Month: March 2014

Pom Pom Pom

Apple, apple, apple IMG_1386 Our repertoire has so far focused almost exclusively on elements of entrées and mains. This isn’t intentional, we aren’t dessert-ists… and to prove it, we’ve taken our first crack at a dessert from the book. This is a signature dish for Toque! and is one of the most stunning dishes, visually speaking. We started by making the apple sorbet. This element needed to be done in advance, so we did this the day before. The apples were washed and baked in a pan until they were uniformly soft. We initially placed them on a flat baking sheet… we hadn’t considered the amount of juice that the apples would release, and mid-way had to pour the partially liquefied apples and their juice into a pan. IMG_1282 After they cooled a little, we passed the apples through a potato ricer. I’m pretty sure this is not how we were supposed to do that, but we used what we have! That potato ricer has gotten so much use–we’ve made hash browns, mashed potatoes, dehydrated ricotta–and now apple sauce!

Before we baked the apple slices, we boiled some apple juice (the good old stuff from a can) with sugar and Madagascar vanilla beans. After the mixture cooled, we added some gelatin and poured it into a siphon and charged it with N2O to refrigerate. It was important for this step to be done early since it required hours in the fridge to set.

Next we boiled the purée with sugar and allowed the mixture to cool before running it through our ice cream maker. The next day, we sliced some apples with a mandolin and prepared a simple syrup to dip them in. IMG_1315 The slices were then baked on a baking sheet and carefully flipped halfway through the cooking time. We had some trouble getting them to crisp up, but after a few minutes out of the oven, they crisped up quite nicely! IMG_1354

The next element we needed to complete was the crumble. This was fairly simple, we ground up some almonds and mixed in some oatmeal, demerera sugar, flour, and butter in the stand mixer. This was then baked in the oven and broken apart to form the crumble. IMG_1366 With all of the components done, it was finally time to assemble the dessert (and not a moment too soon, the apple chips were almost snacked into oblivion!). IMG_1376   This is an intermediate step that showcases the apple mousse. IMG_1407 And here is the final result. This is an amazing dessert–each element showcased the apple flavour in a different way, but worked perfectly together:

  • The apple chips were sweet and crispy.
  • The apple mousse was tart and contrasted the crunch of the apple chips well.
  • The sorbet was a less sweet adaptation of the fruit that toned down the sweetness of the mousse and the apple chips.

We have so much of the crumble left that we will be making this again very soon!

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Burnt Confit Mackerel

Mackerel, maple, miso and sriracha

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We started with recipes that would have easily sourced ingredients–right now it is winter and a lot of the produce we’d like to source aren’t locally available. So we’ve done yet again another fish dish! Summer is quickly approaching, though, and we are looking forward to the local fruits and vegetables that will start showing up at the farmers market over the next few months.

Melissa had the option of having the fishmonger clean the mackerel for me, but I asked her to get the fish uncleaned so I could practice filleting the fish.

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After cleaning and splitting the fish into fillets, the next step was the remove the pin bones. I had never cooked or filleted a mackerel before–I assumed it would be the same as most other fish. To my surprise, the bones looked more like a red-colored plug. After a quick trip to the kitchen store to get some boning tweezers, I carefully removed each of the bones. It was weird because each fillet appeared to be divided into two since the bones ran all the way down the side of the fish… I’d never seen this before, apparently this a side spine of pin bones?

Regardless, the fillet turned out nicely. I cured them with salt and sugar for an hour in the fridge. I was glad that this recipe required curing the fish–the process of gutting, filleting, pin boning and photographing meant that the fish had been out at room temperature for quite a while.

Next, the fish was washed of its cure and brushed in olive oil and maple syrup and allowed to rest and come to room temperature while the oven preheated.

Both fillets were cooked until they were nice and flaky, then flipped and broiled for a few minutes to get the skin as crispy as possible. I did this in lieu of having a culinary torch. The broiling method didn’t really work; all it seemed to do was create air pockets that lifted the skin away from the flesh. However, we are now the proud owners of a culinary torch and 3 fire extinguishers. Next time, we’ll see if we can use the torch without setting a fire!

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I then sliced and plated the fillets with sriracha sauce and miso. The aforementioned issue with the lifted skin made the slicing very difficult, but I don’t think it impacted the flavours of the dish at all (which were fantastic!).

