A Salad of Radicchio, Lardons, Green Goddess Dressing and 6-Minute Egg

Radicchio Salad

I crave this salad so much. Finally I managed to replicate it at home. Let me back out a bit. I travel a bit for my work and a few years ago I had a project in Portland, Oregon. A lovely city with amazing food scene and tons of restaurants. One of my regular places was a place called Tasty and Alder. I loved sitting at the bar, getting a cocktail or beer and try something new. I almost always ordered their Radicchio salad. It’s a delightful combination of flavors and textures that I never got tired of. When i figured out that the guys from the Tasty restaurants have a book out, I immediately got a copy.

This puppy is definitely inspired by the classic French bistro salad of chicory and thick bacon pieces (Frisee au lardons). Yet, it is very different. It takes the bitter green and uses red radicchio instead, switches the dressing from a vinaigrette to a rich green goddess dressing and adds some grated Manchego for more salty savory punch. With chunks of soft cooked eggs it is damn near perfection in my book.

Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing is an emulsified dressing that is rich and pungent with herbs. This one is based on a whole raw egg, a couple of hard-cooked egg yolks, avocados, vinegar, green onions and tarragon. These get blended well. Then, as if making a mayonnaise, oil (canola in this case) is added slowly until the whole thing is a creamy thick luxurious sauce. The recipe in the book, Hello! My Name is Tasty makes more than I would need for one or two salad bowls. Good thing too. I used it for all kinds of stuff over the next few days. It’s delicious as a dip for raw vegetables, mixed into a chicken salad instead of mayo or as a sandwich spread.

Egg-Dressing-Lardons

I always have homemade bacon on in the freezer. If you do not, a good quality store-bought thick cut smoked bacon would work. For this one I actually used home-cured smoked pork jowl bacon.  I sliced it slightly thick, cut it into 1 inch pieces and slowly crisped it on the outside and kept it a bit chewy.

Soft cooked eggs are the best but peeling them always was a pain. That was until I learned the method of pricking a tiny hole in the “rounded” end of the egg before cooking it. I don’t much care what the science is (I think it has to do with the air pocket the egg has there or something) but this works pretty much all the time. I do not remember mangling an egg since I started doing that. It’s very easy. I use a thumbtack or small pin and gently poke a hole in the bottom rounded end of the egg and then gently drop it into simmering water. 6 minutes will give you nice soft-runny yolks, 8 minutes are more like a hard cooked yolks. These times are for large size eggs. Then chill the eggs in an ice bath and peel. For this salad, I cooked up 6-minute eggs.

Radicchio

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To prepare the radicchio I cut it into bite size pieces. Then I soaked it in ice water for a bit. It helps it retain a lot of crispness and removes some of the bitterness. Still, it remains plenty sharp and bitter as it should be. So, if you do not like the taste of radicchio, this is not going to help much.

To serve it I tossed the leaves with some of the dressing, black pepper and added shredded Manchego cheese (I also tried it with Parmesan and that works great too). Towards the end of the tossing I added pieces of the tender eggs, the lardons and a handful of more cheese on top. This can make for a wonderful hearty side to steak or chop, but I enjoyed a large bowl as a dinner on its own and satisfied my craving. The rest of the book has a ton of amazing sounding recipe as well. I would love to dig into some more dishes.

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Milk Bar’s Birthday (or Mother’s Day or Any Day) Cake

Birthday Layer Cake7Christina Tosi from Milk Bar loves classic, sweet, indulgent and at times industrial (oh no!) desserts. At least that is what she claims. I really have my doubts about that. You know, about her actually enjoying the shitty cake that comes out of a mix box tasting of chemicals and sugar. I digress, regardless of her inspiration, Tosi produces fantastic sugary treats that are playful, beautiful and delicious. She seems like a delightful person as well judging by her appearances on Chef’s Table and Mind of a Chef TV shows.

