October 11, 2009

Rick Bayless's Roasted Serrano-Tomatillo Salsa & Guacamole

Remember the name-dropping I did last week? Well, here's some more...

My friend Stephanie bought us two seats to Rick Bayless's cooking demonstration & book signing in St. Louis (which took place yesterday) for my birthday.  While it was only an hour-long demo, I learned a lot from the American authority on Mexican cooking.

Confession: Rick Bayless reminds me of Kermit the Frog. 
In a good way.
That's a compliment.

First, let me say how much I like Chef Bayless. This is the third time I've met him (brag!).  The first was at his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo several years ago. As I was having dinner there (I remember, by the way, that the raw oysters were the BEST I've ever had. In Chicago even!), Chef Bayless walked through the dining room. I was shocked to see him. At the time, I'd never seen "celebrity" chefs actually IN their restaurants. When I asked our server about it, she informed me that he's there every day because...HE WORKS THERE.  At the end of our meal, Chef came to our table to ask if everything was ok. He was gracious enough to sign a menu for me, too.

I saw him again just this past summer at the BlogHer conference. He is one of the nicest, most sincere people I've met. He seems genuinely interested in teaching people about Mexican cuisine. He even routinely answers questions about cooking on his Twitter profile!

At this cooking demo, Bayless made two tomatillo salsas (recipes below) & used them in a few other recipes (guacamole, chicken tostaditas, & shrimp in chipotle cream).  Here are some highlights from the notes I took:
  • Roasted tomatillos provide the "perfect tanginess" in salsa.
  • "Don't trust a jalapeno." The heat varies to0 much from pepper to pepper; some are super spicy while others are mild like a green pepper. Use serrano peppers instead.
  • Serrano peppers have a "wonderful, rich, grassy-green, green chili flavor."
  • Always use white onions, instead of yellow onions, when a recipe calls for raw onions. Yellow onions are too "murky" when raw, but are good when cooked.
  • When you use chopped raw onion, be sure to rinse it with water to remove that pungent, unpleasant bite. This is called "deflaming the onion."
  • Don't chop cilantro like parsley; it's too tender. Instead, treat it like basil (bunch up the leaves tightly & slice until you reach the stems).
  • His Frontera brand jarred salsas start with fresh food, never processed ingredients.
  • He was working on a PhD in Anthropological Linguistics when he decided to focus on culture & FOOD instead of culture & language.
  • The cookbook he uses most often at home is the one he wrote with his daughter, Rick & Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures.
One of my favorite parts of his talk was when he told us about being on Top Chef Masters. He said it was pretty hard! The chefs did NOT know what to expect from each challenge. He said there is little you don't see on screen when it comes to the challenges, as in there are no behind-the-scenes tricks. They even had to wash their own pots & pans DURING the challenges! He also said they did all the cooking themselves for each challenge, no sous-chefs! In fact, they weren't even allowed to help each other on some of the elimination challenges.

Roasted Serrano-Tomatillo Salsa
Salsa Verde Cruda

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 pound (about 11 medium) tomatillos, husked & rinsed
About 5 fresh serrano chiles (less to taste)
2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
  • Roasting the key ingredients: Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet & place 4 inches below a very hot broiler.  When they blister, blacken & soften on one side (after about 5 minutes), turn them over & roast the other sides (about 5-6 minutes more). Cool completely.
  • Roast the whole chiles & unpeeled garlic on an ungreased, heavy skillet (or griddle) over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots & soft (5-10 minutes for the chiles, about 15 minutes for the garlic). Cool, the pull the stems from the chiles & peel the garlic.
  • The puree: Scrape the roasted tomatillos (and any juices on the pan) into a food processor or blender, along with the roasted chiles & garlic. Pulse the machine until everything is reduced to a rather coarse-textured puree--the unctuously soft tomatillos will provide the body for all the chunky bits of chiles & garlic.
  • Scrape the salsa into a serving bowl, then stir in somewhere between 1/4 & 1/2 cup of water, to give the sauce an easily spoonable--but not watery--consistency.  
  • Scoop the onion into a strainer & rinse under cold water. Shake off the excess & stir into the salsa along with the cilantro. 
  • Taste & season with salt.
To make a chipotle salsa, simply substitute 1 chipotle pepper (the kind you find in a can with adobo sauce) for the serrano.