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It was my first time trying miso. It has a strong flavour that takes some getting used to, but in combination with the spicy sriracha and the strong fishy flavour, everything in this dish seemed to be excellently balanced! I’ll definitely be making this one again (using my new fire-starter)!

Asparagus Mousse with Burnt Butter

Asparagus trimmings, cream, burnt butter

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The following is an actual conversation with Melissa:

Melissa:   So what goes in the dish your making?
David:      Trimmings of asparagus.
Melissa:   But what else is goes in it?
David:      Full fat milk and cream!
Melissa:   Okay, but what is it served with?
David:      Butter… and a spoon!

This was a fun recipe to make, it was the perfect opportunity for us to play with our new whipping siphon!

We started by peeling and chopping green asparagus. I’m pretty sure this recipe was intended to minimize waste, so rather than discard the naked asparagus, we steamed them the next day for dinner.

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The above picture shows the parts of the asparagus we actually used for this recipe. We lightly simmered the peels and trimmings in milk until they were soft and subsequently blended the mixture into a purée.  We then added whipping cream and poured into the siphon.

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After charging the siphon with N2O, we left it to chill in the fridge. While the cream was chilling, we burned some butter on the stove. This was a very quick  process, and the butter was almost black when we took it off the heat.

After some time had passed, we couldn’t wait anymore and decided to try plating. Our plan was to siphon a small portion of asparagus foam into a bowl, add some burnt butter sauce, then photograph and eat. What actually happened? We siphoned some asparagus foam–wait, I think I’m using the wrong word here–we splattered asparagus foam all over the place and spent the next 5 minutes cleaning up the aftermath (this involved our clothing, table, light box, faces, walls, and the floor). Then Melissa gave it a try… although this time the mess was slightly less devastating since we had relocated to the kitchen counter (that’s what back-splashes are for!). We decided to abandon the shallow bowl–we figured a cup was the best bet for success. We ultimately were able to “plate” this dish in a cup and dress it with the burnt butter sauce.

One of the challenges we faced with this dish is that the asparagus foam easily liquefied under the hot lights. This made the photography aspect slightly more stressful, but I think we were able to get an okay final picture.

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It was interesting to eat–it tasted very strongly of  asparagus, which was surprising given that we only used the peels and other trimmings which would usually be considered garbage. I can’t say that we’re excited to make this again, but it’s possible that it was intended to be enjoyed alongside a protein or a salad. If we do make this again, we’ll pair it with something for sure!

Maple Syrup Caramelized White Asparagus

White asparagus, Maple, fir sugar

White Asparagus Final Dish

Since all of the recipes we’ve done up to this point have been either fish or chicken, we decided to try a few dishes Melissa could also enjoy. The first was this recipe for maple syrup caramelized white asparagus.

The recipe required some more Balsam Fir in the form of “fir sugar”–luckily we planned for this in advance and made the fir sugar after last week’s forage. This involved grinding together some fir needles and cane sugar which resulted in a bright green mixture with a pleasant aroma of fir needles.

We prepared the white asparagus by bending the stalks to allow for them to snap at the point where the woody asparagus starts. We had previously read about this practice but had always cut the ends flush at an arbitrary point for nicer presentation. Having snapped them this time around, the cooked asparagus had a uniform texture with no fibrous sections–it really is a great technique!

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The cooking process involved blanching the asparagus in a pot of salted boiling water. I’ve been cooking for a while now, and I still have no idea how much salt to add to the water when blanching or boiling food. I’ve read that the water should have the same degree of saltiness as sea water, but that seems a little arbitrary since water from the Black Sea is ridiculously salty and differs greatly from the salt content of the sea in Jamaica (this is based solely on my tasting experiences of oceans). This also seems to be of little help since different foods absorb different quantities of salt. In any case, I added some salt to some water.

After a quick blanch, the asparagus were sautéed in butter and maple syrup until they were glossy with the maple caramel.

Cooking Asparagus

We then seasoned with the asparagus with salt, pepper and fir sugar.

Cropped Asparagus

The final dish was great, and we really loved it! The maple syrup and butter made it taste more like a dessert than a side dish of vegetables (this would be a great dish to trick your kids into eating asparagus). As we had leftover asparagus, I made this dish again the next day as an after-work snack–it’s quick and delicious!

