thyme

Girly Cranberries

Cranberries, thyme, kalamata olives, and cream

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We took a fairly lengthy break from the blog for the holidays, but we are finally back and catching up on the writing for our completed recipes! We struggled with this post a little because we were unable to get the plating to look the way we wanted it to, so we tried something a little bit different.

The ironically named (based on our plating style choice) Girly Cranberries recipe consists of 4 parts:

  • Cranberry Sorbet
  • Cranberry Chips
  • Candied and dried kalamata olives
  • Thyme Oil

We started with the candied kalamata olives since it appeared to take some time to make. First, we cut the olives into slivers.

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Next, we soaked the olives in cold water to remove some of the saltiness.

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Finally, we boiled the olive pieces in sugar to make a caramel and then set them on a silpat to harden.

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The resulting candied olives were sweet and salty–definitely a strange start to this recipe! We snacked on them while we made the other components, they were surprisingly delicious!

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In order to have all of the garnishing elements completed before the actual dessert, we made the thyme oil next. We noticed that this is a similar process to the scallion oil we made for the Tomatoes and Burnt Bread recipe, and that we will be making a number of herb-infused oils in the future (something to look forward to, they are amazing!).

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We blanched the thyme in boiling water for around 30 seconds, then blended the thyme with a neutral oil until it was smooth.

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We placed the blended thyme in the fridge to sit overnight and then turned our attention to the cranberry purée, which is used as a base for both the sorbet and chips. The cranberries were heated with a little bit of water and sugar. The goal of this exercise was to ensure that all of the berries burst, a process reminiscent to making popcorn! This was the first time we had worked with fresh cranberries, and we were surprised how loud they actually sound when they rupture!

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As the berries cooked, we noticed that the berries started to foam considerably.

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By the end of the cooking process, all of the berries appeared to have burst, and the the foam subsided. Really, it just look like we had made a traditional cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving meal!

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The similarities to the Thanksgiving side dish stopped there, though. We strained the pulp from the liquid and set aside the liquid for later.

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Finally, we ran the pulp through a food processor and then through our ice cream machine to make the sorbet.

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After placing the sorbet in the freezer, we started what is by far the hardest component of this dish–the cranberry chips. This wasn’t the hardest component in theory, but we found the execution to be challenging and tried making these twice!

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We started by separating the whites from some eggs and beating them into a stiff-peaked meringue.

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Next, we gently folded in some of the cranberry purée we made earlier to make a light pink mixture.

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If you’ve ever worked with meringue before, you’ll know that time is of the essence in order to preserve the delicate air bubbles. The first time we did the cranberry chips, we rushed to get the mixture onto parchment paper and ended up spreading the mixture too thick. The result was that we had a thick, not-so-crispy chip that was inedible. The second time around, we took our time to spread smaller batches of meringue on the parchment paper with a cake knife to get a thinner, crispier chip.

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It took some time, but we were able to dehydrate these in the oven at a low heat to get the chips we were hoping for!

The following day, we passed the blended thyme and oil through a coffee filter.

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This oil is amazing on it’s own, but definitely a strange addition to a dessert! We noted that there was a heavier precipitate at the bottom after filtering, so we tried to use just the clear green part of the oil using a dropper.

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Finally, we whipped some cream with a little bit of sugar to put with this dessert. Our final challenge was to plate this masterpiece of components… a challenge we tried again and again to succeed at. The main problem we encountered is that Melissa’s plating style (neat, tidy and aligned) wouldn’t work with this recipe as it ended up looking too staged, so David took the reigns on this one! We’ve seen a number of disorganized plating styles and thought we’d give that a try!

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We ultimately ended up dropping the components on the plate from a distance of about 1 meter after carefully standing up the cranberry chips.

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We found that the sorbet had a very low melting point and really didn’t make it to the plating stage well, so we dropped that too!

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This was definitely one of the stranger desserts we’ve endeavoured to make, but each of the flavours brought something special to the plate. The saltiness of the olives contrasted really well with sweetness from the whipped cream and the tang of the cranberries. We found that the thyme oil was a great accent to the flavours without being overpowering, and that the differences in texture left nothing to be desired. This dessert really does have everything you could want and we loved it!

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Quail Confit

Quail, lemon, thyme, garlic, and duck fat

B&W Theo (8 of 9)

Oh duck fat… I’ve seen it called liquid gold–it has the magical ability to make pretty much everything a little more delicious than if you used butter or oil. Today, I had the pleasure of filling an entire saucepan with duck fat, cooking a few small birds in it, and subsequently eating them. Suffice to say, I had a pretty good day!

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The recipe started with brining the quails in salt, sugar, peppercorns and basil. We really had fun with this picture–after some trial and error with different containers, we ended up going for a scientific specimen jar look.

Next up, we prepared a mirepoix that contained onion, carrots and leeks.

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With most of the prep done, I turned my attention to the duck fat. The tubs o’ duck fat were slowly melted in a saucepan.

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The mirepoix was added to the saucepan of duck fat (which I found interesting) and the mixture left to simmer on low heat for a while. The vegetables turned a really nice golden brown and added flavour to the duck fat. The addition of the mirepoix also formed a cushion at the base of the saucepan to keep the quails from scorching the bottom.

The quails themselves were taken out of the brining liquid, patted dry, and stuffed with some lemon and thyme before being plunged into a golden bath of duck fat.

