Friday, January 30, 2009

Sage Advice About Browned Butter

I have noticed that something is missing from a lot of recipes… I see Paula using butter, butter and more butter. It’s her signature. 

I see others taking a healthier stance, such as Giada or Alton, by adding just a touch of butter to olive oil in order to increase flavor quotient. And while I applaud their approach, they are missing one of the greatest flavor enhancements that can be added to ANY dish… I am speaking of “Browned Butter”, or as it is known in France… Beurre Noisette.

It requires such a small amount of time, but the return on investment is immeasurable. And yet, on most of the cooking shows I see, a simple pat of butter mixed with a little olive oil seems to be the BIG flavor enhancement. Well, except for Paula, whose obsession for packing as much butter into a recipe as possible is legendary. (I love you Paula!!!)

It's been said many times that "Everything is Better with Butter", but I say "Butter may be Better, but Browned Butter is Best".

Why am I making such a big deal about this? Well, if you would like to add a deep, toasted, nutty flavor to your next dish, then browned butter is for you… Browned butter contains less water, and water “waters” down the flavor of butter; thusly, less browned butter is needed to achieve more intense flavor.

What do you do with browned butter? Well, it is excellent, believe it or not, with fruits, such as pears and apples. It pairs well with Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Winter Squash, Green Beans and makes the best Mashed Potatoes on earth. It creates a
phenomenal Hollandaise and many other sauces based on roux. It’s divine with fish, seafood and shellfish. Substituted for olive oil in the Soffritto (sauté) of a simple Lemon Risotto to add that “extra something” that people can’t really put their finger on. And lets not forget desserts, brushed over croissant, between sheets of filo for baklava or drizzled over the filling of an apple pie. In conclusion, it will take your culinary delights to the next level.

The process is simple. Place butter in a small saucepan over low heat, the butter will, of course, melt. It will begin to “Boil” as the
water in the butter turns to steam and escapes… at this point, begin watching the pan…. You will see the milk solids separating out and dropping to the bottom of the pan, allow these to brown slightly. Swirl the pan a little… As soon as you notice that the liquid butterfat is becoming a light golden brown color, remove the pan from the heat and let it set for about 10 minutes… It will continue to brown slightly. Strain through a couple layers of cheesecloth and Voila!!!You have one of the most powerful players in your flavor arsenal.

Pan fried Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter

1 garlic clove; minced fine
4 sage leaves, minced; plus extra for garnishing
4 TB Unsalted Butter
1 lb Potato Gnocchi


Begin by heating the water to cook the gnocchi
Meanwhile place 4 TB butter to a small saucepan and set over low flame.
Once the butter begins to brown, remove from heat and let set for 5 minutes
Prepare cheesecloth for straining.
Strain browned butter through cheesecloth and add garlic and sage.

Leave this to steep a little while cooking the gnocchi in salted boiling water.  
When the gnocchi begin to float, remove them from the water to a bowl. 
Place a large skillet over medium heat. 
Pour in the browned butter/sage/garlic and heat.

Once the butter is hot, toss the gnocchi into the pan and sear.

Toss the pan occasionally, until the gnocchi begin to brown slightly.

Remove from heat and divide between 4 bowls.
Sprinkle with a little more minced sage.
Garnish with a sage tip.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie... Blackened Catfish!

This is really the only way I eat Catfish anymore... I recommend Channel Cat, as it has a very mild flavor, almost like Tilapia. I made the mistake of eating Mud Cat before and I understand why it was given that name. I have many fond memories of childhood trips to Oxbow Dam on the Snake River bordering Oregon & Idaho, to go Cattin'... Staying up till the wee hours of the morning, hauling huge Catfish out of the river, of course there was the occasion Carp, which eats catfish eggs or anything else that gets near it greedy maw. Breakfasts of Crapy, caught during the previous day.... With pancakes cooked on the Coleman. Ah, the good old days...
I usually make a quadruple batch of this rub to keep on hand. But for a family of four, 1 lb of catfish is plenty.