Birthday Cake

The cake batter has not one but three different fats: butter, canola oil and shortening. That must be what helps give it an excellent texture and a very good “fridge life”. It is flavored with vanilla and has a bunch of sprinkles mixed in. I baked it in a quarter sheet pan and let it cool there. Then I used a 6 inch cake ring to cut 2 circles and large “scraps”. The scraps will make the bottom layer. This process is pretty typical of all the cakes in Milk Bar cookbook recipes.

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I love some textural variation in cakes. A big part of why I think most cakes are boring is the uniform texture and lack of crunch. Tosi uses a “crumb” between the layers to add that much needed texture and boosts of flavor. Crumb is very much what it sounds like, made from sugar, fat (canola oil in this birthday cake crumb), flour, salt, baking powder and flavoring. Since this is birthday cake crumb it also has sprinkles mixed in. The mixtures is combined in a stand mixer then baked at 300 F for about 20 minutes. Once it is completely cool it is crunchy, crumbly delicious stuff. I used the extras to mix into a homemade ice cream I made. Very proud of that idea. The ice cream was excellent.

Birthday Layer Cake

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Frosting is what brings it all together, holds the layers in place and of course it…well it’s frosting. This one is butter, shortening and cream cheese whipped very well. Then you add glucose, corn syrup, vanilla, powdered sugar a pinch of baking powder and a pinch of citric acid. Why those last 2 ingredients? I’m guessing Tosi again is trying to get it sort of close to what a “store frosting” tastes like. Don’t know, but this stuff tastes 100 times better than any crappy store bought frosting.

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To assemble, the fun part, using the 6 inch ring mold and acetate sheets we start layering. The “scraps” in 3 or 4 pieces go in the bottom. The cake gets brushed with a birthday cake soak (really it’s just milk and vanilla). Then goes the frosting, then goes a layer of crumb. Then a layer of cake and the same sequence again. When that is done the cake gets frozen until 3 hours or so before cutting into it. Slip it out of the ring, remove the acetate and place on a cake stand. Let it defrost and come to proper temperature. Slice and serve.

Birthday Layer Cake3

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A distinctive feature of Milk Bar cake is that they are “naked”, no frosting covering the whole thing and sides. Why? Tosi explains it best. Why go through all that hard work with cake and crumb and frosting and then cover the whole thing up! I agree. It is really beautiful, rich and so delicious.  Below is a gratuitous picture of a recent cake I also made based on Tosi’s formulations; chocolate cake with milk crumb and strawberry frosting. This one stayed delicious even after being in the fridge for a week.

Layer Cake-Chocolate-Strawberry

The Nomad: Scallop Seared with Parsnips and Grapes

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Parsnips and scallops are a delicious match. The coolest thing about this recipe from The Nomad Cookbook is the various ways it uses parsnips. I am especially fond of the cooking method and result of the “pressed parsnip planks” (say that ten time real fast!). I will be using that again for sure. Other than sweet nutty parsnips and shellfish we also have grapes for acidity, freshness and texture. It’s a winning combination fit for a nice quiet dinner.

Parsnip Planks2

Parsnip Planks5

So let’s start with those pressed parsnips planks I liked so much. They are very easy to make. I just tossed 4 parsnips with salt and oil and put them side by side on a parchment lined baking sheet. I topped them with another parchment piece and another baking sheet then weighed them down with a heavy cast iron skillet. After baking them at 350 F for 1.5 hours they are tender, caramelized and flattened. Their texture after the pressed-bake is dense and soft. I cut those into even rectangular planks and before serving I seared them on the skin sides to crisp the skin and add more texture and flavor.

Parsnip Grape Puree

Parsnip Grape Puree2

The base for the scallops and vegetables is more parsnip. This one is a puree made from parsnips, sliced and sauteed in butter and cooked in milk until soft. The parsnips are strained and blended with more butter, green gapes and a splash of the cooking milk to get a smooth puree. The mixture is seasoned with white verjus (tart grape juice basically). To get a very smooth puree I passed it through a strainer and kept it warm.

