Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Great Mayonnaise Rescue

With all the hoopla going on about salmonella in eggs, I think now is a good time to take a stand. I'm very careful about food safety in my kitchen. I wash my hands after touching raw meat, I use a plastic cutting board for meat so that I don't contaminate the wood board I use for veggies, and I use a thermometer to ensure I'm cooking my meats to the proper temperature. But there is one thing I refuse to stop doing, and that is eating raw eggs. I love undercooked and raw eggs--their creamy texture, their rich flavor--and I love what they do to foods made with them. I will not, absolutely will never stop eating raw eggs no matter what food scares occur.

One of the reasons I'm able to take a stand, of course, is that I don't buy eggs from the grocery store, ever. I buy them from Farmer Tom at the farmer's market. Farmer Tom is an awesome farmer who sells the best, most delicious medium and large free-range pastured brown eggs. And if you're a little kid or pretty girl, he does magic tricks with a rubber band while you buy your eggs from his stand. (Also, when I told him that his eggs were the most delicious, he said "I'll tell the chickens!" which is adorable.)

So since I have too much to do today to make a full dish, I decided to make a favorite sandwich--BLTs--and do it with homemade mayonnaise to make up for the aoli fail that occurred a few months ago. People make mayonnaise all the time, so it can't be that hard, right? I just had an off day with the aoli. I decided to try the mayonnaise recipe from Ad Hoc at Home, to see if the recipe would make any difference.

So, I gathered my mise--four egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and 2 cups canola oil (I added some peanut to the oil, as I didn't have enough canola).

I put the yolks into the blender (to see if it worked better than the food processor) and mixed them.

Next, with the blender running, I began to trickle oil, very slowly, into the top of the blender.

With mayonnaise, and all the other "aise" sauces (hollandaise, bernaise, aoli..aise...) the most important thing is to add the oil slowly, almost drop by drop, to allow it to emulsify with the egg and prevent it from separation. Too much oil at once, and the sauce will separate into the runny failure.

For a while, things looked good. The mayonnaise was thick and creamy, and I kept adding the oil s-l-o-w-l-y while stopping to scrape the sides of the blender.

But once half the oil was in, the noise in the blender changed and liquid started spurting up out of the hole in the lid--oh no...

Blech. Nasty, runny, separated mess.

I stomped around the kitchen for a while but then remembered that there is, actually, a way to save separated mayonnaise--and now was the time to try it. I abandoned the blender in favor of a hand beater and a bowl. I beat another egg yolk:

Then, little by little, I added the separated mess to the yolk, beating all the while. This, finally, did the trick, and the mayonnaise came together, even when I added the remaining oil, the lemon, and the salt. The finished product was eggy, lemony, salty... perfect.

I spread it over fresh toasted bread, and added tomatoes and lettuce from the market, and some crisped bacon.

The result was delicious (though the bacon plus mayo was a bit salty without very thick slices of tomato to balance it out). A delicious lunch, and I'm slowly but surely feeling better about cooking again.

Oh, and by the way, we didn't out those egg whites to waste. Husband J made us Ace Cocktails, a concoction of gin, cream, egg white and maraschino. A little sweeter than I usually like, but I do love that egg froth mouthfeel. Delicious.

Lessons Learned: Nico's new rules of mayonnaise: 1) Raw egg is delicious. Buy your eggs from farmers, and don't be afraid of them. 2) Pour the oil in as slowly as you can. 3) If it separates, don't freak! Just pour the separated sauce into a new egg yolk and it will solidify much better.

I'll try the aoli again using these rules, and this time I have confidence that I will succeed!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Another hellish week, but this time I am trying not to let that stop me from cooking this weekend. So I picked a very simple dessert--chocolate mousse. I've made mousse a few times, and it has the benefit of being relatively quick and easy to make. The real question is whether the Les Halles mousse is somehow better or more exciting than other types of mousses.

At first glance, this is the only mousse I've made that has Grand Marnier, which is exciting.

I started out by setting up my mise... some unsweetened chocolate, cointreau (since I didn't have Grand Marnier), four eggs (separated) and butter.

I melted the chocolate over a double boiler. I usually play fast and loose with my chocolate and sort of hover over the gas flame instead of bothering with a double boiler, but decided to be safe this time.

Next, I poured the cointreau into the melted chocolate and...?? The chocolate seized up weirdly. For a bit I thought I'd burned it, which was a problem, since I didn't have any more cooking chocolate left. I decided to try to continue on with the recipe since the chocolate didn't taste burnt, but was not hoping for the best.

