Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Truffle Infused Créme Anglaise

I love the color of the sauce

½L Milk
5 Egg Yolks
100g sugar
½ vanilla (scraped and cut in to chunks)
1 truffle (finely chopped)

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat,  heat milk with 1 tbsp of the sugar, vanilla, and truffle
2. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining sugar.
3. When milk has come to a boil, add about ½ cup to the yolk mixture, a little bit at a time.  Stir vigorously.
4. Stir the egg mixture back in with the rest of the milk in the pot.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens.
5. Strain into a cold dish immediately and cover until ready to be used.

Caramel Sauce

Caramel basket

More application of caramel: nets, coils, signatures, etc

All you have to do is to drizzle hot caramel over a cold, smooth surface such as the back of a stainless steel bowl, parchment paper, or around a chopstick.

1 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cream

1. Heat water and sugar until the sugar turns brown and viscus.
2. Add cream and stir constantly until the mixture turns into caramel color.

Add more cream if you intend on using this caramel as a sauce.

Chocolate Truffle Truffles

This is my June entry for Royal Food Joust by the Leftover QueenChocolate Truffle truffle. These guilt free, low fat, low calorie, cane sugar free, gluten free chocolate truffles are made with chocolate, agave syrup, almonds, summer black truffle, and low-fat yogurt cheese.  While these chocolate truffles are great on their own, you can add some naughty Truffle Infused Créme Anglise and Caramel Sauce.

A couple of elements of this dish are inspired by what I learned at my cooking boot camp.  The caramel basket is an idea from the caramel drawing technique, and my créme anglise is inspired by the raspberry one we made in class. I happened to have bunch of 90%-100% chocolate left over from my chocolate course and bunch of almonds and a jar of almond butter in my cabinet.

Isn't truffle (mushroom) disgusting in a sweet dessert? No.  Unlike other mushrooms, truffle is a flavour enhancer with its own unique aroma of fresh earth and mushroom.  It pairs perfectly with chocolate (and possibly with port too!). I made some truffles (chocolates) without the truffle (mushroom), and the dessert actually tasted 'thin' without it.  It looks like truffle added flavours, aroma, and texture a dessert would otherwise need from cream, sugar, and butter.
Click here to learn more about truffle.

I made my own yogurt cheese out of organic plain yogurt.
Click here to learn how I made the low-fat yogurt cheese

 ⅓ cup dark chocolate (70%+)
¼ cup low-fat natural plain yogurt cheese
4 tbsp finely ground toasted almond (grounded)
2 tbsp smooth natural, unsalted almond butter
2 tbsp agave nectar
3 tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 truffle (finely chopped)
pinch of salt

1. In a medium size bowl, blend together yogurt cheese, 4 tbsp grounded almond, almond butter, agave nectar, 1 tbsp cocoa powder and salt.  Blend well.
2. Coarsely chop dark chocolate and melt over double boiler until liquid. Add truffle and stir until it is aromatic.
3. Add melted chocolate mixture into the yogurt mixture.  Blend well and scrape the mixture into a sealable container.  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until the mixture becomes firm and shapeable.
4. Place rest of the cocoa powder in a small bowl.
5. Using a measuring spoon, scoop out ½ tsp of the mixture. Roll truffle between the palms to make small balls and drop them into the cocoa powder.
6. Refrigerate the truffle in single layer inside a parchment lined sealable container until needed.

You can also roll these in ground almond instead of chocolate powder.  Or coat them in more melted chocolates.

So far, this recipe provides a cane sugar free, gluten free dessert. If you use soy cheese, this will be vegan.  Now, if you are feeling naughty, add Truffle Infused Créme Anglise and Caramel Sauce.

So delicious! I can't believe this is low cal! 

Chocolate Truffle Truffle on Foodista


Truffles is a fungus (a.k.a mushroom). It grows underground near trees, usually in a forest.  Black truffles, which grows exclusively with oak trees, are the second most expensive food just behind saffron.  This underground mushroom is poorly understood by farmers and scientists.  Unlike other mushroom, truffles cannot be cultivated artificially inside a greenhouse.

 In the past, farmers use pigs, who love truffles, to sniff and dig them out, but the pigs often eat these before the farmers can get their hands on it.  Then the farmers trained dogs to sniff out truffles, but then the dogs got addicted and started eating these mushroom too.  Apparently, you can train a human being to sniff these out too.  Maybe that's what farmers will do next.   With global warming and deforestation, truffle supplies are steadily declining.

