Teaching Amaya to cook is teaching me how to take things slowly in the kitchen. After years of professional cooking it's second nature to do everything as quickly as possible and still do it to the best of my ability. Amaya, on the other hand, is cautious in the kitchen. She likes to do everything herself and at her own pace. It requires a real effort for me to resist taking over and finishing everything for her. It's worth it though because she enjoys spending time in the kitchen. Speed will come later because I realize that if I ruin her pleasure in the process then I've ruined everything.
Interestingly, after she spent so much time making and decorating these cookies, she decided they were too sweet, and then apologized for not eating them. Next time we'll try a different recipe...
When we relocated to NH, we were fortunate to have a few apple trees on the property. On the morning of the actual transfer of deed we did a walk through of the house and workshop to make sure everything was in order. In the middle of the yard was a neglected (really overgrown and under-pruned) apple tree. Leaning against it was a worn wooden ladder, presumably for climbing into the branches and escaping the chaos of life. Amaya immediately saw the ladder and wanted to climb into the tree to explore. We were pressed for time and assured her she could climb the ladder after we signed the papers and owned the house. After we left, one of the owners returned for one last look.
After signing the papers we returned to our new home and all Amaya could talk about was climbing into the apple tree. We raced out to the yard and 10 feet from the tree we both stopped in our tracks. The ladder was gone. They had taken it with them. Amaya was devastated. I was even more so. She looked at me and said, "Dad, you promised I could climb the ladder."
I had no ladder and no excuse.
It took several months for me to find the right ladder for the apple tree: worn but not broken, aged but still sturdy, tall enough to climb into the branches but not dangerously high. In the interim we pruned the tree with hopes of bringing it back to its former glory. Amaya now has her apple tree and a ladder. The tree feels more complete now and next year we will use the ladder to harvest our fruit.
When I was down in Naples teaching, I was introduced to a tube smoker. It is a smart product. It uses wood pellets for fuel and then all it needs is a heat source. It slow burns, smolders, for several hours producing a consistent smoke in almost any space. It opens up the idea of what a smoker can be. We now have the ability to mix herbs, teas, coffee, spices, and more in with wood pellets, put them in the tube smoker, and let them smoke and add flavor anything we want, anywhere we go.
Daniel Gritizer explored the idea of boiling traditional dried noodlesin water spiked with baking soda. The idea was to mimic the alkaline texture of ramen quickly and efficiently in the kitchen. His one hangup was the flavor of the baking soda sticking to the noodles. We took the idea of boiling in baking soda water and applied it to our pre-hydrated noodles. The results were incredible. We were able to make noodles with the bouncy texture of ramen in 31 minutes. Though we want to play with hydrating them for even less time in the next go-round. Thirty of those those minutes are inactive cooking time, simply soaking the noodles.
We put 1% baking soda and 0.5% salt into 2000 grams of water. Then we added 450 grams of capellini to the water and let it hydrate for 30 minutes. When the noodles were was pliable we drained off the soaking water and quickly rinsed them in cold water. Then we set the noodles into a pan to hold in refrigeration until ready to cook.
These noodles are extremely flexible when hydrated. They want to clump together a bit but in the short term this is not a problem. Our first test had us boiling them immediately after soaking. They cooked in less than a minute. They were springy, chewy, and resilient. They were ramenized.
After letting the hydrated noodles sit in the refrigerator overnight we found that the bottom layer of the noodles was lying in a thin layer of starch and had stuck together. After dropping them into boiling water they did separate after stirring them for about a minute, but some of the noodles were torn in the process and they were still slightly clumpy. Maybe storing them in a perforated pan set over a regular pan, which would allow the liquid starch to drip down and out would alleviate this problem. What was interesting was that even though noodles stuck together a bit, they cooked up nicely, and still had a springy texture. Perfect for breakfast noodles.
Sometimes the simplest approach really does work the best. I had a large bunch of parsnips leftover from a workshop and I wanted to use them up. I peeled them, sliced them into sticks, tossed them with olive oil and salt, and roasted them at 425°F. After thirty minutes I stirred them and returned them to the oven. FIfteen minutes later I did it again and in another 5-10 minutes they were done. Deeply caramelized and sweet, they were slightly chewy at the tips and tender and creamy in the centers, with a rich earthy flavor. These were quite possibly the best parsnips I had ever eaten. The best part is that they are so versatile. They could take any number of seasonings or sauces, although in the end they were pretty darned great all on their own.
One of the many directions we explored with crab cakes was the royale. The idea blossomed from wanting to lighten up the crab cake and the fact that I was surrounded by quiche. We took the idea of a classic crab cake: Dukes mayonnaise, Ritz cracker crumbs, and mustard, added eggs and heavy cream, and then pureed the base. We folded in lump crab meat, dill, and bacon and then steamed the cakes in flexipans for 30 minutes at 82.5 C in the CVap.
When the cakes were set, we chilled and froze them in an Irinox blast chiller. When they were rock-solid, we breaded them with smoked Ritz Cracker crumbs. The breaded cakes could thaw slowly, in refrigeration, before finishing them à la minute.
Finally we deep fried the cakes to develop a uniform crust and then finished heating them through in a 350°F/ 176°C oven. The finished crab cakes had a crisp, rich crust. The inside was silken and tender, bursting with crab flavor. A lighter and more intense version of the original was born.
As we mentioned it was cold and blustery day for Meatopia. I was thankful to have the chefs from Charcoal BYOB braving the weather to lend multiple hands and minds to the cause. We were given paper plates to use for serving the crowds of people wandering through the event. To combat the winds they suggested running lines of inverted duct tape down our plating table. The bottoms of the plates would adhere to the tape and allow us to begin plating dishes ahead to accommodate the crowds. The tape worked like a charm. Only occasionally did a giant gust of wind send a plate or two flying. So here's a tip, for your next outdoor event, remember to bring tape.
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