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As this cooking process was new to me, it was very fun to experience for the first time. The heat was set at a temperature in order to keep the fat at a low simmer and after the initial (and expected) spatter phase of cooking, the quail simmered gently.

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When cooking was done, the quail were taken out of their bath, and patted dry to remove excess fat. The first thing I noticed was that the skin was completely rendered. My second observation was that the meat was surprisingly dry and stringy. This probably had more to do with the vendor at the farmer’s market having frozen the quail than with the actual cooking method. The meat tasted delicious–the flavour of thyme and lemon really shone through and it was not even remotely too oily or fatty.

All in all, I really enjoyed cooking this dish! It seems like this cooking technique is something that would be worth my time to practice and perfect, because honestly, everything tastes better when submerged in duck fat!

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Rhubarb Cannoli

Rhubarb, long pepper, thyme and strawberries

Rhubarb Cannolo

This weekend, we decided to give ourselves a challenge, and attempt one more of the desserts in the cookbook.

We started the process by making a cannoli batter which involved mixing together sugar, flour, butter, orange juice and long pepper (substituted in for Guinea Pepper, we liked the smell/taste better). The mixture then needed to rest in the fridge for 24 hours to hydrate the flour and infuse the flavour of the long pepper.

It was our first time using long peppers in our cooking. The long peppers have a beautiful floral/cinnamon/clove smell to them, with a fiery floral taste that I think works amazingly in this dessert.

Long PepperWith the cannoli batter sitting in the fridge, we turned our attention to the thyme custard cannoli filling. The custard was made by infusing milk with a Madagascar vanilla bean, thyme and sugar, then thickening it with cornstarch, gelatin and egg yolks.  Thyme CustardWe then made strawberry purée in a blender with some simple syrup and fresh local strawberries.Strawberry Puree

Using this purée, we once again attempted to make a sugar powder as we’ve done many times before for the Nothing Ice Cream recipe.

Boiling Strawberry SugarAmazingly, even though we have made at least half a dozen powders by now, we still struggle with this technique! This time around, we encountered something entirely new. While adding the strawberry purée to the boiling sugar, it boiled over the side of the saucepan, instantly catching fire. What are the chances of a small sugar fire getting out of hand? We figured very little! Instead of quickly putting out the fire, we took the time to get a good picture for the blog! Sugar FireWith the fire extinguished and the strawberry purée safely turned into a powder, we turned our attention to the rhubarb. RhubarbAfter its photo shoot, the rhubarb was peeled, chopped, and placed into a saucepan to cook. After this step, we looked around the kitchen and at ourselves. There was red splatter everywhere! The walls, the cabinets, even the white pages of the cookbook were affected which was surprising given it was 2 meters away from ground zero. Maybe next time we’ll peel rhubarb under running water?Peeled RhubarbThe chopped rhubarb was cooked with some sugar and water until it was soft. Chopped RhubarbOnce cooked, the rhubarb purée was thoroughly blended, and painstakingly passed through a fine meshed conical strainer (chinois). The liquid that went through the chinois was was processed in our ice cream maker to make sorbet, and the thickened purée from the chinois was set aside to use in the final plating.The next day (after some extensive cleanup), we set about finishing this dessert. Using a vegetable peeler, we made some rhubarb strips that were subsequently laid out on a silicon baking mat.Rhubarb Strips Rhubarb LatticeNext, we sprinkled some sugar onto the rhubarb strips. In the last recipe, Mock Smoked Salmon, we attempted to take a picture of a curing mixture being sprinkled onto the salmon. After some reading online about our camera settings, we tried this again, and I think we succeeded! We’re pretty sure better action shots would require a better camera.Sugar Sprinkled on RhubarbThe sugary rhubarb strips were put in the oven to soften and caramelize.Sugary RhubarbNext, we turned our attention to the actual cannoli. The plan here was to spread the mixture thinly onto a baking mat, and bake in the oven until the batter turned transparent and lightly browned around the edges.Cannoli BatterAfter about 15 minutes in the oven, the brown and translucent cannoli “strips” were taken out of the oven. We had about 30 seconds to get the molten hot batter rolled into a cylinder, which resulted in many burnt fingers–and sadly, no pictures of this process. We were really proud of the final results!

With all of the components finally done, we started on the final plating of the dish. First, one of our best shaped cannolo was filled halfway with the thyme custard using a piping bag, topped with diced strawberries, then filled completely with more custard.Filling a CannoloThe filled cannolo was then wrapped with a sheet of the baked rhubarb strips.Rhubarb Cannolo with Thyme CustardThe final plating of the dish involved putting down a smear of the rhubarb purée, placing the cannolo on top, then a sprinkle of the strawberry powder with a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet on top.Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry PowderWow! This has to be one of the most complex deserts we have ever made! The mixture of different textures, temperatures, colours was impressive. I must admit that I was not 100% happy with the texture of the custard–it was over set, which I attribute to the conversion from sheet gelatin that the recipe asked for to the powder form that we had on hand.

Overall, the bitterness of the rhubarb, the sweetness of the powder, the crunch of the cannolo, and the interesting taste of thyme in the custard made for an amazing dessert that I wish I could get the opportunity to eat more often!Eating Rhubarb Cannolo with Puree, Sorbet and Strawberry Powder

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.

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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.