Truffles happen to be the drug of choice for foodies around the world.  A kilograms of fresh whole black truffle (remember how pigs and dogs eat the truffle they dig out?) is $1,000 Euro.  In Italy, the locations of truffle forests are closely guarded secrete and whole black truffles are used as a form of currency for the Italian mafia.

This little bottle containing 5 little preserved truffle costed me $26.  And Dirty Apron ran out when I tried to picked up some on Thursday.  A small vial of truffle oil is about $9, which is probably a cheaper alternative.

Truffles are prized for their strong pungent aroma.  You either love it or hate it. I have seen it in pasta, salad, roasts, foie gras, cheeses.  White truffle is a lot more pungent than black truffle, but the black ones have more refined flavours than the whites.

Foods that capture the aroma for truffles well are eggs, potatoes, rice, pasta and cream. Garlic, onion, chives, leek, celery, celery root, and parmesan enhance the flavour of truffles, but it can be added to just about anything to add complexity to the flavour and aroma of the dish.

I find that my bottled truffle loses its flavour very quickly.  In order to maximize its aroma, I had to quickly add it to the base of the dish (such as sauce) and set it aside in a sealed container for a couple hours.  I have much better luck with truffle oil which I drizzle on pretty much anything.

Yogurt Cheese

The Best Light RecipeI recently purchased a new recipe book: The Best Light Recipe The book was featured on Food Network as having accurate and delicious recipes and the best cheese cake (beating the high calorie ones).  What I love about the book is that it talked extensively about the theory and science behind how they come up with the recipes and even mistakes they made on the way.

My next cooking contest requires me to use yogurt.   Dennis cannot eat dairies and I have no idea how to cook with it.  So I turned to this book for inspiration.  On Page 8, there are two full pages on yogurt cheese and its applications.  There is even a cheese cake you can make out of yogurt cheese!

Yogurt Cheese is a low calorie and low fat alternative to both cream cheese and light cream cheese.  Two tablespoons of plain low-fat yogurt cheese just 25 calories and 0.5 grams of fat.  Cream cheese would have 100 calories and 10 grams of fat.

What do you need:

  • Any type of yogurt (without modified food starch, gelatin, or gums: these yogurt will not drain).
  • a wire mesh strainer
  • a coffee filter or cheesecloth
1. I lined the fine-mesh strainer with double layer of cheesecloths
2. I put the strainers on a bowl that s big enough for enough liquid to drain without touching the stainers
3. Spoon the yogurt into the stainers and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the yogurt has released about half of its volume.  

It will take about 10 hours, but you can leave it in there for 2 days.  If you don't have 10 hours, I cheated by occasionally stirring the yogurt and tighten the cheesecloth to squeeze the water out manually.

The book also noted that in a clean container, covered, without the liquid, the cheese can stay in the fridge for a week.

You can use the cheese the same way you would with cream cheese as cheese spread or filling.  I am going to use this method to prepare my contest dish! 

Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2007, Mendoza Argentina

Varietal: Malbec
Producer: Achaval Ferrer
Specification: n/a
Vintage: 2007
Region: Malbec, 2007
Price: $25

Appearance: Clean, dark bright purple-ish red
Nose: Clean, jammy, medicine, pepper, red cherry, black cherry
Palate: Clean, oak, dry, light tannin, medium+ body bodied

I have a on-and-off love affair with Argentinean wines.  Like Chile, this is a great place to get value wines and its diverse climates allow for different styles of wine from white to red.  However, a part of my brain can't get over the fact that Argentina defaulted 2 times in the last 10 years.  From experience, there seems to be a higher chance to encounter a hasty bottle.

Anyway, Malbec is widely grown in Argentina and most of the plantings are in Mendoza which has the perfect climate for this variety.

Quality: Good

They are great with steaks or to be drank on its own.

Chocolate: Ingredient Part 4 (Vanilla)

This is part 4 of Chocolate Ingredients Series:
Ingredients Part 1
Ingredients Part 2
Ingredients Part 3

This whole post will be dedicated to vanilla, one of the common spice often found in chocolate. Problem with vanilla is that this is a very expensive spice up there with saffron and truffle.  It is super popular not only in food and drinks but also in other products such as candle, shampoo, and etc.  It can be connoisseured independently from chocolate. It is tremendously laborious and resource intensive to grow and harvest. Climate change has also greatly limit the supply of quality vanilla. As a result, most vanilla flavored product out there use imitation vanilla or vanilla essence.  Few sticks of organic vanilla beans cost $14.

Here is a link to a brief history of vanilla.

