French Laundry: “Banana Split” – Poached Banana Ice Cream, White Chocolate-Banana Crepes and Chocolate Sauce

A classic flavor presented in a very untraditional and delicious way, classic Thomas Keller. Here we have sweet crepes, filled with a mixture of white chocolate and poached pureed bananas. I poached the bananas in a mixture of cream and milk until soft. The poaching liquid is then used to make a custard base for a vanilla bean ice cream that has a good banana flavor.

For the crepes, I filled them and formed them into cylinders with plastic wrap and then froze them till service time. They are then sliced and allowed to warm up a bit. I could be wrong but the goal here is to get a texture not unlike that of a ripe banana. By mixing the melted white chocolate with the banana puree and allow it to freeze and thaw, we get exactly that. A texture and taste that is familiar but at the same time not quiet so.

Garnishes, again, are very traditional. We have -or supposed to have- Maraschino cherries, sweetened whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Real Maraschino cherries are very different than that bright red crappy things you get in your frozen daiquiri. They are cherries soaked/candied in a Maraschino liquor such as the fantastic Luxardo. If we are going to be real traditional, the cherries are also supposed to be Marasca cherries. You can buy these delicious Maraschino cherries in gourmet shops or online, but they are not easy to find in your typical grocery store. Bottom line is: I had none, had no time to shop for them, so I made something to sub for them. What I did is bring sugar, brandy and port to a boil and turned off the heat. Then used that mixture to plump-up a bunch of dried Bing cherries. The result is not the same as the real deal, but still delicious and 100 times better than the fake orbs that garnish Shirley Temples everywhere.


Crab and “Crab”: King Crab, Crab Apple, Basil and Olive Oil Jam

I so need to work on my presentation skills. Funny thing is I had a much better “scheme” for this plate on paper, but not sure why I did not follow it last-minute. Oh well, next time around. One thing I can say is that flavor-wise this worked wonderfully and it really does not look too horrible…just not as nice as I intended.

The dish started when I bought a few crab apples and made a sorbet from them. I used a recipe from the “Alinea Cookbook” for that sorbet. At Alinea they serve the sorbet as part of a cheese course of sorts, along with an olive oil jam, cheddar, onions, eucalyptus and pepper tuile. I wanted to use some of those components but wanted to make a dish with king crab legs, admittedly being able to name the dish Crab and Crab was part of the attraction. However, I knew the combination would also taste good. Sort of a substantial salad course, made with lovely chunks of king crab legs.

The sorbet is made with crab apple that were cooked sous vide until tender and then passed through a sieve. The apple puree was mixed with sugar and a little salt. The end result is a bit more savory than a regular sorbet and, because it is made with crab apples, a little high on tannins giving the mixture a bit of a puckery mouth feel if that makes any sense. The sorbet was delicious but I cannot see it standing on it’s own, it’s definitely designed to be part of a multi-component dish.

The pepper tuile is made with isomalt, glucose and fondant. The mixture comes up to 320F temp, is poured into a sheet and allowed to cool. Then I ground it up in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. From this point on the tuile can be flavored in any number of ways with spices and sieved in an even layer and baked for a few minutes until it’s melted. It can be shaped, broken into shards or used to encase ingredients (like the pork belly here for example). As far as I know this process was pioneered by the crack team at elBulli in Spain. In this case the tuile was flavored with lots of black pepper and broken into irregular shards. It looked like glass and had a nice pepper kick. The olive oil jam, also from Alinea, is sort of a sweet cross between a custard and mayonnaise! Sounds gross, I know, but absolutely addictive. It’s made with olive oil, trimoline (invert sugar), eggs and meyer lemon juice.

Other than peeling the crab legs, I barely did anything to them. I just heated them briefly in olive oil and dressed them with a little meyer lemon juice. The basil spheres were made by mixing basil puree with calcium lactate and sugar and then freezing the mixture in ice cube trays. Before service the cubes go into a sodium alginate mixture until the outside sets and encases the sweet basil mixture. The plates were garnished with preserved meyer lemon, cut into a dice.

Needless to say I had a good bit of bits and pieces of crab other than what was served in this dish. These were sauteed with shallots, garlic and smoked paprika. Delicious on toast with a squeeze of lemon.

Scallops, Meyer Lemon Risotto and Parsley Oil

Most recipes in Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” are simple and the one for scallops is probably one of the shortest, but it uses a technique I probably never would’ve thought about. First the scallops, largest specimens I could find, are brined for about 10 minutes. After a rinse and a pat in paper towels to ensure they are dry, they are cooked in a very hot pan. To cook them, Keller heats clarified butter in a stainless steal skillet (I used my well-seasoned cast iron pan) until smoking hot. The scallops then cook for a relatively long time, about 4 minutes, on the first side in the hot fat. Once flipped, I cooked them for another 2 minutes. They came out perfect, moist and delicious with a wonderful texture.

To serve them I prepared a Meyer lemon risotto flavored with the juice and zest of the fruit. I made it a bit lighter by not adding any cheese and very little butter at the end. For a little richness, an herb flavor and color, I blanched parsley and shocked it in an ice bath. Then the parsley was blended with olive oil and strained to make a vibrant parsley oil.

Momofuku Ramen

I’ve had David Chang’s Momofuku Cookbook for a couple of months now. It is a very good, fun read and the recipes look so porky and tasty. Ramen is where Chang got his start and I knew that’s the first thing I was going to make. The broth is, of course what makes a bowl of ramen great, once you have that done, the rest is a cinch. So, a couple of weeks ago I made a batch of ramen broth following the instructions in the book. The broth is delicious, made with chicken and roasted pork bones, flavored with shiitake mushrooms, konbu and bacon. It’ fantastic on it’s own, let alone in a bowl full of roasted pork butt, crispy pork belly, noodles, a slow cooked egg and sauteed greens. I am very happy to have a good 6 more bowls worth of ramen broth in the freezer.

Tarts – Mixed Berry and Caramelized Banana

Delicious tarts cobbled up with what I had in the pantry and fridge. The dough is a simple 3-2-1 (flour-butter-liquid) with egg yolks making up half of the liquid and ice water the rest. I also added some vanilla sugar for flavor and to help brown the baked pastry. I baked them blind till completely cooked and crispy/flaky. The filling is basic pastry cream made using the solid recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to yours“. I love banana pies, Diana does not. So, hers was topped with a mixed berry sauce (frozen mixed berries cooked briefly with sugar and chilled). Mine was filled and topped with banana, sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a torch then sprinkled with pistachios.

I am Published!

Well, not exactly, as in my own book. However, I’m in the next best thing. One of my recipes made it into Paula Wolfert’s latest tome, “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share“. Paula also included a very thoughtful introduction to the recipe in her inimitable style. I first “met” Paula online via years ago. We never met in person, but we exchange emails frequently and spoke over the phone a few times. When Paula needed testers for the updated version of one of her books I was happy to help. A few years back -yes, she takes her time with the books and it is worth it- Paula mentioned that she is working in a book about clay pot cooking and she asked if I have any unique traditional Lebanese recipes that would benefit from cooking in a clay pot. Two recipes immediately came to mind, both, as far as I know, are not only unique to Lebanon, but unique to the northern part of the country where I come from.

The first recipe we talked about was that of “Makhloota“, a thick soup made with various legumes and grains. It is served warm or room temperature. The other recipe was “M’tabla“, a cold yogurt, wheat grain and corn soup. This one is very summery and is supposed to be served chilled as a side dish to grilled or fried items (like Kibbeh) or on it’s own for a filling snack. At first both recipes were supposed to make it into the book, but unfortunately the “Makhloota” did not due to space restrictions.

It really gives me much pleasure to see the simple recipe that my grandmother made and still does make it to the published work of an author such as Paula. When I told my grandmother and mom about it, they both got such a kick from it that it made waiting for years for the book to be published very much worth it. I promised I will be sending them a copy of the book as soon as I can.

I barely had the chance to read through Paula’s book due to my recent (and a bit hectic) work schedule, but it is jam packed with unique and fascinating recipes from around the mediterranean. I am hoping to get to some of these pretty soon. With Paula’s permission, here is the m’tabla recipe…a bit out of season now that we are getting into the fall months but still worth making. If you stop right before adding the yogurt, you’ll have “Amhi’ah“, a thick porridge best served piping hot and mixed with a generous pat of butter and some salt. Now that is fall food.

Speaking of testing recipes, here are links to books I tested recipes for:

The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine by Paula Wolfert. An updated classic that needs no introduction really. The Cassoulet, Garbure, Straw Potato Cake stuffed with Braised Leeks recipes alone are more than worth the price of admission.

The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast by David Leite. A great selection of recipes from this much overlooked cuisine. Portuguese food is rich in flavors like paprika, chilies, cilantro, garlic and spice. David also gives a very useful tour of Portuguese cheeses, wine and pantry. I really cannot recommend this highly enough.


Lebanese Summer Wheat and Dried Corn Soup with Yogurt

This terrific recipe comes from my friend Houston-based Elie Nassar, who grew up in a small village in Northern Lebanon and loves to talk about the “comfort food” of his childhood:
“My grandmother, Selwa, used to make this soup, called m’tabla, in summer,” Elie told me, “a cold version of the hot thick porridge called amhi’ah prepared in winter. She would thin the soup with plain yogurt and salt along with some ice cubes so the yogurt would not curdle when mixed with the hot cooked wheat. Thinned even more, we’d drink this soup out of tall glasses. It’s delicious with a sprinkling of fleur de sel.”

Preferred Clay Vessel:
A 4-quart earthenware or ceramic flameware casserole
If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

Serves 6

1 cup peeled  or hulled wheat, or grano
1/2 cup dried white or yellow corn
2 to 3 cups plain yogurt, as fresh and sweet as possible
1/2 to l cup ice water
Fleur de sel

1.    Place the wheat and corn in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Soak in a bowl of water to cover overnight.
2.    Drain the wheat and corn and place in a 4-quart earthenware or ceramic casserole with plenty of fresh cold water to cover. Slowly bring to a boil, starting on low and raising the heat gradually. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the wheat is very soft and the corn is cooked through. Add more water if it gets too dry. By the end of the process, you should have a very thick porridge-like mixture.
3.  Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate. Do not mix the yogurt into the hot wheat-corn mixture, or it will curdle. When cold, dilute the yogurt with l cup ice cold water and stir that into the soup. Add enough additional ice water to attain a thick chowder-like consistency. Refrigerate and serve this soup very cold in a tall glass…with a pinch of fleur de sel.

Alinea: BEEF, Cucumber, Honeydew, Lime Sugar

I finally found a use to the electric convection oven we have! Let me back out a little here. See, a while back one of my wife’s co-workers was remodeling and had one of those counter top electric convection ovens. It’s kind of like those you see in infomercials only a bit bigger. She asked if Diana wanted this barely used oven and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So, we picked it up and used it maybe 2 times in the last year and half. It’s been collecting dust in the closet. Sure it does work, but it takes up counter space and I’ve never needed to use it for anything that my oven cannot handle. Until now.

This Alinea recipe has been on my “to-do” list since I saw it on the Alinea Mosaic site, before the book was even out. The picture looks beautiful, it seems straight forward relatively speaking and the flavor combination cannot fail. Here we have small domino-like squares of honeydew melon, topped with beef slices, a thin cucumber strip, lime sugar, soy pudding, cilantro and pink peppercorns (I used pieces of red Thai chilies instead).

I made the lime sugar first. I mixed sugar, lime juice, salt, citric acid and egg white together. The recipe specifies adding a few drops of lime oil. That was nowhere to be found though so, I grated the zest of one lime into the mix instead figuring that should give the sugar a good boost of lime flavor. Now, the mixture is supposed to go between pieces of Teflon coated paper and into a dehydrator for 12 hours at 125F. Teflon paper? Don’t have it but I figured parchment paper should work well instead and it did. 125F?? Dehydrator? I don’t have one either. Previously I’ve managed to dry stuff successfully in my oven at about 160 or 170F. The oven does not go as low as 125F. Here’s where the convection oven came into play. It goes as low as 100F, keeps it steady AND it has a convection fan adding air to the equation. I let the mixture dry up for about 16 hours with excellent results. It had good lime flavor, it’s sweet, a bit sour with a great crunch. Lime sugar, done.

The rest of the recipe was pretty straight forward. The soy pudding is made using agar. The beef is cooked sous vide, cut into strips (1x1x4 inches) and seared. At Alinea they use Wagyu (American Kobe) beef cap. I used best quality prime ribeyes instead. I used a peeler to make the thin cucumber strips.


This was delicious. The taste was even better than I expected and the textures worked great. The rich beef has very little seasoning, but the salty soy pudding, the heat from the chilies and the sweet sour fragrant crunch of the lime sugar balance that perfectly. This combination is defintily worth making again whether in a fancy preparation like this or in a simpler presentation.