Blackened Catfish

Blackening Rub:
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 tsp Sweet Paprika
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp Dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
1/4 tsp Cayenne – or to taste, I use just a pinch more than 1/4 tsp
1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper

With a mortar and pestle, grind oregano, Marjoram, Thyme and Kosher Salt
In a small bowl, combine all the herbs, spices, and sugar.

Blackened Catfish:
1 recipe of rub
2 Catfish Fillets about 8 oz each
1 large Clove of Garlic, sliced thin
1 TB Olive oil
1 TB unsalted butter

Pat your catfish dry and lay out on a bleach-able surface.

Sprinkle the spice mixture on both sides, go ahead and rub it in to ensure complete and even coverage.

In a large skillet, sauté the sliced garlic in olive oil over moderately high heat, just until golden.

Remove garlic from pan and throw it away,
Add butter to the pan;

Once the foam subsides introduce the fillets to the pan.

Sauté for 4 minutes on each side or until almost cooked through (They will finish cooking after you remove them from the pan)

Serve with vegetable Jambalaya, as I did above.

Although I have to admit, my Jambalaya was not from scratch, I had help from Zatarain's... But if you would like to try an excellent homemade Jambalaya, look no further than Spryte's Place. Incredible!!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Salad of Champions

I am definitely an omnivore, I love meat. But I do have to admit that when the mercury begins to rise, I tend to eat a lot more cold foods. Yes, I am talking about what a lot of people refer to as "Rabbit Fodder". But this salad is sure to make even a hard core carnivore a happy camper. I sometimes jokingly refer to this as "MAN salad". Yes, it has that green stuff (arugula) but it's at least partially covered by grilled meat, cheese and nuts, so it can't be all bad. I THINK I originally found this recipe on the George Foreman grill site... However, like usual, I have taken a few liberties over time.

Maple Balsamic Grilled Pork Tenderloin Salad

3 TB Grade B Maple Syrup (Grade B has more flavor than Grade A Dark Amber)
1 1/2 TB Balsamic Vinegar (You can use the 2 leaf salad type)
1 1/2 TB Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 1/2 TB very finely minced shallot
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp Marjoram
1/2 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp Oregano
1/4 tsp Thyme
1/4 tsp Ground Coriander
1 tsp Orange or Lemon Zest
1/2 Tsp Kosher salt
1/2 Tsp freshly ground Green or Black Peppercorns
1 Package of pork tenderloin (they are usually about 1 1/2 - 2 lbs and contain 2 tenderloins)
3 oz Gorgonzola Cheese
3 oz Toasted Pine nuts

Add maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, oil, minced shallot, herbs, spice, zest, salt, and pepper in a zip lock freezer bag, seal it & shake the heck out of it until mixed.

Trim the silver skin and visible fat from tenderloin using sharp thin blade or boning knife. (That is the membrane that I am pulling aways from the meat)

Slice into 1/3 - 1/2-inch slices. (It is very important that all the slices be the same thickness).
Toss the pork slices in the maple balsamic marinade and let stand for 20 minutes.

While the pork marinates, preheat your Grill pan on medium high heat.

I you have an infrared thermometer, you're looking for about 400°.
When the grill is hot, remove pork slices from the marinade and arrange on the grill, turn after 3 1/2 - 4 minutes and grill for 3 more minutes.
If working in batches, make sure to foil tent your cooked slices, as this is best served warm.

Serve on a bed of Arugula or Mixed Baby greens sprinkled with a small amount of Crumbled Gorgonzola and toasted Pine nuts.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Ermine Wrapped Velvet

I love frosting…
I am thoroughly convinced that the only reason cake was invented, is as a vehicle to get the frosting into your mouth when a spoon is not readily available. Most people are familiar with ButterCreme – (just say no to margarine) be it American, French, Italian or Swiss. Then there is Pseudo-ButterCream, Confectioners sugar, milk and a lot of butter. There is 7-Minute frosting, Sea foam Frosting, Burnt Sugar Frosting; Browned Butter Frosting…. I could go on, but these are the classics through the ages. Then suddenly, Carrot Cake hit Studio 54 and Cream Cheese Frosting and Leisure Suits were all the rage. I count this a good thing, for I adore Cream Cheese; not so much the Leisure Suits….