Imitation Vanilla - The basic flavor ingredients of most imitation vanillas are USP Vanillin and/or Ethyl Vanillin. USP Vanillin is an artificial product derived from a by-product of the paper industry. Ethyl Vanillin, is three times as strong as USP Vanillin and is made by a chemical process from Guaiacol, a coal tar derivative.  Most cheap vanilla products use imitation vanilla. Think about that next time you order a non-fat vanilla late from Starbucks. Is it paper or tar you are consuming?

Types of Vanilla
Although vanilla is native to Mexico, it is now grown in subtropical areas around the world. Each region produces beans with distinctive flavors because of the specific terroir, or characteristics of the local environment such as climate, soil and geography. Even in the same region, however, crops can vary greatly from year to year depending on elements of terroir, and on the timing and care taken in harvesting, curing and processing.

Madagascar is the world's largest producer of vanilla beans, and the purest, most straightforward vanilla. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla is known for its smooth and mellow flavor.

Mexico now produces only a small percentage of the world's harvest, but it can be absolutely fabulous. It tends to have spicy notes, possibly from the orange trees that some growers use as 'tutors' for the vines to climb up.  Mexican vanilla goes well with chocolate, because what grows together goes together. Cocoa and vanilla have grown together in Mexico since before the Aztecs famously married the two flavors.

Tahitian Vanilla comes from a different species of vanilla orchid. Culinary people, especially pastry chefs, love Tahitian. It isn't as strong in the vanilla component and has citrus and floral tones that can be very complex.  Tahiti grows and exports a relatively small amount of vanilla, so you will have to search for it—and pay for it.

Similar to chocolate and coffee, vanilla are grown in impoverished nations, and it is important to look for try to buy fair trade vanilla whenever possible.

Monday, June 28, 2010

German Wine: Part 2

This is the second of the German Wine series
German Wine Part 1

Here is a lovely chart I came across during my wine course.  On the bottom of the pyramid are your basic table wines with very little quality control.  Deutscher Tafelwein encompasses wines made anywhere in Germany, while Landwein are slightly superior table wine that came from any of the 19 designated wine regions and they have slightly higher alcohol percentage.

Above that you have QbA which encompasses all the quality wine produced in one of the 13 designated wine growing region.  They have to obey the regional regulation regarding variety and ripeness.  However, they are allowed to add cane sugar to their wine in order to achieve higher alcohol percentage. Within QbA, QmP describes the best quality wines in Germany (see part 1).

In addition to their QmP designation, the wines can also come with these descriptions

  • Trocken: dry wine.  An Auslese wine can also be Trocken, because you can completely ferment all the sugar in an Auslese grape to make a dry wine.  These wines would have a lot of complex and beautiful flavours and high alcohol percentage.
  • Halbtrocken: semi dry
  • Classic: These must have a minimum alcohol level of 12% and must be made from a single grape variety from a single vintage in a single region (note: can come from multiple vineyard within that region).  These wines are classic, because they are made from a grape variety typical of their region.
  • Selection: These wines are superior than Classics.  The wines must come from grapes that were at Auslese level of sweetness and must come from an individual vineyard site (Einzellage) that will be named on the label.  The yields are further restricted and the wine just be dry or semi-dry.

On a consumer level, understanding German wine is really about understanding its informative but confusing label, so bare with me.  There are countless different German QmP wines out there in the liquor stores.  What if I want to buy the best of the QmP?  In this case, I want to look for a picture of eagle on the label or on the neck of the bottle.  The eagle represents VDP designation reserved for the finest vineyards in Germany.

What if I want the best of the VDP? Then you want to look for the following keywords:

Erstes Gewächs: This represents the top level of VDP wines in the Rheingau region.  On the label, it is represented by a picture of three "doors". These wines have a huge list of restrictions and criterias that need to be fulfilled.  The wines are subjected to inspection and testing panel every year.  In some ways, this is one of the most reliable quality designation in Europe, because wine are taste tested each year.  Erste Lage and Grosses Gewächs are similar designation for other regions.

All QbA wines comes with an A.P. number which are also very informative:
For example, L - A.P. NR. 2 606 319 011 07

  • 2: Testing center where the wine was approved
  • 606: Village where the producer is located
  • 319: Code number of that producer
  • 011: That producer's appellation number (which is vintage specific)
  • 07: The year in which the producer filed for the appellation (which is vintage specific)
The last number is the most important one.  It allows you to track the vintage of the grapes.

Technically, German wine labeling allows you to get exactly what you are looking for in a bottle, IF you understand the labeling.

