Sunday, July 15, 2007

Steamed Black Cod with Chinese black bean sauce

Fermented black beans are small, black soybeans that have been preserved in salt. Also known as Chinese black beans or salty or salted black beans, they have a strong, salty flavor. Once you try them, they will become a staple in your pantry!

This recipe is based on a basic black bean stir fry which gets its fragrance from a mix of chopped garlic, ginger and green onion and some chopped fermented black beans. The smell of these four stir frying together is just fantastic.

Because of it's rich and firm texture Black Cod also known as Sable fish takes extremely well to steaming. In this case, a mixture of chinese fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and cognac is poured over the fish prior to steaming.

This is one of my secret weapon recipe, so easy to prepare and guaranteed to vow your guests. It's okay, don't mention it... take all the credit for it!
Check the link below if you have trouble locating those precious black beans (they are actually quite inexpensive!).

Steamed Black Cod with Chinese Black Bean Sauce. (serves 4)


Ingredients:
  • 3/4 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup Cognac

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

  • 4 (6 ounces) Black Cod filet

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat, melted

  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons Fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
  • 4 shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  • a few drops of Sesame Oil

Instructions:

  1. Combine the cornstarch, water, soy sauce, cognac and sugar in a small bowl. Mix and reserve.

  2. Heat the bacon fat in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add the ginger, garlic and black beans and saute for 30 seconds. Add the sliced mushrooms and scallions and continue saute until translucent, 1 minute more.

  3. Deglaze the pan with the cornstarch mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the brown bits. Stir until sauce thickens and remove from the heat.

  4. Set up a steamer large enough to hold a plate with the 4 black cod filet.

  5. Pour the black bean mixture evenly over the fish fillets and place in the steamer.

  6. Steam for 5 minutes until fish is opaque and cooked throughout.

  7. Serve immediately with rice and bok choy.

Enjoy!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No Reservation

Something's cooking this summer!


Did you notice Hollywood new found interested for food? Now that we've enjoyed some friendly rats in 'Ratatouille' they serving us a delectable Catherine Zeta-Jones in 'No Reservation'. What should we expect next?...Paula Deen cooking a Cherry pie for Indiana Jones?

If you're a Chef and taking a lady on a romantic date this movie might be worth the 10 bucks. Yes, believe it or not: Chefs are romantic!...when they are not throwing pots and pans around. After seeing this, your date is likely to melt like cheddar on a grilled cheese sandwich, and YOU'll be the lucky sliced bread.


The story seem extremely predictable and follows the "he loves me/he loves me not" format, or in this case "i hate him/oh he's okay/can't live without him" format. So don't expect a transcendental experience from it. The best part would have been to be waited by Catherine Zeta-Jones while she was working at Fiamma Osteria in New York preparing for her role...you don't know how much i would have loved to be her sliced bread.

Foodies and amateur chefs might find the food scenes interesting. Recipes and pictures of the dishes shown in the movie can be downloaded at http://noreservationsmovie.warnerbros.com/. You also might want to check out the movie this is based on "Mostly Martha".

If this is not your cup of tea, and prefer to exhibit your soft side in a different manner here's a good compromise:

  1. Buy a pint of Haagen Dazs Lehua honey & sweet cream.
  2. Invite your honey to your home.
  3. Watch some episodes of Hell's Kitchen on DVD.
  4. Don't forget to share the ice cream with your date.

For a relaxing moment with someone special, nothing can beat a good footage of Gordon Ramsay abusing everyone around him.


Hawaiian Lehua & Sweet Cream


It all started at the frozen section of the supermarket. A warm and mysterious orange glow was emanating from the ice cream freezer. I felt irresistibly drawn to it.

I approached slowly and opened the freezer door like a pirate would open a treasure's chest, dazzled by the unusual ice cream pints reading those words:


Haagen Dazs RESERVE


Hawaiian Lehua honey & sweet cream


I closed my eyes and was instantly transported to a land of blue sky, forests and waterfalls. A world of tropical lusciousness where girls wear flower leis, exotic fruits taste like exotic fruits, and cows produce the creamiest of milk. I was there, savoring the purest delicacies by the fire, the sound of tribal drum beats filling the atmosphere...