Then, the Yuppies came……
And as time in the kitchen decreased during the "dot com" boom, more and more pre-packaged “Tub” frostings adorned the cakes being haphazardly tossed together during cell phone conversations. A glimmer of hope remained though, for a few real frostings, blessedly bereft of hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup, survived in little pockets across America…

But one, in particular seems to have been dethroned from its rightful place; ruthlessly supplanted by a stronger contender.

Cream Cheese Frosting, for it was young, spry, quick, and nimble and only required 3 ingredients.
So what frosting is this that I speak of…? The humble yet deliciously unparalleled Ermine Frosting... whose rightful place is draped across an expanse of Red Velvet Cake. Yes, that is right, and thanks be to my Grandmother, for she kept this frosting alive in our family, never succumbing to the simple allure of the Cream Cheese.

OK, now that this is starting to sound like a prologue to a B movie.…

What the heck is Ermine Frosting, you ask?

Ermine frosting is a “Boiled milk” frosting, sometimes referred to as “Butter Roux”, although that is not technically correct, since it is not based on a roux. Ermine frosting is simply a different method of making a ButterCreme using the gluten in flour and casein in milk to create a suspension, instead of the albumen in egg whites like Swiss and Italian ButterCreme or an emulsion with egg yolks like French ButterCreme…

So what makes Ermine so special?

Well, it has to do with the mouth feel of the gluten vs. albumen. While ButterCreme is the "ultimate" when it comes to silky smooth and creamy, Ermine is a little more dense, but at the same time, just as light, creating a paradox. If ButterCreme is silk, Ermine is, as it’s name implies, Mink/Ermine. Light, smooth, soft and creamy, but firm with slightly more body.

I urge you to try this frosting the next time you indulge in a Red Velvet Cake… Restore this neglected frosting to it’s rightful place, you will NOT be disappointed.

Ermine Frosting
It does need to be refrigerated though, just like French and American ButterCreme, as it does not stand up well to temps above 70 degrees.

1 cup Whole Milk
3 TB AP (All-Purpose) Flour
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 cup unsalted Butter
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla

Whisk flour into milk and place over medium heat in a small sauce pan.

Cook mixture, whisking frequently, until thickened; (when a drizzle of the mixture leaves lines in the top for just a couple of seconds before “melting” back into the mass)

Remove mixture from heat and whisk in salt;
Pour into a bowl to stop cooking, covering with plastic wrap on the surface to prevent crusting.
In a stand mixer, begin creaming the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add vanilla and mix to combine.

When milk mixture is slightly cooled; add 1 TB at a time to the creamed butter mixture while the mixer is running on medium speed.
Slowly but surely the gluten will pull in the butter into a pseudo emulsion (I think it's actually a suspension).
You should have an extremely fluffy, light and buttery frosting when completed.

And what vehicle should you use to eat this divine frosting????

Why, Red Velvet Cake, or course....

Red Velvet Cake

2 1/4 cups Cake Flour 
1 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
1 cup Buttermilk
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
1 TB Natural Cocoa Powder (Not Dutch)
1 tsp Vanilla (Bourbon)
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Kosher Sal
optional – 1/2 oz red food coloring (try to find one made with red #40 allura ONLY, as red #3 has been shown to cause Thyroid cancer)
optional - About 1 pint of raspberries to "smush" between the layers

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease and flour the bottom only of 2 9-inch cake pans, or grease and line with parchment rounds.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Whisk together the Flour and Salt.
Combine the Cocoa, Vanilla and Red food color (If you are foregoing the food color, whisk the cocoa into the flour and salt mixture and add the vanilla to the buttermilk).
Add eggs to the creamed butter mixture and beat a little longer, until well combined.
Add the cocoa mixture and mix 30 seconds. just until color becomes uniform
Add Buttermilk and flour mixture, alternating, beginning and ending with the buttermilk.
Measure 1 tsp Baking Soda into a small dish, add the Cider Vinegar and let it foam a little.
Add to the cake batter and incorporate with a few quick strokes.
Working quickly, so you don’t loose the leavening power of the soda, divide the batter between 2 cake pans.
Bake cake for 35–40 minutes or until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes, turn cakes out onto a cooling rack.
Chill, covered in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before frosting.