Next I added the butter and egg yolk to the chocolate. It looked a bit grittier than it was supposed to, but at this point I was all in.

Next step, lighten the mousse. I whipped the egg whites until they reached soft peaks, and then folded them into the warm chocolate mixture.

Then I did the same with some heavy cream, and folded the entire mix together.

I dolloped the mousse into some martini glasses, and chilled it in the fridge for two hours.

The verdict--very nice. The gritty texture was there, but not as pronounced as I feared. Husband J hovered it down, praising the "cakey" texture, then promptly complained about how sick he felt after wolfing the mousse. I was more reserved and only ate about a third of mine, which ended up being just right.

So, not a bad dessert recipe, pretty easy for the end of a busy week.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Confessional Post and a Simple Fall Meal

So for the past few posts, I started most of them off apologizing for not blogging every week which was my stated goal. That's pretty boring, so I won't do that here, but I do feel the need to explain a bit why I've been so lax about posting about meals since July.

First of all, it's been a pretty intense work year for me, with most of my projects coming up essentially last-minute. This has been causing a lot of interruptions in my domestic life, particularly the project that started up at the end of July, and is continuing into November. I'm commuting to another city daily (when I'm not spending the night in hotels) combined with working extended days, and it's just exhausting. Husband J is picking up a lot of the ensuing slack around the house, and that includes packing lunches and making dinner. He's been amazing about it, but it has kept me out of the kitchen for the past month and a half.

Second, I haven't had much kitchen motivation lately, even when I have a little time to be in the kitchen. The last time I cooked something intense (Parisian style herb gnocci from the Bouchon cookbook) was a month and a half ago, and since then for some reason, flipping through cookbooks (once a favorite pastime) has left me feeling overwhelmed and depressed rather than energized and excited. I think this has a lot to do with me just being tired in general, and will pass once my schedule returns to a more reasonable level. But it's not a nice feeling when you can't get excited about something that used to give you so much inspiration.

Finally, I just have to say it... it's fall. And I hate fall. Everyone and their mom loves fall because of the crisp weather and the feeling in the air, but all I can think of is the end of warmth and sunshine, and the ensuing horrible, grey, gloomy winter. This is causing a little bit of a mood disconnect in the house, as Husband J loves fall. (In six months it will be my turn to gloat--I love spring, and Husband J hates it.) So, I'm doing my best to think about good fall things, and keep optimistic. I hope that with a little effort, I will be able to get my energy and my desire to cook back! So, even though I'm feeling pretty ill today, and even though it's a rather nasty, cloudy, rainy day, even though I spent much of yesterday crying because I missed the sun, and even though I have to be away from home all week next week, I'm going to make a very easy meal for tonight's dinner and get inspired again.

So, here we go. Roasted poussin and sautéed spinach.

First thing. I went all gaga over Tony's roasted chicken at the beginning of this experiment, and the only excuse I can give is that it was really my first ever roasted chicken. I have since seen the light. No no, it is Thomas Keller's roasted chicken that truly wins.

I 'splain. And I must admit in this blog dedicated to Tony Bourdain that Thomas Keller will always be a better chef. Of course, it is to Tony's credit that he freely admits this, and never tries to compete. So when I tried Thomas Keller's favorite roasted chicken recipe, I had no doubt it would be better than Tony's and it was. And there's just one simple secret to it: no moisture.

Yeah, Tony's recipe has all these mouthwatering ingredients like lemon and herb butter, but the thing is, all those lovely things add moisture, which is death to roast chicken's crispy, crunchy skin. So for Mr. Keller's roasted chicken (here a poussin, that is, a young chicken under 2 lbs), all we do is take the chicken, pat off all the moisture, and season the skin with salt and pepper. That's it!

Then put it in the oven at 450 for an hour and when you take it out, there's this golden brown deliciousness all over the bird. My god.

For a side dish, I wanted something green, so since spinach was the only veggie I had in the house I decided on spinach sautéed with garlic. This is another crazytown, dead easy recipe. Warm some oil in a pan, add some chopped garlic, then a bunch of spinach leaves til they get all coated with oil and garlic and deliciousness. That's it. Then you serve.

Husband J admitted while we ate that he doesn't necessarily crave roasted chicken, and that he always hearkened back to the rotisserie chicken of his childhood--you know, that junk in the plastic clam shell from the grocery store, or the Boston Market. But this is much better, with its salty, crunchy, peppery crispiness, and makes him want to come back for more. I tell him he needs to learn how to roast the chickens, and make them for me!

So that's my simple fall dinner. I hope that will jump start some cooking in the near future, and that, at least, it makes you hungry for more. It did the trick with me.