Let's review what we know so far:
Level 1 (lowest): Deutscher Tafelwein
Level 2: Landwein
Level 3: QbA
Level 4: QmP (which is further divided into 6 separate categories)
Level 5: Classic
Level 6: Selection
Level 7: VDP
Level 8: (highest) Erste Gewächs, Erste Lage and Grosses Gewächs

Other designations:
  • Erzeugerabfüllung (producer bottled) and Gutsabfüllung (estate bottled): it assures that the grapes were grown and the wine was produced by one and the same grower or co-operative of growers. (Common associated with Dr. Somebody - see below)
  • Vintage: year in which the grape is harvested
  • Village and Vineyards:  "-er" is village, "-berg" is vineyards.  If the bottle does not specify, then the wine is blended across different vineyards and villages. 
  • Varietal: the grape variety
  • Ambaigebiet: the 13 designated Quality regions: Ahr, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Württemberg, Baden, Saale/Unstrut, Sachsen
To make the matter more confusing, a lot of vineyards have several owners and each owner may produce a broad range of styles of wines from the same parcel of vines. These wines are often labeled under the producers.  This is where you often see Dr. someone on the label.  This doesn't mean the wine producer has a doctoral degree, however. As long as someone in their family has a PHD (regardless of the subject), they are allowed to put Dr on the wine label.  Only a few winemakers are reliable and consistent from year to year.

Next post, I will point out all these labeling on an actual label.

Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 4

This is the forth post of the series: Introduction to Wine
Introduction to Wine: Basic Types
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style I
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 2
Introduction to Wine: Basic Style 3

In a wine, tannin is felt on the teeth, gum and the tongue and makes the mouth feel dry.  If you find yourself unconsciously licking your teeth or gums, the wine has at least medium level tannin.  Tannin can make a young red wine seems harsh.  Although it doesn't sound good to have tannin in wines, they do bring some positive qualities. Tannin can help a wine mature by giving structure and complexity and the cay improve a wine's balance.

For an experiment, try eating a grape without the skin and compare it with another one with skin on.  Grape flesh is sweet, but lacks flavours and texture of the skin.

Tannin is a substance found in grape skins or the oak barrels.  For red wine, the crushed grapes are often fermented with their skins, and the red color and tannin are exacted from the skin into the wine.  All red wines have some level of tannin and, in most cases, the level of tannin can be determine just by the color of the wine. The darker the wine, the more tannin there will be.  White wine usually have no tannin, since the crushed grapes are pressed and the juice are fermented without any skin contact.  (Yes, white wines can be made from black grapes).

Another source of tannin is from the oak barrels in which the wine ferment and/or matured in.  A white wine that has been fermented or matured in an oak barrel, such as Fumé Blanc, will have a low level of tannin.  Wines gain flavours, tannin, and texture from contact with the wood.  Because the barrel is naturally porous, the wine often gains darker color and a trace of lovely oxidative flavours.   In white wine, the wine can become buttery and have vanilla flavours.  Red wines can become smoother with added spicy character.

Does "Oaked" on the wine label means the wine have spent time in an oak vat or barrel? No. Oak barrels cost a couple thousand dollars each (they don't hold that much wine either), and lots of wine styles demand new oak barrels each year.  For lower margin wines, wine makers cheat by putting in staves or chips of oak into the wine.  In order to add more tannin to the wine, some wine makers can even put bags of powdered artificial tannin into the wine.

In a wine tasting, you can detect oak by its vanilla or coconut aroma.

Japan: Matsuyama Part 1

This is the 15th post of my Traveling in Japan series.
Here for the list of the previous posts

Matsuyama is famous for its  ancient hot springs.  Near our hotel was the giant thousand year old bathhouse where emperors and their court would come for holiday.  Our hotel, the famous Dogo, was gorgeous!  It also built right ontop of a hot spring and has water that flows continuously from one floor to another.  Our room was HUGE with a private backyard with a private onsen (hot spring bath).  If it is not enough, a giant onsen was located on the second floor.  The room has the lovely traditional Japanese design with tatami floor (to Dennis's dismay: no mattress).

The room are filled with all sort of amenities and comes with a designated old lady servent (who spoke no English at all).  She was adorable, maternal, and a hard worker.  She served us dinner, traditional Japanese style, in our room.

For dinner, we were to get into our ukata, domestic and casual version of kimono.  The 5 course dinner was handwritten on a scroll and the food was organic and sourced locally. Side salad and freshly caught sashimi accompanied the 5 course dinner every night.  Each creation was different from the next and beautifully plated.