As the drum beats became taps on my back, i regained consciousness. An eldest lady waiting to grab a pint of ice cream was staring at me like i had just escaped a mental institution...

I purchased the precious pint and ran back home. I wasn't out of the elevator that the lid was popped, leaving behind me a guilty trail of Heavenly goodness on the door knob, the carpet and the wall... i can only tell you it was worth every inches of clean up to do.

I would not trade this pint for anything!...except maybe some Google stocks. Insanely Creamy sweet cream ice cream with a generous swirl of Hawaiian Lehua honey best described as "edible perfume". The Lehua blossoms come from the ohi'a trees in Hawaii which are the first trees to appear on new lava flow and make a... 'hellava ice cream'!


I am committed to create a homemade version that i will share with you on this blog.

In the meantime, if you can put your hands on this baby, don't hesitate...Buy it!


Serving Suggestion: Don't mess with perfection, a slice of plain pound cake will do. For a transcendental experience enjoy with a glass of Tokaji azsu 2000.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Waiterrr! My Cherry is...Sour!!

(To avoid being fired without mercy and savagely hanged on the public place, i will not disclose my employer's real name and will only refer to him as Big Bossman aka $ Bill.)

Big Bossman proudly presented me with the fruit of his harvest:

"I picked them myself!" he said "Aren't they beautiful?"

I was facing a mountain of vibrant red sour cherries piled up on my kitchen counter. Five gallons of freshly picked little cherries from Big Bossman's Country estate, it looked like precious rubies and gems out of a treasure's chest.


"They are... Beautiful!!" i answered trying to sound enthusiast.

"Make something with them!" he said as he walked out of the kitchen.

"...........!" was my reply.

Without wasting a second i entered the terms 'Sour Cherry' in my internal search engine (aka my Brain). Unsurprisingly, the search returned no results. I wish Google could be installed on humans too!

I tasted a cherry hoping inspiration would strike...well it stroke me as...errrr...Sour!

For centuries, the cherry, has been a source of medicine for indigenous peoples. Native Americans prized cherries as pain relievers, especially for sore throat. The Cherokee used an infusion of sour cherry bark to treat laryngitis. The Ojibwa used the crushed root for stomach pain. The forest Potawatomi employed an infusion of the inner bark to alleviate internal pains while the MicMac (any relation to the Big Mac?) used black cherry fruit as a health tonic.

"Should i turn them into cough medicine for next time Big Bossman has a cold?" i thought.

Nahhh!...

I needed counselling, bad!

I quickly picked up the phone and called four chef buddies asking the same question: "What the heck do you do with sour cherries?"

Here are their answers in chronological order:

Buddy #1: "Ummmmm..."
Buddy #2: "errrrr...."
Buddy #3: "Sour Cherry Pie!"
Buddy #4: "euhhh..."

Thank to chef buddy #3 i had a lead!


A fresh sour cherry pie is really good, but since sour cherry season is so short, most americans use canned filling. I have nightmares about canned filling! Please donate your cans or use the sweet glop to patch the walls (i heard it works well on flat tires too!) and wait patiently for July every year to pick up some fresh sour cherries from your local farmer's market. Here's my recipe:

Fresh Sour Cherry Pie (serves 8)

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 8 ounces cold Unsalted Butter

  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening

  • 6 tablespoons ice water

  • 1 egg yolk (for egg wash)

For the filling:

  • 5 cups pitted sour cherries

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch

  • 1 tablespoon water

  • Zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

  • 1/8 teaspoon Almond Extract

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

    Make the pie crust: Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and process for 10 seconds. Stop the machine. Cut the fats into chunks and scatter over the dry ingredients. Pulse in 2-seconds bursts until the fats turn into small lumps. Drizzle the ice water and pulse until the dough begins to form. Do not overwork. Press the dough together, wrap and refrigerate.

    Make the sour cherry filling: Combine all the ingredients except the butter in a large stainless steel bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes.