Chicken Casserole

Chicken, balsam fir and citrus

Chicken Casserole Final Dish

One of the things we really enjoy about this book (so far) is that it sometimes seems like the ingredient lists will be easier to obtain than they are. For example, here in North America, the Balsam Fir is common–so common that we decided to forage for this ingredient. This task was fun but frustrating, we studied up in advance, bundled up and brought our dog out to the woods. It turns out that not only is the Balsam Fir not super common in suburban areas, but it is equally uncommon in the stretch of wooded area that we surveyed for over 4 hours. After a long trek through the woods and seeing our fair share of deer poop (and a beautiful white-tailed deer where the poop likely originated) we started our voyage back through suburbia. It was here that we actually located a Balsam Fir! At least now we know where to go to find a Balsam Fir in the future–this book uses a lot of it.

Balsam Fir

Back at home, we temporarily freed the chicken of its butcher twine shackles, washed it and patted it dry. It was covered in kosher salt and left for a few hours to season the skin, lightly cure the meat underneath and draw some moisture out of the skin.

Salted Chicken

While the chicken was curing, we made a luting paste using some flour, egg whites and water. Luting paste, what a brilliant idea! In all our years of reading cookbooks, studying them, memorizing the techniques used, and watching cooking shows, we have never come across luting paste.  A few weeks ago, I was cooking beef tongue in a red wine braise. I made sure that I followed the recipe exactly, and put the tongue in a cast iron Dutch oven for 3.5 hours to braise. About two hours in, the room started to smell like burnt tongue, acidic wine and failure. Our autopsy concluded that the cast iron pot did not have a tight enough seal and the liquid evaporated at an unexpected rate. Against Melissa’s advice, I decided that it would be a waste not to taste the partially cooked dish I had spent hours preparing. If only I had known about luting paste at the time, I might have spared myself some frustration–not to mention the night of incessant vomiting that followed.

After its cure, the chicken was washed, patted dry and placed into its cast iron cooking vessel. A traditional mirepoix (leek, carrot, and onion) was browned in a pan, then stuffed into the chicken along with some of the foraged Balsam Fir, Greek thyme (from our home garden), orange and lemon wedges.

Stuffing

The chicken casserole was then sealed into the pan with luting paste and set into the oven to bake.

Chicken Before Oven (1 of 1)

After 45 minutes of baking, the apartment was filled with a really nice piney scent (technically it was more of a  “firry” scent, but that sounds funny…).

After an hour and a half in the oven, we took the chicken out to rest. While sitting on the table resting, the casserole luting paste sounded like it was crackling (probably due to the weight of the heavy cast iron lid that had been raised over an inch from the base). Once the meat was fully rested, we had to MacGyver a way to break into the casserole dish since the luting paste was hard as rock. This required a hammer, a screwdriver, and a bread knife–and a resulted in a pretty bad burn to my hand. The chicken was trapped for a good 20 minutes while we chiseled, hacked and sawed our way to the food. The final result was definitely worth the extra effort–the chicken was tender and delicious!

Chicken Casserole Final Dish

The meat of the chicken was actually very interesting. The outer layer was stringy and chewy from the salt cure while underneath the flesh was extremely moist and dripping with juices. It tasted mostly of the mirepoix and citrus. It was surprising that the Balsam Fir had a strong aromatic presence, but that in the sauce, it was very much a background taste that added some extra interest to a meat we’ve all eaten hundreds of times before.

Daikon Rolls with Marinated Salmon

Three varieties of radish, cured salmon, avocado and pickled vegetables.

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We chose to make this dish because it looked challenging to plate. Three little sushi-type rolls stuffed with salmon and radish standing on a plate–that should be a challenge.

This dish started with a trip to the farmers market looking for Daikon radish. After speaking with a few vendors, we ascertained that finding Daikon radish at our farmer’s market seemed unlikely as it is not in season. Just in case we couldn’t find any Daikon radishes, we picked up these interesting-looking local black radishes.

Black Radish (1 of 1)

Imagine a black wrapped roll with salmon and vegetables; the contrast of black radish, pink salmon and green onion would have made a beautiful dish. Wishful thinking…

We ended up finding the elusive Daikon radish at an international food market (for other radish hunters, also known as “white radish”). We also picked up a small kohlrabi to give us some options when building the dish.

We brought everything home, set-up the camera equipment and got started. Surprisingly, this dish did not need much actual cooking–the main focus for us was to carefully plate the finished product with as much elegance as possible.

