the tapioca caviar added a nice acidic balance to the richness of the fish as well as the sunchoke puree, and the salad served as a nice contrast (temperature and flavor) to the fish/polenta. We paired this dinner with a really nice Fumaio (blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) from Banfi.


Very interesting ...

I just finished The Reach of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman's work exploring the current trend in the food industry towards chefs as CEOs and brands in themselves. Ruhlman uses an insider's perspective, his personal relationships with many of America's upper echelon of chefs, and his experpience as a former CIA student to delve into the evolution of the title 'chef' and what it means today. From Thomas Keller to Rachael Ray, The Reach of a Chef looks at the rise of the 'celebrity chef' and the continual transformation of the public's view of professional cooking. All in all, a good read and a must for anyone in the industry.


New Acquisition

Thank you mom and dad for my newest addition to an already bustling herb garden, my very own Meyer Lemon tree. It joins lemon thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, sage, holy basil, japanese mint, lemongrass, jalapeno and poblano plants to create quite a formidable selection of culinary accompaniments.