After dinner, we were to retired to the back room, close the tatami doors, and enjoy our private onsen with a bottle of ice cold shochu and a basket of fruit, while staffs clean up our dinner and lay out our bedding for the night.

Life is so hard sometimes, eh?

Cooking Bootcamp Day 5

On Thursday night, I scribbled down key points of things I learned throughout the week.  I was quite intimated by the idea of salmon tartare.  There were thousands of recipes online and I didn't quite like any of them.  I felt if we were going to eat a fish raw, we should try to bring out its freshness and natural flavour instead of hiding it fish behind tons of sauces and mayo, so I went with the most simple and basic ingredients: lemon juice, salt, pepper, chive, shallot. That was it.  I could count the ingredients with one hand.   For complexity, different flavours and textures were then added around the fish as parts of the presentation.

When I arrived at the class, I learned that, to my dismay, more than a couple people had been practicing making tartare for the last two days.  I haven't even looked at my kitchen for a week!  I was sleep deprived, underprepared, and stressed out.  We were to cook from 9:30 to 1:30.  Salmon tartare has to be plated and presented by 12:30 and other two dishes at 30 minute intervals.  The secret ingredients were beef tenderloin for hot appetizer and cornish hen for main course.

In addition to flavour and presentation, we were also judged on our food safe and organization.

My salmon tartare canape.  I used a melon baller to make a small bowl out of each slices of cucumber.  On top of the salmon is fluffy concotion is whipped chive mayo freshly made chive olive oil and lemon juice folded into whipped egg.  I then topped it off is a parmesan triangle for contrasting flavour and texture. This is actually a picture of the left over.  I did not have time to take pictures between plates.

This is my hot appetizer.  Sorry for the poor quality.  It was snapped quickly, before I moved onto the main course.  The beef was grilled, covered in my famous herb crumb.  I made three savour herb crepes, and I brushed colored olive oil I made: red paprika oil, yellow turmeric oil, and the leftover chive oil from the salmon.  For sauce, I made a morel redwine reduction.

So far so good, until I got to the cornish hen.  What the heck is cornish hen? It was this small, boney, alien bird thing.  I could not tell which side was up and where the butt was.  I had no idea what to do and I made a mess.  It turned out terribly.  The meat was dry, I forgot ingredients for the sauce, and my plating was a failure.  In fact, I had to take all the food off and re-plate the entire dish. As a result, the food was cold and blend by the time it got to the judge.  And it was late.

Needless to say, I didn't win.  Not even close. I felt I could have done much better, but even if I have executed perfectly, there are lots of students there who would have done better than me anyway.    That didn't really bother me though; it was just a part of learning.  However, I felt that Chef David and Walter had high expectation of me and I think I have disappointed them.  I felt quite depressed, but it also motivate me even more to learn more and refine my skills.  Most importantly, learn to work with the damn cornish hens.

The course is totally worth the money and I can't wait for level 2! 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cooking Bootcamp Day 4

Day 4 was a little on the quiet side. However, it gave us a lot of time to ask question about the Friday's Black Box Cooking Contest. We will have to prepare a salmon tartar and make another hot appetizer and main course from two secret ingredients.  Chef Walter gave us two days to find a good salmon tartar recipe online, but the key ingredient for the other two dishes will remain a secret until the cook-off.

First, Daube Provencal (a.k.a Boeuf a La Bourguignon on crack; a.k.a sex in a fancy bowl).  Let's see, we started preparing the veal broth on Tuesday, marinated the beef on Wednesday, and stewed it all day on Thursday.  This recipe decimated Julia Child's Boeuf a La Bourguignon.  Who was I kidding? How can I compare a seasoned head chef of a Michelin 3 star restaurant with a housewife with some French training?  I moaned and groaned with each bite.

This Potato Feuillette is a delicious creation made with potato, brie, cream, lard, and puff pastry.  I have learned a dozen different ways to use puff pastry.  I usually dislike brie (ate too much at it when I was working at Capers), but it fused perfectly with the rest of the ingredient in the pie.  It was creamy and absolutely delicious.

There are a lot of good looking students and staffs in the class.  Recommended for all singles.

Bootcamp Day 5

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cooking Bootcamp Day 3

Wednesday, the veal broth was ready, after a night of simmering. Time to marinate the beef.

This was a beautiful, delicious, and innovative vegetarian appetizer: Roasted Eggplant (Aubergine) with goat cheese, anchovy, and a puff pastry biscuit.   This course made me realize just how difficult it is to make a proper tomato sauce.  This one in the picture is not properly made.  It had a rim of moisture. 

