Brassicas: Cauliflower, Aligot, Kohlarbi, Leaves

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A couple of months ago all kinds of local cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli were available. The different colors of cauliflower alone was very impressive from white to green to orange and purple. I started thinking about one dish that can combine lots of these varieties in various preparation. This delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish is the result of about 2 weeks worth of research, prep, cutting and dicing, pureeing, roasting and sous vide-ing. With all the various cabbages in here what else to call it but Brassicas.

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Brassicas refers to the genus to which cabbage belongs and that includes plants like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and mustard. They are hearty veggies that stand up to various cooking methods and robust flavors. Here we have a base of cauliflower aligot, cauliflower florets with vadouvan, seared Romanesco, kohlarbi cones filled with cauliflower puree and the plate is topped with a crispy crunchy dose of onion and breadcrumb “soil”.

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Aligot is a French potato preparation from L’Aubrac region made by mashing potatoes and blending them with copious amounts of cheese. How could that be bad. Right? This dish is over all very light and I wanted the base to be substantial enough to make it more than a fancy salad. It’s a dinner plate after all. For this version, I blended 400 gr each of sous vide cooked cauliflower (bagged with butter) and boiled potatoes that were cooked with garlic cloves. I added cream to loosen it up a bit and the cheese. Certainly not traditional but I opted for a nice smoked Swiss cheese to give the mixture more of an edge that can stand up to the strong flavors of the the vegetables. It was so delicious that I could eat it all on its own with a spoon!

In the Eleven Madison Park cookbook there is a recipe that is just cauliflower in many variations and it is definitely an inspiration for this dish. I borrowed a couple of ideas from that recipe including the puree and the sous vide cauliflower florets. I cooked the cauliflower sous vide with butter and vadouvan spice until very tender. I used mostly broken up florets and stem pieces for this saving the neater florets for another part of the recipe. To finish the puree I blended the cauliflower with whole milk and very little potato to hold it together. I put that in a squeeze bottle and kept it warm.

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For the cauliflower florets, both white and orange, I left some whole and the others (an idea from EMP again) I cut into neat disks. These also were cooked sous vide with some butter and salt.  For the crunch element I cooked onions down in oil, similar to what i did for this Alinea recipe, until deep brown and almost burnt. I tossed these with salt and darkly toasted sourdough bread crumbs. This made for a fantastic sharp and crunchy element.

When I added a couple heads of cauliflower to my order from Yonder Way Farm I was thinking I’d get a purple one maybe…or one of those green ones. Instead what I got was some very cool Romanesco. These are like broccoli crossed with cauliflower and then shot through with some alien DNA. Very neat looking. I cut those into wedges, rubbed them with oil and seared them very well to get a good caramelized flavor. I roasted them until they were cooked through but retained some crunch.

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Kohlrabi is another of those weird looking plants that we usually just pass by at the store and just barely give a second thought. These guys are delicious with a texture like jicama crossed with a turnip. Sliced paper thin on a madoline they can be salted and marinated with lemon juice or vinegar. They make for an awesome quick salad like that. They also become very flexible and can be used as a cool “wrapper” of sorts. It made perfect sense to make little cones out of them and fill that with the puree.

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After all the chopping and trimming I had a decent bit of cauliflower in random pieces. To use them up I borrowed another idea from EMP and made cauliflower couscous. Cauliflower is a very sturdy vegetable that can be easily pulsed in a processor until it’s the texture of bread crumbs or…couscous. I did not season these at all for this dish or cook them, but I can see how quickly sauteing them with butter, seasoning them with a bit of vinegar and topping them with a few scallops or shrimp would make for a delicious light dinner.

Not to waste anything I wanted to use the cauliflower leaves too. These local heads of cauliflower and the Romanesco came cocooned in thick deep green leaves. I blanched those and shocked them in ice water. To serve them I warmed them in a mixture of butter and water and then seasoned them with walnut oil, salt and homemade beer vinegar.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder – 2016) C-

Zack Snyder needs a leash of some sort or maybe I’m just not a fan of his shtick. Too many weird dream sequences, too many needless explosions, too much clunky CGI, too many dumb slo-mo shots of guns,…just too much. At 2.5 hours, cutting some of that garbage out and actually fleshing out the plot and characters would have made for a very good film. I like the central theme of questioning Superman and his “savior” status. I also like Bruce Wayne’s motivation to go after him (and I like Ben Affleck in the role). That gets muddled and crushed under the weight of Snyder’s heavy hand and the need to setup the Justice League franchise.

With all its running time the movie still has no time to develop the Lex Luthor character. I suppose he has daddy issues and he could be insane but is super smart. Why is Luthor so bent on doing whatever it is he wants to do? no idea. His plan? well he has a couple but the climactic one uses a very silly trick to gain access to the crashed Kryptonian ship where he basically quickly gains the knowledge to create a boring loud monster. I have not even mentioned Wonder Woman. She is good but would also have benefited from some plot attention. It’s a bit funny how many times they make sure we know that all these battles and explosions are happening with minimal human lives lost…oh it’s s depopulated island…well this is an abandoned enormous port…

Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg – 2015) B+

I enjoyed this quiet a bit. I have a soft spot for deliberate, dark, slow spy films like this or the (much better) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It also helps not knowing much about the plot and the main character played by Tom Hanks. He is an insurance lawyer of all things who gets put in charge to defend a Russian spy caught in New York. It’s an unwinnable case but that is just the beginning of the story. Hanks does a very good job as usual but it is that Russian spy character, played by Mark Rylance,  who steals every small scene he is in. He is understated but commanding and tough in his own soft spoken way. The movie looks very good and manages to keep up the low-tone tension through out.

