Monday, February 15, 2010
Whoa now. I haven’t yet perfected biscuits to the point of Paula Deen but I am approaching that what has been illusory.
It all starts with a basic understanding of flour. Without getting too complicated, flour is made up of carbohydrates and proteins. One of the proteins is gluten. In chewy types of bread, gluten is our friend. In flaky baked goods like puff pastry and biscuits, gluten is our enemy. Fortunately there is a solution to controlling the levels of activated gluten. Kneading, or working the dough, activates the gluten protein. The less you work the dough, the less gluten is activated and the flakier the finished product.
Another way to keep the gluten from becoming a burden is to prevent the protein from forming long chains of chewy chow. One means to this end is to introduce a generous amount of fat solids in the form of either butter or shortening. It’s important to keep the fats in solid form. Folding dough by hand is traditional but these days we have a friend to help us fold, the food processor.
I must admit a certain predilection to the primeval processes of cooking. Few endeavors are more satisfying than assembling something with your hands. That’s not to say we should abandon our gadgets. Especially those that help us perfect a process. The food processor, a modern-day miracle, is just such a gadget.
Initially I was wary of using the processor to mix my biscuit and pie dough. I thought of my mother and her mother and her mother before that. They never used a food processor. They did everything by hand. I wanted to do it by hand too. So I tried it. Last week I took a stab at a tarte tatin. As if peeling, coring, and slicing the apples then cooking the sugar down to caramel wasn’t enough I then had to make the dough by hand. The tarte tatin was okay. It would have been much better had the dough been flakier and not as…um…crunchy. At that point I said “never again.” Bust out the food processor.
Yesterday I threw together a bean soup with some already made (by me) chicken stock and some leftover collard green pot liquor. There was some buttermilk in the fridge so I figured flaky buttermilk biscuits would be a solid accompaniment to the soup. I’ll use my new found friend to make the biscuits.
I’ve learned a few things since the tarte tatin. Don’t let your fat melt. One online chef suggests freezing the butter then grate the butter into the flour. I tried that with pie dough a few days ago. It sounds reasonable enough but the act of holding the butter and running it up and down the grater melts the butter in your hand. This would work great if you were in an igloo. Plus the moisture in the butter binds up the grater. I took the chilled butter, cut it into small squares then put it back into the freezer for a few minutes.
Meanwhile I assembled the food processor. Not the monster Cuisinart but the smaller one that fits atop the blender head. Put the slicer blade in that baby and you’re ready to rock. With the dry ingredients mixed up (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, maybe some sugar), I was ready for the butter. Don’t get impatient and just dump all the butter on top of the flour and whirl away. Take a little time to add the butter in stages. Pulse a few times, add more, pulse some more until all the fat is incorporated. It doesn’t take long with the miracle of the food processor.
Some recipes say to then turn the buttery dough out into a bowl and add the cold water or buttermilk by hand. I didn’t. I added the chilled buttermilk to the processor, pulsed, added more, pulsed, until the dough was just about done. I then turned it out onto the counter for one last fold with the remaining buttermilk. Remember, the less kneading the less gluten and the less probability you will melt the fat with the heat of your hands. If you’re going to be obsessive-compulsive, now is the time!
You know how when you get a biscuit and how you break it apart with your hands it separates nearly perfectly? There is a reason for that. The reason is in the preparation of the dough. Think of the divine thin ribbons of puff pastry. It’s made that way by rolling thin sheets of dough then placing them one on top of the other and rolling thin again. When baked they yield the basis for many wonderful culinary delights. A similar technique is necessary to create the perfect biscuit though much less time consuming.
In these photos, you can see the various layers of dough. Regrettably, these biscuits were rolled thin, barely a half-an-inch. They were also not sufficiently floured when they were folded over to create the layers. Layering is obvious in these biscuits but in a better formed biscuit, the layers would be much more pronounced. Each fold should create a tiny little pocket that makes the biscuit light and airy.