I like the process that Chef Humm uses in Eleven Madison Park books and in the Nomad book to make seafood stocks. He sautees aromatics (fennel, shallots, celery,..) in oil till soft, adds white wine and allows it to reduce well. This is pretty traditional. Then he covers the seafood and aromatics with ice instead of water. I had never seen this before. The ice gently melts, extracts the flavor from the seafood and simmers for no more than 30 minutes. Done. For this recipe I am supposed to use lobster stock to make lobster nage.

Fish Stock

Not sure how to exactly define the French sauce category of nage. It really sounds cool and smooth and classy. Best way to think of it is an enriched stock made creamy with butter. In this case, I made fish stock (no lobster shells lying around) with red snapper carcasses using the Humm method. I strained it and “nage-ed” it by reducing it and emulsifying it with butter. Then I blended it with green grapes, a little lemon juice, and Xanthan gum. It got strained and resulted in a lovely rich seafood nage.

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Grapes feature yet again here. This time demi-dehydrated grapes. Green and red grapes are steeped in hot simple syrup for 5 minutes. They are then dehydrated in a 175 F oven until “wrinkled on the outside but still juicy”.  This took much longer than the 2 hours the recipe recommends, more like 4 hours.

Grapes-Syrup

Grapes-Dehydrated

What the hell is parsnip bark and why do we want it here? Well, first roast yet more parsnips -not pressed this time-  until very soft. Then carefully remove the skin in big chunks. That skin is the “bark” and after frying in oil and seasoning with salt it is crispy delicious stuff perfect for adding another dimension of texture to the dish. The problem is we kept snacking on them until we had almost none to actually put on the damn plate!

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Parsnip Skin

The scallops are probably the easiest part here, brined (I posted about this a couple times), sliced and seared in oil. A couple of more components include sliced raw red and green grapes tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and paper thin slices of raw parsnip. The parsnip sliced are soaked in ice water until they curl up and look pretty.

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To serve it, I put a thick smear of the parsnip puree on the plate and arrange a couple of parsnip planks on top. Next go the scallops, grapes, parsnip slices and the warm nage.

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Bouchon: Salmon Tartar

Salmon Tartar7

A process more than a recipe.

I bought some really lovely salmon and decided to make tartar with some of it and had no intention of posting about it, but then I took some nice pictures and here we are recorded for posterity.

Salmon Fillet

Salmon Tartar

It’s based on the recipe from Thomas Kellers’ Bouchon cookbook, my reference for most things “French Bistro”. I have not tried a disappointing preparation from this book yet and I’ve tried many (quiche, Parisian gnocchi, Boeuf bourguignon, soups …)

Salmon-Chopped

The first step, chopping the fish is the most important and most time consuming of this whole simple dish. Chill the salmon, really well and then using a very sharp knife mince it by hand. This results in the best texture. Mincing it in a food processor is really not an option and will only make for a salmon paste. Not good for tartar.

Salmon Tartar2

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I seasoned the fish with salt and pepper. Then tossed in some minced shallots, chives and mixed in a few drizzles of olive oil. I used a ring mold to plate the salmon in the middle of the plate.

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Garnishes are strewn around made from hard-cooked eggs chopped very small, chives, red onions and capers.

Egg-Onion

A lightly whipped scoop of creme fraiche goes on top for a luxurious texture and a little acidic freshness. Lastly I squeezed a few drops of lemon juice all over the fish. We enjoyed it with toasted home-baked bread and a glass of white wine for a light satisfying lunch.