Assemble and bake the pie: Preheat oven to 425' degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Cut the reserved dough in half. On a floured surface roll out 1/2 the pastry to 1/4-inch thickness. Line the pie plate evenly triming the overhanging dough. Roll out the remaining pastry dough to 1/4-inch thickness and reserve. Pour the pie filling into the bottom crust and dot with the butter. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with some of the juice from the cherries. Cover with the top crust, then eal the edge. Cut a steam vent in the center of the pie. Make an egg wash by mixing the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush evenly the top crust. Bake 50 to 55 minutes until golden brown and filling is bubbling through the vent. Let cool completely on a rack before serving.



This pie was a big success among Big Bossman's family. The juicy, sweet and tart fruit worked really well against the buttery crust. The pie will keep at room temperature for up to one day.

But I still had one problem to solve:


4 1/2 gallon of freshly picked sour cherries in my fridge...


After looking into a few cookbooks i found a recipe for Sour Cherry Sorbet in The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavernby Claudia Fleming.

Since sour cherries are too tart to eat out of hand, they are traditionnally baked into pies, but this refreshingly icy sorbet is an even more summery celebration of their vibrant fruit flavor. Here's an adaptation of Claudia Fleming's recipe:


Sour Cherry Sorbet (yield: 1 pint)


Simple Syrup (yield 2 1/2 cups):

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Sorbet Base:

  • 3 cups sour cherries, pitted

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 2/3 cup simple syrup (recipe below)

  • 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (i use the powder inside a Vitamin C capsule)

For the simple syrup:


In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Let the syrup simmer for 1 minute then turn off the heat and allow to cool. Simple syrup will keep almost indefinitely in a tightly sealed bottle in the refrigerator.


For the Sorbet:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the cherries and sugar. Let them macerate for 30 minutes, then puree the mixture in a food processor or blender. Push the puree through a fine sieve and stir in the simple syrup, 1/3 cup water and the ascorbic acid.

  2. Chill the mixture until it's very cold, about 4 hours. Freeze in an Ice Cream Machine according to the manufacturer's direction.

This is a great recipe to enjoy the fruit's electric vibrancy!


Fine!!...I know what you're going to say:

What the heck am i going to do with the remaining 4 gallons of sour cherries?

Easy...i'm going to 'Food-Sectionit'... yea its a new term for us cooks, The New york Times Food section's gotta have something on sour cherries, it's july, they have a bunch of researcher and food writers getting the big bucks to write about seasonal stuff and...

BINGO!

It's called Sour Cherry Syrup in an article called 'The Cherries of Persia'.

Sour Cherry Syrup (yield:2 quarts)

  • 5 cups sugar

  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • 3 pounds washed and stemmed sour cherries, unpitted
  1. In a large pan, bring sugar, lime juice, and 3 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally. Tie cherries up in 2 layers of cheesecloth and gently lower into pan. Cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

  2. Lift cherries in their cheesecloth and hold above pan for a minute to let syrup drain. Set cherries aside and let everything cool.

  3. Pour syrup into clean jars or bottles. Keep in refrigerator until needed. If desired, place cherries in a clean jar and cover with syrup.

Note: Stir 3 or 4 parts cold water with 1 part syrup and add ice to make sour cherry coolers. Syrup can also be diluted with sparkling water to make cherry soda, or used in cocktails. Reserved cherries in syrup may be used in desserts or as cocktail cherries.


Here you have it...enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Tattoos, Piercings and Chocolate-Chip Cookies


This story is about how i finally increased my Chocolate-Chip Cookie IQ, thanks to a teenage girl's obsession with self-mutilation, and the New York Times magazine. The girl in question being my employer's daughter, her name was changed to preserve her privacy... and my job!

One afternoon, Rebecca visited me in the kitchen all excited, and said:

-"Guess what!!?"

-"Oh Oh, What are you up to?" I asked hesitantly.

-"I got my nose pierced today!" she proudly said, pulling up the tip of her nose for me to see.
(For the cooks out there, looks just like a trussed chicken!)

-"Waou, Does your mom knows?" I asked, worried.

-"Of course not!!...shhhhh...Secret!" she said.

"I'm in such pain!... Can we bake some chocolate-chip cookies pleaaaaase?" (Here's the red flag: translated in private Chef language "Can we bake?" usually means "Can i trash your kitchen while you clean up after me?")

-"Ummm, let me think about it!" i answered.

I knew i needed to brush-up on my Chocolate-Chip cookies skills, she needed something comforting after a gruesome afternoon of self-sacrifice.

-"Ok, I'll make the cookies!" i finally said "but you go back to your room and hide from your parents, deal?"

-"Yea, Awesome!!" she exclaimed in true teenager fashion and left the room.

Chocolate-Chip Cookies have never been my area of expertise. Call me picky (or dumb) but after experimenting with countless recipes, I never found one worth calling my own.

If i trust my Chocolate-Chip Cookies instinct, they should be gooey in the center, golden and crisp on the edges, exhume heavenly Chocolatiness and transcend you to imaginary Cookiedoms where chocolate rivers flow in a land where the Constitution is based on principles taught in the Kama-Sutra.

Well, maybe i exaggerate a little, but you get my point.

More often than not, my batches would end up disappointingly flat, crumbly and dry. But my luck was about to change...

A few days prior to this, The Sunday New York Times published an article by Amanda Hesser with three glorious Chocolate-Chip cookies recipes:


  • Thin-and-Crisp Chocolate-Chip Cookies

  • Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies

  • Thick-and-Gooey Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Why those particular recipes grabbed my attention out of Zillions of recipes available on the subject?

Well let's put it this way... As a rule, any recipe with such large amounts of butter and chocolate
automatically wins a top spot on my To Do list.

I pulled the saved article from my secret file and opted for the most decadent recipe of all:

Thick-and-Gooey Chocolate-Chip Cookies
















1. Preheat the oven to 350' degrees. Line two Baking Sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. In a
Mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at the time, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts. Chill the dough.

3. Roll 1/4-cup lump of dough into balls, then place on the baking sheet and flatten to 1/2-inch-thick disks spaced 2 inches apart. Chill the dough between batches. Bake until the edges turn golden, 14 to 17 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack. Makes 30 cookies.


__________

The results were phenomenal, and extremely addictive!
By far, the best batch i ever made. They had all the qualities cited above, gooey center, crisp and golden edges, melted chocolate goodness inside....a dream!

Rebecca had her cookies still warm and loved them so much that she almost forgot about her infected nose. By next morning, all that was left was a few crumbs on a plate and a sick child at home (surprisingly not from the 2 dozens cookies she ate, but from an unappetizing swelling nose) .

Two weeks later (after being grounded for a week) , Rebecca came home with a tattoo on the back of her neck.

I love Teenagers!... hehehe...So much tenacity!

This time, she wanted to celebrate her new found freedom. I volunteered and made recipe number two:

Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 8 ounces butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (chunks and shavings)

  • 2 cups chopped toasted walnuts (optional).
  1. Preheat the oven to 325' degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

  2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts. Chill the dough.

  3. Roll 2 1/2-tablespoon lumps of dough into balls, then place on the baking sheet and flatten to 1/2-inch-thick disks spaced 2 inches apart. Chill the dough between batches. Bake until the edges are golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack. Makes 30 to 35 cookies.

__________

Again it was a huge success. Which recipe is better i honestly don't know. While it is true that Chocolate-chip cookies tend to spark the kind of tense debate usually reserved for topics like religion and politics, i do believe that this three recipes will suit the three schools of chocolate-chip cookiness.

As of this post, i am still waiting for Rebecca's next bout of self-mutilation to try recipe number three. I am sharing it with you, please let me know what you think:

Thin-and-Crisp Chocolate-Chip Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 14 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (pea size pieces and shavings)
  • Generous 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional).
  1. Preheat oven to 325' degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter, sugars and corn syrup until fluffy, 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, then the milk. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend just until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts. Chill the dough.
  3. Roll 2-tablespoon lumps of dough into balls, then place on the baking sheet and flatten to 1/4-inch-thick disks spaced 2 inches apart. Chill the dough between batches. Bake until the edges are dark golden brown, 14 to 17 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack. Makes 24 cookies.

__________

Thanks to Amanda Hesser of the New York Times I am now considered a Chocolate-chip Cookie Czar! ( Disclaimer: This is the last time i acknowledge publicly i didn't invent those recipes