When you are finished, roll the dough out to about three-quarters of an inch thickness. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because you need more biscuits you roll them out thinner. If you need more biscuits, make more dough. With your finger, put a dimple in the middle of the biscuit. This is an old southern trick that helps to prevent the top being too convex. It's merely an appearance thing but as you may know, image is everything. And don't collect up all the scraps, put them together and roll out again to make more biscuits. That little bit of fussing will toughen your dough. Just cut the scraps into fun shapes and bake with the rest of the lot. When you're done with the main dish, put the scraps out for leftovers. If you did it right, nobody will care about the oddly shaped beautifully flaky, buttery biscuit. I promise you.
I have seen some recipes call for a brush of butter or egg wash on the top of biscuits. I haven’t found this to be crucial. Even a light egg wash will add unwanted toughness to the outer crust. I have found that a light paint of butter after baking is better than before.
In making a pie crust, you would use water instead of buttermilk. One tip is to use a cocktail shaker to chill your water. Put a few cubes in the shaker with the water and do the bartender dance. Strain the icy water into the dough mix until it's righteous.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
For some time now I have wanted to attempt a flourless torte. Last night I did a little research and figured it can't be that difficult. As with most baked goods, attention to detail is important. On my way home from a long, tiring, 24h shift, I decided today would be the day I attempted the famous flourless chocolate torte.
Having looked at a few recipes, I had a general idea of what I needed at the market. With a few trips up-and-down the aisles, my checklist was completed.
At home I grabbed BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. The author, Shirley Corriher, details her trials trying to find the quintessential torte recipe. Ms. Corriher explains that most traditional recipes, with their reliance on so many eggs, result in a drier than desired product. Egg whites act as a drying agent when baked. They can also be a leavening agent. Combine these two processes and you may well end up with a drier than expected torte.
Ms. Corriher thought substituting cream for the butter might yield a creamier torte. She was right. In fact, it was closer to a pudding than a torte. Ms. Corriher enlightens, “the batter needs to be acidic for the eggs to set well.” While the semi-sweet chocolate provides sufficient acidity with the butterfat, the addition of the heavy cream buffered too much of the acid. It’s a complicated chemical process. That’s why when baking, stick to the recipe unless you want to become a lab technician fiddling with various processes. Or better yet, let somebody do the fussing for you, like Ms. Corriher.
An obvious solution to the lack of acid would be to simply add more acid. I know, that’s what you were thinking. The trouble is, milkfat is a powerful buffer. As it turns out, you couldn’t add enough acid and still allow the other crucial chemical processes to occur.
Back to the drawing board? Not yet. Unwilling to let go of her love of cream, Ms. Corriher decides to compromise. Instead of substituting the cream for the butter one-to-one, she splits the difference. Voila! It worked. Yet she wasn’t done tinkering.
Determined to now reduce the number of eggs (fewer eggs, less drying), Ms. Corriher added a little cream of tartar while removing eggs. She was able to pare the recipe down to four whole eggs and the yolks of two more. The creamy, rich, luscious torte was now more cake than pudding.
One of these processes involves stirring together four whole eggs and two yolks then straining the mixture. I have never seen a recipe call for straining eggs. Ms. Corriher again explains that straining "removes more goopy stuff than you might think." Boy howdy she was right. I never thought there was that much "goop" in there. Turns out there are these things called chalazae. These are the protein chains that act like bungee cords to hold the yolk in the center of the egg. It would make sense that these would be quite strong and therefore undesireable in such a delicate delight as the chocolate torte.
I was smart enough to have melted the butter ahead of time. The recipe doesn't caution about tossing warm butter into the egg mixture. I don't think it's a deal breaker but wouldn't want to risk ruining the eggs. I had also done the same with the chocolate though if done properly, the chocolate should be barely tepid when it's finally melted. The microwave method worked for me just remember to use 50% power or less.
With the chocolate blended, it's time to whip the cream and get on with this rodeo. At the cream whipping stage, Ms. Corriher advises "in a cold bowl with cold beaters...." I have never seen this in a recipe. Yes I know it's important to NOT use a warm or even hot bowl or beaters but have never seen it advised to use cold bowls and beaters.
The author suggests chilling the final product. I did that. Though I'm not sure I would do that again. It was right around 60 today in SoFla. I'm thinking a few hours on the countertop would have sufficed.
A couple days ago I made up a creme fraiche. In a sealable jar, add about three tablespoons of buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream. Let it rest overnight at around 70 degrees. The next morning it should be set firm. Stir gently and place in refrigerator. For the chocolate raspberry tort I added a couple tablespoons of 10X sugar to about a half cup of creme fraiche. Dump that on a plate with some pureed framboise, topped with a few freshies and you're done. Cosmic Eats my friend.
Monday, January 18, 2010
This is my review of New Deal Kosher Meats in North Miami Beach. A real butcher is a rarity these days and Heshy delivers. Shalom to my new friend Heshy.
I've had a hankering to do a roast beef with yorkshire pudding. With the onset of the arctic weather, it has become a much more pressing issue. The problem is, if I do a roast beef, I just can't settle for any ordinary cut of meat. Nope. It's got to be the best, a standing rib roast. Okay no problem. I remember seeing them at Publix last week. Nope. No go. It's a holiday cut. Meaning they don't carry them except at particular times of the year and that time of year was last week.
So I head up the road to my favorite meat counter. Nope. They don't have them either. They can get them but it requires a couple days notice. Dang. But I did score some veal bones for stock. One can never have enough veal stock on hand.
I'm feeling a little blue at the thought of having to settle for a lesser cut. Not one to be denied, I head to a big box store in the area. They have some decent roast cuts but not what I want. I google "butchers" on the phone. Bingo. There's a hit and it's right around the corner, New Deal Kosher Meat.
So I don't get frustrated driving over there I call.
"Hello good morning, do you by any chance have bone-in rib roasts?"
"Oh yeah, I just got a nice rib in."
"Okay, I'll be right over."
The friendly gentleman asks where I'm coming from and gives me spot on directions. It's right on 163 Street but in a little old NoMiaBeach strip mall that would be easily passed by.
Entering through the front door, there is about twenty feet of display coolers on the left. Of course the scale sits atop the coolers. It's the kind of place that makes you feel like you should be wearing a top coat and fedora with a matching scarf. This is an old school butcher here. Heshy is on the telephone chatting to somebody about an order. He looks up and gives me the "be right with you" nod. From the sound of it, the person on the other end is in need of some poultry but wants some bones too. Probably to make some stock. Heshy assures the caller he will include some bones in the order, "no charge." I like what I'm hearing.
Heshy hangs up and apologizes for being on the phone. I assure him it's fine and also thank him for acknowledging my presence. He then says he must make another quick call and he'll be right with me, "you the guy who called?"
"I sure am. Take care of business."
"I've got a great rib cut I'm sure you'll like."
He makes another quick call to clarify another order. Hangs up and again apologizes. The delivery guy pops in the back door whereupon Heshy gives him some instructions. There is another guy, who I find out is Heshy too, trimming some meat by the back counter.
Heshy, the first one, starts talking about ribs and what a great cut it is for a roast. He opens the door to the walk-in, which sits to the left as well and at the end of the row of display coolers. I glance inside where there are various cuts of meat hanging from a handmade hook arrangement on the walk-in wall. I notice a skinned and gutted rabbit. Note to self!
Heshy comes out with a full rib, 13 bones. I'm hoping he's not expecting me to take all of it. "How much you need." I hesitate and he asks how many I'm feeding. Really it's just for a couple here but a rib roast that small may as well be a thick steak. I'm planning on some yorkshire pudding so I'm gonna need a fair amount of fat. A hearty helping of leftovers is always appropriate so I tell him I need enough for four. He recommends three ribs and he says he'll cut it right at the fourth rib so I get a higher meat to bone ratio. Thanks Heshy. He also recommends taking out the chine and feather bones for ease of carving at the table. This is a real butcher!
Heshy walks over to weigh the roast. I already picked up some veal bones at my other favorite joint around the corner. But like I said, you can never have enough.
"You have any nice veal marrow bones" I ask. Heshy affirms that he does and I explain that I already have some but it's good to know I can get some when I need them. To which he replies, "look, I've got a couple bags in the freezer. Take them now because I don't always have them. No charge." Who can argue with that?
We get into another conversation about how it's difficult to find good butchers these days. Heshy says, "well you can blame this butcher on my father."
We square up the bill and I walked out with my rib roast and even more veal stock bones. I also have a friendly neighborhood butcher (not really my 'hood but it's a small world) who I can call by name...and all is right with the universe.
Veal stock is more velvety than actual velvet.
Beef stock is a sweaty, hairy truck driver on the final leg of a cross-country haul, in which he stopped only to sleep, not shower.
Veal stock is like standing naked under a gentle waterfall in the sunlight.
Beef stock makes your house smell like farts.
Veal stock makes your house smell like home.
I'm blaming this on my mother. A couple months ago I was handed a paperback copy of Anthony Bourdain's tome "Kitchen Confidential." Touted as a peak into the underbelly of the foodservice industry in America, the book is really more than that. There are many messages to be gleaned from its pages. As one who has had many different jobs in the restaurant business, I can relate to the sordid sorts described in Bourdain's book. But that's not what I took away from the reading. What I took away was an enhanced appreciation for the men and women who endeavor to provide us, you and me, with a dining experience that is memorable. There is plenty to say about the book but that's not why I'm here today.
Flaco Bourdain touched me several times when he spoke about sauces. I think I was meant to be a saucier. Of course, I have often thought that I was meant to be many things in my life but leave that aside now and just indulge this most recent revelation.
When I worked the graveyard shift as a building engineer (maintenance guy) at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, I would often walk by one of the several big steam kettles in the banquet kitchen. Peering into the pot, I always wondered just what in the hell was going on in there. Many years later I now know exactly what was happening. And I think I like it. No, I know I like it.
I'm talking about stock. Currently I have a love affair going on with veal stock. There are several bags of frozen veal stock in the freezer and I'm working on another batch right now. I think I may need therapy soon.
If you search for veal stock recipes, you'll find many. A quick evaluation of a few will reveal various "recipes." Okay, it's not like we are preparing delicate puff pastries or subtle souffles here. It's stock. Sure, ingredients are important but nobody will notice if you happen to be a little disproportionate in your proportions.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Okay I'll say it up front. The Chart House is overrated and overpriced. $70 per person plus gratuity and I was not blown away. If I'm spending that kind of bread, I better be blown away.
First of all, if you're a seafood specialty house, don't tell me you serve fresh Chilean Sea Bass. There is NO such thing unless you're in Chile. Second, fish shouldn't be bathed in sauces or layered in "crusts." Light versions of either are fine.
A brief history lesson will explain this. Years ago, heavy sauces were used to disguise the flavor of spoiling meats and fish. Ever heard of Meuniere? Loosely translated it means "miller's wife." The miller's wife had a ready supply of flour and of course the mill was generally located on the waterway so she also had a convenient place to catch fresh fish. The "a la meuniere" preparation is simple because there is no need to mask any off flavors. Dredge your fish in flour or seasoned flour, cook it in a pan with some lightly browned butter, add some fresh parsley and lemon and voila.
Okay, back to the Chart House. There appeared to be no simple fish preparations at CH. Furthermore, the menu was terribly uninspired. They are trying but they aren't there.
Table service is remarkably well done. At least our server seemed to have his act together. Though they need to work on their "team concept." I overheard the server explaining to an adjacent table that they had a new manager and he wanted to "enhance the dining experience" so they implemented team concept of service. That means no trays for plates. All food is brought to your table by hand. That's fine. But they need to work on it. There were a few awkward moments when diners at our table received the wrong plate.
We waited an inordinate amount of time for our entrees. When they arrived, the servers were using napkins to hold the burning hot plates. Why do restaurants do this? I'm not sure. Entrees were okay. Not good, not great. Just okay. One filet mignon was ordered rare to med-rare and was medium to medium-well. It was mentioned to the server. No adjustment. My feeling on this, and I'm not one who trolls for comped food, is that the meal should have been removed from the check. The reason she decided to eat it was she didn't want to sit there and wait while everybody else had their dinners and then everybody waits for her to finish. That's not a pleasurable dining experience.
I will not return.
This review is for The Chart House in Daytona Beach. Other locations may be different. But I still won't go to any other locations either.
This is the former Long Doggers that is now Parrot Island Grill. It appears that one of the partners bought out the other partners or something like that. It was my first experience here but was told by my two eating partners that it was exactly the same as it was before.
Okay, I gotta let you in on this one. We sit down at this beachy looking joint. It's definetly not on the beach but you get that feeling. We each order a beer so the server/beer girl suggests a pitcher. Okay. She begins to pour the pitcher. Gets to about 3/4 full and the keg blows. She says "we have to change the keg." She then takes the almost full pitcher of beer and puts it over by where the guys are cooking. A few minutes go by and we're sitting there really wanting a cold beer. She had already placed the frosty glasses in front of us. Not being one to be shy, I say, "hey we'll get started on that one while you guys change the keg." She looks at us oddly and says, "well if you want to drink out of the bottom of the keg, it may not be any good." It's all I can do to keep my mouth shut and not laugh out loud in the girls face. Instead of explaining to her that there is a tube that goes from the tap to the bottom of the keg that's called the pickup and all the beer comes from the bottom of the keg, I just said, "we'll take our chances as long as it's cold." We get our cold pitcher. Ahhhhh.
So this place is more or less a specialty hot dog joint with an expanded menu of beachy favorites. We all chose the dogs with equally pleasing results.
Despite the ditzyness of our server with regards to the draft beer, her effort was adequate. Nothing spectacular. I tried to explain to her the old time bar tradition of "the spider" where if you get the last pour out of the bottle it's complimentary. She couldn't care less!!
NOTE: There are still Long Doggers in Melbourne and other places. The "Parrot Cay Island Grille" appears to be the only location that has changed monikers.
Parrot Cay Island Grille
2452 S. Nova Road
Daytona Beach, FL
Friday, April 3, 2009
I have been a contributor to Yelp for the last year or so. I began using it to research good places to eat not only in Miami the few places to which I have traveled in the past year. At first I found the site to be helpful. Recently though, it seems that Yelpers are WAY too generous in their reviews. It seems that this is not unique to the Miami area however I think that MiaYelpers are jaded due to the utter lack of an established culinary tradition in the area.
I discovered recently that I'm not the only one who laments on this subject. One yelper reviewed someplace I can't remember with this one:
You have to place take-out orders with the chesty, heavily made-up bartender, who ignores you unless you are i) male, and ii) the type of male who has a job that permits him to sit at a sticky bar in an aspirational restaurant, imbibing many martinis with a friend at noon. Piss off. Laura T. http://goshdarnit.yelp.com/
Another one reads:
The food? Kinda not good. What is it about Miami and too much sugar in everything? Does the fact that so many people only speak Spanish preclude them from ever visiting any other cities where they can sample good food? Like New York, Chicago, L.A,, San Francisco, or Seattle? What gives? So far I've eaten at only 2-3 restaurants that actually live up to their reputations. The rest are so sub-par that they're only a notch above Appleby's. And these are places that get fantastic reviews? By the way, I'm not the only person who thinks this. Most recent transplants I've spoken too...in fact all of them....agree. Sorry. Gotta be brutal, and maybe things will change. It's just that when you're spending a decent sum for your meal, it should be decent. Valentina D.
Sure, we have a small handful of "nationally renowned" chefs in the area. But that means nothing if they don't produce. I see reviews of places that read "we loved when Chef Douche had La Comida Mierda, the place was soooo good." Really? Well if it was so good, why did the place shut down?
The problem with Yelp is that there are too many self-important slackers who want to feel and look important by reviewing the trendy joints in town. I guess they figure an "amazing" review of the latest "amazing" place to open will make them look as if they are..."amazing." Furthermore, I suppose they don't want to look silly by spending an inordinate amount of their disposable income on average chow.