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Glandoulat: Red Beans and Pork with Carrots from the Southwest of France

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Cool name but really this is a delicious classic combination of pork and beans made all the more refined and nuanced because it’s another recipe from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France.  It’s perfect for the cool weather months and simpler to prepare than a Cassoulet or Garbure (It’s been a while since I made a good Cassoulet now that I think about it. I should change that.)

beans-water

Like almost any bean dish, first we soak the red beans in plenty of water overnight. Next day I put the beans in a clay pot with an onion stuck with a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick. I do love cooking these dishes in clay pot and let them take their sweet time and simmer slowly. To flavor the dish we reach out to Pancetta, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay. I pureed all that in a food processor to a smooth paste. This stuff just smells great.

pancetta-aromatics-paste

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In a separate pan, I seared pork shoulder chunks in fat. What fat? I’m sure one would wonder. Well, this is southwestern French cooking so traditionally we are using duck or goose fat. As it happens I have duck fat in my freezer….and pork fat…and bacon fat…and chicken fat. Nice fat collection that I use for different dishes. I usually save any fat from the surface of stock and add it to the appropriate jar. This is delicious stuff that lasts forever in the freezer and makes good dishes great.

fats

seared pork

When the pork, seared in a mixture of duck and pork fat, was well colored I added chopped onions and carrots and sauteed that until they barely got some color on them. The entire contents of the pan then gets added to the beans in the clay pot plus the pancetta/garlic paste. Now we let the whole thing gently simmer and bubble away until the beans are very tender. The aroma as this happens is one of those most memorable comforting smells ever.

garlic

This is a beans, pork and carrots dish. So now on to the carrots. Easy task this one. I peeled some nice organic carrots and sliced them crosswise. I then sauteed them in butter with a pinch of sugar until barely done. On another note these are some cool carrot pictures.

carrots

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carrots-butter

I do love a good baguette with these types of French bean dishes. I have upped my game a bit since I last posted about a bean/baguette meal. Using my sourdough starter and a recipe based on the one from the Tartine book I made some delightful baguettes. They were definitely one of the best I’ve made so far. Deeply browned, crispy crackly and with a tender flavorful crumb and perfect for sopping up the awesome juices.

glandoulat

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To bring it all together I scraped any solidified fat from the beans and brought them to a gentle simmer again. Then I added the glazed carrots to the clay pot of beans and put them in the oven, uncovered. This melds the flavors together and starts developing a “crust” on the surface. I stirred the crust in and returned them back to the oven. I did this a few times until service time. The last flourish is to sprinkle the dish with a mixture of minced garlic and parsley, a couple of tablespoons of cognac and some sherry vinegar.

Plum Tart with an Almond Crumble

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Summer is winding down supposedly, even though it is still close to 100 F out there. I do not much like summer in Houston. It’s too hot, too humid too…sunny. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I look forward to its -hopefully- lower temperatures and cooking. Summer does have some things going for it though, like the awesome fruit and sweet corn.

Fruit is what we are talking about when I bring up one of my all-time favorite desserts; the fruit tart (or pie, or gallette,…). This version, created by David Lebovitz is right up there in the Pantheon of amazing tarts. The original recipe, from his book My Paris Kitchen (great book by the way, buy yourself a copy), can also be found on Leite’s Culinaria. The original uses apricots and it is fantastic. The crumble works so well with the tart juicy fruit to add much needed texture and also helps support the fruit and all its juices. It also looks great giving the tart a rustic elegance that is a bit American and a bit French.

Plum

I love the original apricot version but when I wanted to make this recently, no apricots could be found. So, I picked up some really delicious juicy pink plums instead (Plumcots or Pluots specifically). That is really all you need, some delicious fruit and this tart can be made with them.

The dough is pretty classic pate sucrè made with flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and mahlab. Well, wait a minute. What the hell is mahlab?? That is not traditional French. It is my addition to this dough and to many other things to give them a unique flavor and fragrance. Mahlab is the ground up seed of a specific cherry and is used in tons of Middle Eastern and Turkish pastries and breads. I buy the stuff whole because it keeps better from a local Lebanese grocery and grind it with sugar before adding to the dough. About a half teaspoon went into this dough. You can read a bit more about it here. Since it is made from a stone fruit I like to include it in some breads and desserts that have stone fruits, but really it works in all kinds of stuff. Try it as an alternative to nutmeg in some things and it will give your dish an exotic can’t-quiet-put-my-finger-on-it flavor.