The first steps involved curing the salmon with a salt and sugar mix and making a quick pickling liquid for the julienned Daikon radish and carrots.

Pickles (1 of 1)

We also prepared an avocado purée, and lemon mayonnaise. With all the components prepared and assembled, we started peeled the radishes and kohlrabi. We started peeling the black radish only to find disappointment inside. The black radish was actually white on the inside… who knew! We thinly sliced these with a mandolin.

Radish Slice (1 of 1)

To compare, here are the other slices of radish/kohlrabi.

Daikon Slice (1 of 1)

Daikon radish

Kohlrabi Slice (1 of 1)

Kohlrabi (Actually not a radish at all, it’s from the cabbage family)

Assembling the rolls was much like making sushi. The biggest challenge we faced was placing just the right amount of the components inside that would still allow for them to be rolled up tightly. Also, we had a little trouble shaping the rolls that used kohlrabi or black radish so that they would stand up on a plate. Of the three types of wraps, the Daikon radish was by far the easiest to stand due to its perfect rectangular shape–the black radish’s circular shape was difficult to seal to keep the salmon from falling out and the kohlrabi when sliced thinly (in addition to also having a ridiculous oblong shape) had a number of holes which leaked avocado purée and lemon mayonnaise.  It wasn’t easy and it took some practice. The assembling went something along these lines:

  1. Obtain radish/kohlrabi slice
  2. Add avocado purée, lemon mayonnaise and Dijon mustard
  3. Add pickled vegetables and thin strips of green onion
  4. Garnish with sesame seeds
  5. Roll and stand up on a plate
  6. Roll broke open or tipped over
  7. Eat it!
  8. Repeat

I have to say that it was the most delicious trial and error process I’ve ever experienced!

Eating Daikon Roll (1 of 1)

The radish wrap is fresher and more crunchy than a typical seaweed sushi wrap, and the cured salmon, avocado purée, lemon mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and pickled vegetables was the perfect contrast of textures and flavours!

Plated Dish Table (1 of 1)

Confit Salmon Head

Cured Ontario salmon head, Abitibi maple syrup and various herbs.

Eating Salmon Head (1 of 1)

We are excited to have finally undertaken our first recipe of this project! We flipped through this cookbook a number of times before determining that one of the fish recipes would be a good start–in part because they feature easily sourced ingredients and in part because the recipes are a little less complex (compared to the rest of the recipes). We wanted the first recipe to be both challenging to cook  and challenging to photograph–because hey, if you’re going to start a food blog, you should be able to make fish head look good on a plate!

Photography is very new to us, we bought our first DSLR for this project, so look for picture quality to improve as we progress through the book.

We sourced a beautiful salmon head from the local farmer’s market, the fishmonger was nice enough to split it in half for us. We were also able to find all of the necessary herbs for this dish at our farmer’s market–which is surprising given that it’s March right now.

This first step to this recipe involved curing of the head with salt and sugar.

Curing Salt and Sugar

Once preserved, the salmon head was washed to remove the excess cure and patted dry. The fish was drizzled with olive oil and maple syrup from Northern Quebec (Amos) and then baked in the oven. While the salmon head was baking, we blended together a pesto type sauce (referred to as herbalicious in the book) using local herbs and lemon zest.

Eating Salmon Head

What we didn’t realize at the start of the day was how much time it would take to make this dish…

Step 1. Visit the farmers market for fresh salmon and herbs.
Step 2. Set-up camera equipment, tripod, lights and lightbox.
Step 3. Measure out salt and sugar, find appropriate background to photograph.
Step 4. Figure out how to focus on individual salt grains.
Step 5. Then mix together and apply to fish.
And so on and so forth…

What should have been a two minute task ended up taking almost an hour, and that was only for the first step of many. There will definitely be a learning curve with the project…

This dish really surprised me (my girlfriend is a vegetarian and only sous chefs for meaty dishes). This was my first taste of the quality of food served at Toque! and it was amazing. It was salty, sweet, and the herb pesto really accentuated the flavour of the salmon.

We will certainly be cooking this recipe again! This is a great way to cook a cheap cut of fish ($2/lb)… although next time I’d love to try the book’s recommendation of browning the top of the fish with a blowtorch to crisp up the skin and caramelize the maple syrup. This will have to wait until I get a blowtorch… and a larger fire extinguisher!