Chicken Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelles, morel sauce, green bean (wrapped with bacon), and asparagus.  This was probably the most satisfying dish to make.  I loved the presentation, the variety of texture and ingredient.  I love stuffing things with more things. This Mushroom duxelles will definitely make its way into my kitchen in the near future. 

Roasted Banana with Peach and Kiwi Coulis.  This dish was almost vegan, except the butter used to bake the banana.  I am pretty sure we can skip the butter.  This dish is absolutely beautiful.

Cooking Bootcamp Day 2

Our classroom. It's a state of the art kitchen. My dream kitchen.

Day 2, we started this lovely day with a pile of whole salmon with scale, head, and such.  We knew what was coming next.  We spent the morning learning how to clean, cut, filet these lovelies.

Did you know a peeler is an effective de-boning equipment.

Once the fish was fillet, Day 2 was more about sauces.  Like any good French sauce, it would be some combination of butter, cream, sugar, and lard.  We made Bechamel Sauce (which was butter, flour, cream) and Roasted Salmon Paillard (which was butter, cream, lard), and Orange Cinnamon Cream Brule (which was egg, cream, butter).

The rose in the picture are simply tomato peels! Isn't it lovely.  This was simply baked salmon with a cream sauce with some potato and leek! "The English are very familiar with this dish" Walter would yelled while glaring at the British woman in the class. "Why did you burn our Joan!"

This is Prawn Bechamel Stuffed portobello Mushroom. I found the preparation for the portobello mushroom pretty ingenious. The orange oil is actually made with paprika and turmeric.  I found a new use for Dennis's coffee filter!

Chef Walter boasted that his cream brulee was different from everyone else's.  It was unique alright.  It was the most dangerous method to make cream brulee.  You hold the dish in your left hand at an angle, and then you blowtorch the surface. Careful with the pinky!  On the side, grape was cooked in rum. nom nom nom.

We also made veal broth, for the beef stew on Thursday.

Cooking Bootcamp Day 1

Check out his famous glare.

Another apology for blogging tardiness.  What is my excuse this time? Helen and I were at a cooking boot camp from Monday to Friday.  For a thousand dollars per person, Dirty Apron offers a 5 day 9-5pm all inclusive cooking boot camp with Chef (more like Sergeant) Walter Messiah.

What you watched Chef Academy?  Well, it's not that bad, but Walter does not hold back from tearing student into pieces.  I love the guy though.  He was immensely skilled, experienced, and hilarious (when you are on his good side).  I found myself craving for his approval.  It was indeed a boot camp.  We cooked long and hard.

Day One was all about foundation.   We started off with making a basic fish stock: white fish bones, celery, carrots, shallots.  He meticulously explained the hows and whys with his thick French accent.  He would frequently quiz us to see if we are paying attention and comically humiliate us when we get it wrong.

After the fish broth is made, we then jumped into Mediterranean Steam Mussels with Saffron Broth and Spanish Chorizo.  The plating may seem rather lacking here, but we were instructed to not plate.  Mussels are only good when it is piping hot.

It was back to cooking, after we wolfed down the mussels.  The next course was Chicken with Roquefort Sauce.  We learned to de-bone an entire chicken.  I love the way he plated the potato and I especially love the way he cooked the chicken: panfry on the skin and then bake in oven.  This was going to revolutionize the way I prepare chicken at home. 

For dessert, Roasted Cinnamon Apple Strawberry Grand Marnier Jus.

It ain't French without butter, cream, sugar, lard, and more butter.   This entire meal had more butter, cream, sugar, lard than I have consumed in the entire year.  How come they are not fat? Chef Walter explained that the French eats croissants and cigarets in the morning, a 5 course lunch with a bottle of wine before returning to work (driving), then maybe some salad and more alcohol for dinner.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chocolate: Ingredient Part 3

This is the third part of Chocolate Ingredients:
Ingredients Part 1
Ingredients Part 2

Sugar and Sweeteners
Sugar is to chocolate what salt is to other foods. Yes, majority of the chocolate is sugar.  A little enhances the flavor of the cocoa liquor but too much makes it unpalatable.

High grade cane or beet sugar is used in the manufacturing of chocolate - it must be dry and free from invert sugars. Invert sugar and moisture causes the sugars is detrimental to the chocolate's texture and presents difficulties in conching and tempering.

Can you just add your own sugar to chocolate liquor to make a sweetened chocolate? No, part of the reason for conching chocolate is to reduce the particle size of the sugar as well. If you do add your own sugar you will get a gritty product that will not temper properly. It would be the same as the round Mexican chocolate patties you can buy used to make hot chocolate in Mexico.  Powdered, icing or confectioners sugar (products contain corn syrup) will make your chocolate radioactive. Don't do it.