Tangy Green Guacamole

Makes about 3 cups

3 large ripe Hass avocados
1/2 cup tomatillo salsa
1/2 cup grilled red onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Remove the little nub of stem that is usually lodged at the top of each avocado.  Cut avocados in half by slicing straight down through the spot where the stem was attached, until you reach the pit, then rotating the knife all the way through the pit. Twist the two halves apart, then take out the pits.
  • With a spoon, scoop out the soft flesh from the skins. Add to a large bowl & coarsely mash with a potato masher (I use a pastry blender! ~Kelly).
  • Gently stir in the tomatillo salsa, onions, & cilantro. Taste & season with salt. 
  • If you feel sassy, top with cooked & crumbled bacon.
  • Serve with tortilla chips and sliced cucumber, radish, & jicama.
  • Hass avocados are a cross between the Guatamalian strain & the Mexican strain. It was developed by a guy named Hass in California in the 1940's.
  • You can hold ripe avocados in the warmest part of your fridge for 4-5 days.
  • Check an avocado's ripeness by pushing on the bulbous end (not the stem end).
  • Placing the pit in a bowl of guacamole does NOT keep it from browning. Instead, add an acid (like tomatillos or lime), keep the guac cold, & store covered with plastic wrap against the surface.
Once again, thanks to Iron Stef for the photos!

October 10, 2009

Spaghetti Carbonara

It rained all day Thursday. I mean, it POURED. Rain. All day.

There was so much water that the street in between the two buildings of the school where I teach flooded, and we had to keep our first hour classes until the water went down. Thus, cutting into my prep period. ALL WORK AND NO PREP MAKES KELLY A DULL GIRL.

Still, it continued to storm ALL DAY. Do you know what that kind of weather does to a productive school environment? DESTROYS IT.

So, the day was a wash (pun intended). And after an otherwise drama-filled week at work, I was ready to RELAX that night.

And then, I came to discover that the roof was leaking, causing the plaster in the extra bedroom to flake & fall off. And the basement was leaking water, completely soaking the dirty clothes pile in the laundry room down there.

Rain + flooding + much-needed relaxation = CARBONARA (which my friend Ashby says is Italian for "Fuck it, let's eat.")

I've attempted carbonara before, but I wasn't very happy about the results.  It was more of a make-shift dish, instead of an authentic carbonara. For that recipe, I added the cooked pasta & beaten eggs to the pan with the bacon (off the heat, of course).  This did not result in the creamy sauce I think of when I think of carbonara.  

After reading many recipes, I've come to the conclusion that THERE IS NO CREAM IN CARBONARA.  There's just eggs, Parmesan cheese, bacon, noodles, salt, pepper, & parsley....and you have to add the pasta & bacon to the eggs in a bowl so that you don't actually scramble the eggs. You have to heat them gently with the heat from the pasta to create that creamy, delicate sauce.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 2

1/2 pound spaghetti noodles, boiled as directed
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Kosher salt
Coarsely-ground black pepper
  • While the pasta water is coming to a boil, cook the bacon until just crisp. You don't want it too overdone. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
  • Break the eggs into a serving bowl. Whisk in the cheese. Set aside.
  • When the pasta is cooked, add 1/8 cup of the pasta water to the eggs & whisk. Then, add the drained pasta. Toss to combine.
  • Cover the bowl & let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir the noodles again. The sauce should have thickened & coated the pasta. You don't want clumps of scrambled eggs.
  • Add the bacon & parsley. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
My favorite beverage with carbonara? CHAMPAGNE! The slightly sweet bubbles help cut the richness of the bacon & eggs sauce.

October 5, 2009

Birthday Feasting

My birthday weekend (I turned 36 on Friday) revolved around--what else?--FOOD!

The celebration started on Friday with dinner at the chef's table at
Monarch. To get to the table, you have to walk through the kitchen & up a narrow spiral staircase. The table is enclosed in a glass room that overlooks the kitchen.

We all ordered the 5-course tasting menu, but were treated to a few more. Here's the menu that Chef Galliano & his team constructed for us; we had two dishes per course (forgive me for the lack of dish details, but I'd had a few cocktails by then & didn't write anything down!).

We had so much wine with our dinner, that it was actually difficult for me to keep up!

Aperitif: We had joked around on Twitter about bringing jello shots. Josh (the chef) was nice enough to make them for us! GOURMET jello shots! Awesome. I wanted many more.