Under Pressure: Glazed Breast of Pork with Swiss Chard, White-Wine-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Green Mustard Vinaigrette

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A bit more complicated to make than those delicious pork buns is this dish from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure using the second chunk of the pork belly I had. Pork and apples is a classic combination that always works well. On top of that we have strong sweet-tart flavors and sharp mustard with chard to round up a very unctuous and rich dish. As usual with these dishes I split the prep over a few days and it worked very well even if the plating was not quiet as ideal as the book picture.

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To start I soaked the pork belly in a spiced brine that has some cure #1 (Sodium Nitrite) overnight to give it a cured flavor and color (like bacon). I packaged the meat with chicken stock and some herbs then cooked it sous vide at 82 C until very tender, about 12 hours. Here the goal is to go for a very tender texture not something like a steak texture. When the meat was cooked I really should have figured out a way to lay it very flat and weigh it down to get a nice even flat block. Instead I just chilled it and kept it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Thomas Keller’s recipe asks for a specific kind of mustard, green apple mustard. It is something you can find online. However, I figured why not make something on my own. It is most likely not the same thing but will be delicious never the less and is all mine! I’ve made mustard condiment before and I like a simple recipe from John Currence’s book Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. So I used that recipe as a guideline and started by poaching Granny Smith apple slices in Apfelwein (homemade apple wine) until the apples were tender and most of the wine evaporated. More apple wine (Currence’s recipe uses Guinness; also an excellent version) and apple cider vinegar are also used to soak a bunch of mustard seeds overnight.

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The next day, I simmered a mixture of mustard powder, honey, turmeric, salt and pepper in more apple wine and apple cider vinegar. I added the soaked mustard seeds and allowed them to simmer for a few minutes. To finish it up, I pureed most of the seeds along with the cooked apples and left the remainder of the seeds whole to mix in and add some texture. I ended up with a delicious mustard that is great on anything from vinaigrettes to sandwiches.

Using a melon baller, I prepared several spheres from Granny Smith apples. I packaged those along with a poaching syrup (sugar, apple wine, water…) and cooked them sous vide at 85 C for 30 minutes until tender but keeping their shape. After cooling they went in the fridge as well.

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I was really hoping for three different chard colors but of course the one time I go to Whole Foods to buy some they only had red and green. So two colors it is. I separated the leaved from the stems and trimmed the stems. The leaves get coarsely chopped. I cooked the stems packaged with herbs and oil at 85 C for 1.5 hours. Then I trimmed them into 2 inch long batons. These get seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper and warmed up right before serving.

Chard

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The chard leaves get turned into an intense side for the pork. I cooked them with aromatics, butter, a chunk of bacon and vegetable stock. After the greens cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or so I cooled them a bit then finely chopped them.

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Last item to prepare is the green mustard vinaigrette. It’s just a mixture of the apple mustard, Dijon mustard, honey, olive  oil and a touch of vinegar. To serve, I reheated the pork in the pouch at 55 C, removed the meat from the bag and patted it dry. I crisped and browned the pork in a skillet but I did have a few issues keeping the pieces flat and even. Turning them frequently alleviated some of the issues. I used a mixture of the pork cooking juices from the bag along with butter, wine and some stock to make a quick pan sauce for the pork. I added the pork pieces to the pan with the sauce and got them nicely glazed.

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To serve, on a plate goes a few drizzles of the vinaigrette and the pork pan sauce. Top that with a piece of meat and line up three apple balls along the side. The marinated chard stems go on the apple and a neat Swiss chard oval goes next to the pork. It’s delicious, a refined dish with a lot of rustic flavors going on from France to the American South with all those earthy bacon-y greens.

 

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy – 2015) A-

A movie about one small team of Boston Globe journalists and their investigation. It is solid, fascinating and important. The setting is Boston and the investigation is into the Catholic church’s decades long cover-up of priests abusing children. I really like movies about people doing their jobs and doing them well and this is such a movie. It has a sharp-eyed focus on the investigation with its twists, turns and discoveries. It does not concern itself too much with these journalists’ personal lives or drama and that is fine. The well-told story and excellent performances keep us on board from the first few minutes to the closing credits.

Sicario (Denis Villeneuve – 2015) A+

Update 07/18/2016: After watching this no less than 3 times since the initial post here, it really is one of the best. Bumped to A+ from A-.

How can US law enforcement make a serious dent in the operations of Mexican drug cartels? Plan  a major hit against a  top cartel boss and force his organisation to dismantle. Confidently directed with a tight focused story and excellent performances this makes for a very good movie. It is more that that though. It’s told primarily as the story of FBI agent Mercer, played by Emily Blunt in another great role. Mercer is enlisted to help on this nebulous mission by…someone.  It’s a tough environment she is thrown into with the cartel from one side and her mysterious new commander played by Josh Brolin on the other side. She is not even sure who he really is, let alone who his right-hand man, Alejandro, is. She keeps up, gets banged up and learns a few things along the way. It’s a film that brings us along and expects us to keep up just like Mercer.