Milk or Cream
There are different milk products used in the manufacturer of milk chocolate. Like a good laté, milk carmelization plays an important part.

Condensed Milk - This is used almost solely by European manufacturers.

Whole or skim milk is preheated to 180° - 185°F (82° - 85°C) for 15 minutes, destroying pathogenic organisms, yeasts and molds and inactivates enzymes. Sugar is then added to the hot milk and the solution evaporated under vacuum. When the required concentration is reached the mixture is rapidly cooled under constant agitation and sealed in containers.

Milk Powder - Milk powder is produced using a drum/roller process or the spray process.

In the drum or roller process, the liquid milk in a vat is picked up by a large heated roller. As the roller rotates the heat from the roller evaporates the moisture leaving a film of dry milk on the roller. This film of milk is scraped off into flakes before the roller again makes contact with the liquid milk.

In the spray process, concentrated milk is sprayed into a chamber where hot air is circulating. As the moisture is evaporated the particles of milk fall to the bottom of the chamber where they are filtered out of the air.

Milk Crumb - this ingredient is used by US and UK chocolate manufacturers. The development of this process revolutionized the manufacture of milk chocolate. The process produces a product that has a rich, creamy, caramelized flavor. The essence of the crumb process is the Maillard reaction between the milk protein and sugars, which produces a caramel like flavor. It is a time/temperature/water reaction.

The benefits of using milk crumb are that dried milk crumb can be stored for long periods without rancidity of staleness developing as it would with dried milk.  It also drastically simplifies the chocolate making processes.

In an at-home blind tasting, I find myself typically liking condensed milk chocolates better than the milk crumb ones.  However, it could just be a matter of quality not milk type.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rodo's Kouzina

Dennis and I have been looking to buy a home in tri-city area.  We came across a pretty good Mediterranean Grill at Port Moody: Rodos Kouzina.  I am not going to rate this restaurant, because it is outside the main Vancouver area, and it's much cheaper.  Dennis did say this is by far the best Greek place he had tried in the Greater Vancouver area. Although it was not as good as Greeco, in Kingston Ontario, it was pretty good.   If you live around the area, it's worth checking out.

I had the dinner 3-course special for $29.99: Greek salad, slow roasted lamb, chocolate mousse.  Dennis had calamari and chicken sovulaki.  Huge portions and delicious food.

Potato, rice on the bottom, vegetables stew, with tender roasted lamb.

Rodos Kouzina Mediterranean Grille on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vancouver Food Festivals

Here are a list of the up and coming Vancouver Food Festivals, for your and my reference:

June 18th - 20th: Scandinavian Midsummer Festival
Scandinavian Community Center
6540 Thomas Street, Burnaby

June 27: Greek Day
West Broadway Between Macdonald and Blenheim

July 31 - August 1st: The Powell Street Festival (Japanese Festival)
Oppenheimer Park near Commercial

August 15th: Latin Summer Fest
Trout Lake Park
3350 Victoria Drive

August 28-29th: Philippine Summer Festival
Richmond Olympic Oval
6111 River Road

September 4-6th: TaiwanFest!
Plaza of Nations
750 Pacific Boulevard

See you all there!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chocolate: Ingredient Part 2

This is the Chocolate Ingredient series.
Ingredient Part 1

Milk chocolate's ingredients are cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk or cream powder and spices.  The chocolate must contain at least 10% cocoa liquor.

Milk chocolate flavor has a lot to do with the type of milk or cream product that is used by its manufacturer as well as the strength and taste of the cocoa liquor. Because the added milk or cream softens or masks the flavor of the chocolate liquor, most manufacturers rely on the forastero beans to deliver flavor - thinking that their consumers won't know the difference. When you taste a beautifully made milk chocolate containing a fine quality cocoa liquor next to a supermarket milk chocolate bar - the difference will amaze you.

Here is an article about French white chocolate.

Dark milk chocolate - there is a trend by artisan chocolatiers to use a "dark" milk chocolate which contains a higher percentage of cocoa liquor. This gives the creamy milk chocolate a more pronounced flavor.

White chocolate: Because there is so little "chocolate" in white chocolate, the different products available seem to all taste the same. The flavor is mainly one of milk, vanilla and sugar.  Is white chocolate actually contain chocolate? Yes, it must contain at least 20% cocoa butter.  It may also contain sugar, milk or cream powder and spices.  All the lovely phenolic flavours of chocolate are from cocoa solids.