Mahlab2

Mahlab

When the dough is cooled, I pat it down into a spring-form pan. No rolling or anything, just evenly pat it into the pan with the sides of the dough about halfway up the side of the pan. I have tried rolling it and laying it in there. That works too but I’ve come around to using the hand patting method more. I like the process and speed by which I can get it done. It does not have to be perfect, just as even as possible and the sides close to 2 inches tall or so. This gets blind baked with a piece of aluminum and a bunch of beans for weight and then it is ready to fill and bake.

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This filling is fruit, starch, sugar and some vanilla and almond extracts. After the filling goes in the blind baked shell, it gets topped with a generous helping of crumble made from butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The pie bakes for a good 45 minutes or so and the edges of the crust get a lovely dark color. It seems too dark almost but it is not, it tastes great and the texture is excellent.

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After it cools a bit, it is ready to go. It is delicious with ice cream or whipped cream of course but it is also delicious on its own at room temperature. The only downside to this lovely dessert are those juicy fruits. It does not keep very well. So, try and polish it off with some friends with in 12 – 24 hours of baking which really should not be much of a problem.

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Ivan Ramen: Toasted Rye Noodles

Toasted Rye Noodles5

Noodles are just awesome. Italian spaghetti, Vietnamese bowl of Pho, a bowl of spicy Thai curried noodles…they are all awesome. A bowl of Japanese ramen is right up there in the culinary Pantheon of noodles. I’ve had a lot of the stuff and I’ve cooked it at home a few times. I have never made the ramen noodles from scratch though. I’ve always bought them.  This time I made the labor intensive and long recipe from Ivan Ramen, the book by Ivan Orkin (well, I did have to make a few concessions when some ingredients where pretty much impossible to find). The noodles are a major component of course and I decided to make them at home this time around.

Ivan uses an interesting and non-traditional mix of flours to make the noodles including rye and some cake flour. Rye is there for flavor and the cake flour for a more supple and tender texture. Before adding the rye I toasted it for about 4 minutes to add an extra layer of flavor. The traditional ramen noodle texture is kind of firm, springy and slippery. It also has a yellow tint (NOT from food coloring). We get that by adding a substance to tilt the mix to be more alkaline. Traditionally a product called Kansui is used. According to this site it’s a mixture of Sodium and Potassium Carbonate.

Toasted Rye Noodles

I did not use Kansui. Years ago, Harold McGee published an article in the NY Times about baking some baking soda to make it perform the same job as Kansui. From the article some cool scienc-y talk (I love Mr. McGee and everyone should have his book On Food and Cooking)

“Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which already includes one proton and so has a limited ability to take up more. But if you heat baking soda, its molecules react with one another to give off water and carbon dioxide and form solid sodium carbonate, which is proton-free.”

 In his book, Ivan also recommends using this technique. So, I baked some baking soda and added that to the mix.

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The rest was pretty easy. The flours and liquid plus baked baking soda are mixed for a good bit, about 10 minutes, in the Kitchenaid mixer. Then the dough is allowed to rest and hydrate and soften for 30 minutes. I was concerned that the cake flour will make the noodles too difficult to handle. Indeed, I needed to pass the dough a few more times through the pasta machine’s thickest setting than normal. In the end it came together well and made nice, rye-speckled, alkaline-smelling (in a good way) sheets.

I cut them on the thinnest setting and spread them in a baking pan after tossing them well with corn starch. After our first dinner a few hours later, I stored the remaining noodles in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, to see how they keep. Again, worked out pretty well. We ate ramen for a few days to follow and the noodles did not stick or turn too brittle. The noodles are delicious. They are slippery but maintained a nice toothsome texture and had a lovely flavor that stood out to all the savory richness of a bowl of ramen. I will be making them again but I might try the Momofuku version next to see how they compare.

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