Jello Shots: Apple, Grape, & Cranberry


Chicken Confit Nugget
(One of their signature dishes)

First Course: 
Foie Gras & Beef Terrine 

Poached Egg

Second Course:
Shrimp & Spoonbread

Squid Ink Fettucini with Crab

Third Course:

Salmon with Potato Cake, Beet Puree, & Horseradish Foam

Monkfish with Greens, Pasta, & Savory Broth

Fourth Course:

House-made Andouille Sausage with White Beans

Lamb Pot Roast with Ravioli

Fifth Course:

Turkey Shank with Cornbread & Cranberry (Thanksgiving on a plate!)

Butcher's Cut of Beef with Duck Fat Poached Potatoes, Mushrooms, & Greens

Chocolate Cake-Like Thing with Ice Cream
(By this time, I'd had A LOT of wine.)

Deconstructed Bananas Foster 
(I think.)

Everything was amazing, and all of my favorite foods were represented...poached eggs, pasta, Thanksgiving, & duck fat! We had a great time, getting too full & a little drunk.

On Saturday, the "Food Blogger Mafia" (stay tuned for more details!)--aka Stephanie, Kelli, Annie, & I--had a sleepover. 

So, of course, we ate junk food...which really meant we consumed our weight in cream cheese dips. I made my mom's infamous taco dip. Kelli made buffalo chicken dip (though, she got fancy by using shredded roast chicken). Annie made a radish dip (gimme the recipe, woman!). Steph made pretzel/rolo treats. I also brought a bag of giant Cheetos because...well...they are GIANT CHEETOS! Do I need another reason.

We also had two cakes. Yep, TWO cakes for FOUR girls. I made a mojito cake (recipe below) & Annie bought me a very pretty red velvet cake made by Mathew Rice (pastry chef at Niche whose recipe was recently featured in Martha Stewart Weddings). 

See that? That's what they call "name dropping."

But wait! There's more (name dropping, that is)! On Sunday, I walked around the Taste of St. Louis event and ran into Chef Hubert Keller! He was looking at some art at one of the booths. He was very kind...just as he is on television & just as he was the FIRST time I met him (I attended a Boulevard beer dinner at SLeeK & he was there to cook). That's right...I'm FANCY.

The look on my face is called "smitten fangirl."

* * * * *

(cake recipe from Warren Brown's Cake Love cookbook)


Dry Ingredients
2 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 whole cloves (ground into a fine powder)
1/3 cup oven dried mint *, crumbled

*Dry the mint in a 350 oven, watching carefully so that it doesn't burn. It should crumble easily. This took me about 20 minutes.

Liquid Ingredients
2/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
3 tablespoons dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon limoncello (or 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
juice of two limes

Creaming Ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups extra-fine granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lime zest
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Incorporated all of the dry ingredients into a bowl, whisk briefly,  and set aside.
  • Incorporate all of the liquid ingredients into a bowl, whisk briefly,  and set aside. 
  • Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, and yolks into separate bowls and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) cream together the butter, sugar, and lime zest on the lowest setting for 4 to 5 minutes.
  • With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time followed by the yolks, fully incorporating after each addition.
  • Add the dry ingredient mixture, alternating with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.  Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter.  Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next.  This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
  • Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl (don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl).  Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter's structure.
  • Prepare the cake pans.  For 9-inch-round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment.  Deposit the batter evenly into the pans and smooth out with an offset spatula, making sure the pans are two-thirds full.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pans from the oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, about 25 to 30 minutes before removing from the pan.  Loosen the cake gently from the pan with a small offset spatula and invert onto a flat surface.  Remove the parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the layers tightly in plastic.  You can refrigerate the layers overnight or up to 5 days before frosting.  
Buttercream is easy. I simply mixed together 2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature) with 1 package powdered sugar (adding in gradually). I added tablespoons of light rum until I had the consistency I wanted...creamy, smooth, spreadable. It's pretty boozy, but I wanted to taste the rum!

* * * * *

Here are a couple more pictures from the weekend:

The crispy skin garnish reminded me of a scene from Silence of the Lambs
Only much tastier.

Trying to play a tune on the many wine glass I had accumulated throughout the evening.

Our view of the kitchen from the chef's table.

It was fun watching our dishes come together & trying to guess what it was before we were told.

Me & my BFF Sarah

Preparing the dipstravaganza at Annie's downtown loft.

We're on a roof!

Thanks to Steph for taking pictures on Friday & Saturday. Most of these are hers!