Note: picture is not mine. It is from here.

Buttered Sou-Vide Scallops

Check out the caramelized topside and the clean sides

A well cooked scallops should not have "veins" on the sides.  The strips shows the scallops has been over cooked.  In restaurants, chefs uses very fine grade of salt, white paper, and butter to make sure they don't burn onto the sides of the scallops and caramelize evenly on the top and bottom.  It took me two years of cooking scallops to get to this right.  White pepper is used so the scallops don't look "sandy".

This is a French inspired version of my sou-vide: I used butter.

Ingredients: (Very simple)
2 scallops
1 tsp butter
pinch of salt and white pepper

1. Sou-vide the scallops with salt, white pepper, and half of the butter.
2. After the ice bath, take the scallops out of the ziplock and pat dry with a paper towel.
3. Warm a non-stick pan to medium-high heat.  Melt the rest of the butter in the pan.
4. Once the butter melted and started to caramelize.  Put the scallops. 30 second on each side or until slightly browned.
5. Remove from heat and pat dry with paper towel again.


Sesame Sou-Vide Sea Scallops

Alliteration tastes good.

This is the first dish I made with my Ghetto Sou-Vide.  I took the essence of Taiwanese Onion Steamed Chicken and married it to Japanese flavours.  Hot sesame oil and other sauces are drizzled onto the scallops prepared using my sou-vide.  My goal was to have scallops at the perfect textures and layer on different flavours.

The scallops I used are Qualicum scallops, organically farmed at Qualicum, an island near Vancouver.  A lot of artisan products and farm goods come out of that island.  I gotta go visit it one day.

2 Scallops
1 stalk of green onion (finely chopped)
1 slice of ginger (finely stripped)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp white miso paste
1 tsp cilantro (finely chopped)
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sake
1 tsp rock salt
1 tsp white pepper

1. Sou-vide the scallops with a pinch of salt and white paper.
2. After the cold bath, take the scallops out of the bag and gently pat dry with a paper towel.
3. Use your finger, spread a very thing layer of miso paste on one side of the scallops.  Place the scallops on your serving plate, with the miso paste side facing down.
4. Use your finger, dab the saki around the sides of the scallops. Rub soy sauce on the top side.
5. Decorate the top side of the scallops with a layer of cilantro, a small piece of green onion, and a slice of ginger.
6. Heat sesame oil in a small pan or sauce pan over high heat.  Put in the remaining rock salt and white pepper. (I cheated here and put in some chili pepper seeds as well).
7. When the oil is smoking hot, put in the rest of the green onion and ginger. Stir a little and quickly remove from heat.  Immediately drizzle the oil onto the scallops.

It's normal for the oil to spatter and sizzle a little on the scallops. Just clean up the plate a little with paper towel. The oil warms up the scallops and caramelize the soy sauce. It should have layers of flavours and the perfect texture.

Whole Wheat Bread

Fresh out of the oven

I have always been told that pastry is very scientific, but recipe books never explain why things are done in the certain way.  This is why I really like this book. It goes into the chemistry behind baking a loaf of bread.  Everything from the molecular structure of the various types of gluten, the ionization of salt to analysis of different kneading and molding methods.    Instead of copying recipes, this book teaches me to make my own recipes.

Here is my favourite whole wheat bread recipe:

400g whole wheat flour
280g water
2g instant yeast
7g salt

1. Make the 'sponge' 12 to 15 hours before you plan on mixing the dough.  Use 50-55F water, warmer for cold houses and cooler for warm houses. Final temperature should be 65F
2. The sponge should be 187g flour, 140g water, and a pinch of yeast.  Mix, cover, and let it rise in room temperature.
3. Mix in the rest of the ingredients into the sponge.  Knead it for 20 minutes or until it is adequately kneaded.  Put it in a bowl and let me rise.  When it is fully risen (about an hour), punch it down, fold it, and let it rise again.
3. Once it is again fully risen, shape it into a boule. (i.e. flatten it with the flat of your hands, hold the corners in and flip it over to make a ball)
4. Place the loaf smooth side down in a floured bowl to rise for the third time.  Cover and proof until it is soft and full of pass, poking it leaves a dent.
5. Preheat the oven to 460F.
6. Flip the laof out of the bowl onto a baking sheet or other surface to score it.
7. Put the loaf into the oven on the baking sheet with a cup of water and make for 25-30 minutes. Or when the crust turns brown.
Cool on a rack so the air can circulate below the bread.


Bread Science: The Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread