Adventures in Cooking: Raviolo

At a friend’s recently opened Roman style restaurant (about which I will write), I enjoyed a “raviolo” – singular of “ravioli” – a single, large filled pasta. His version has an egg yolk in the middle and it is cooked to just the right point that as you cut into the raviolo, the egg yolk pours out. Very dramatic presentation. I decided to try my hand at the concept and make my own raviolo.

The end result, which looks pretty enough, is about seven inches in diameter. Truly, I did make “ravioli” as there was one for Tawn and one for me. I just like saying “raviolo”. All things considered, it was a bit of a misadventure due to lack of experience and finesse on my part. But we learn from our mistakes, right? Well, I try to.

The filling was made of braised spinach and chicken, seasoned liberally with garlic, rosemary, and chili flakes.

I used Thomas Keller’s seven-yolk pasta dough recipe, which is my go-to recipe for pasta. Instead of pulling out the KitchenAid mixer, I hand rolled the dough. First mistake, as I couldn’t roll it nearly as thin as I should have. That may be because I didn’t let the dough rest long enough after kneading. It was getting late and I wanted dinner on the table before 9:00.

A good-sized portion of the filling was placed in the midst of the dough and an egg yolk was nestled on top. This was my second mistake. I separated the egg yolks at the same time as I separated the egg yolks for the pasta dough. In the intervening hour or so, the yolks formed a slight skin on them, so when I tried to pour them onto the filling, they tore. That ruined the effect of having a nice soft-cooked yolk to cut into!

Mama-mia! That’s a meat-balla! Well, actually, just a raviolo. Quite large and a bit of a pain to cut because I had no cutter large enough. Instead, I traced around a saucer with a sharp paring knife.

After about six minutes boiling (they were a pain to flip!), the ravioli were ready to serve. I put a simple homemade tomato sauce on top, sprinkling a bit of mozzarella cheese. As you can see, the egg yolk is hardly discernible as it has melted into the filling. The pasta skin, as I mentioned, was a little thick especially around the edges. All in all, I think it was an okay first attempt and was definitely a learning experience. Next time, I’ll make them a bit smaller, roll out the dough using the pasta machine, and separate the egg yolks at the last minute. The one thing I was pleased with was the filling. While it could have used more spinach (the darn vegetable just shrivels up to nothing when you cook it!), the flavor was very good – salty, garlicky, and slightly spicy.

 

Cooking with the Smoking Gun

On my recent trip to the United States, I stopped by Williams Sonoma and purchased a kitchen gadget called the Smoking Gun that I had been looking forward to trying. Made by PolyScience, the company behind much of the kitchen equipment used in molecular gastronomy, the Smoking Gun is an easy way to smoke food at home, without the need for a barbecue or smoker. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to put it to the test at my friend Nat’s house, where he, Chow, and I prepared a four course meal. Each course contained a smoked element.

This video shares the whole story but photos are below, too.

The Smoking Gun is more or less a battery powered hair dryer with a smoking chamber. You put the combustable substance in the chamber, turn on the fan, and then light the substance. Air is drawn through the smoking chamber and the smoke it blown out a spout to which a rubber tube can be attached. This makes it easy to direct the smoke where you want it. The Smoking Gun is easy to use and about thirty seconds is enough to produce as much smoke as you need. 

The smoke can come from wood chips (four types are sold directly by PolyScience), herbs, spices, tobacco, etc. and can be used on meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and beverages. The key is that you need to trap the smoke in the cooking vessel or some other container and allows the food to absorb the smoke compounds for at least five minutes. Here, some pieces of sushi-grade salmon are smoked in a zipper-lock plastic bag.

Here are the finished dishes with some notes:

The meal started with sashimi grade salmon which had been smoked (I used a different type of wood with each dish but don’t remember which I used) and then served very simply with creme fraiche and a chiffonade of shiso leaves. The lemony flavor of the herb and the tanginess of the creme went nicely with the salmon. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like the salmon was as good quality as I wanted and it warmed up a bit too much during plating. Other than that, it was tasty.

The second course was cod fish. This, too, was smoked and then pan-fried in an oil that had been infused with Thai “tom yam” herbs. The fish was accompanied by a garnish of the fried tom yam herbs including shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and chilies. The smoke flavor was less noticeable on this dish. If I was to do it again, I would fry a second batch of herbs to serve as a garnish, instead of using the herbs that had infused the oil with flavor.

The third course was beef tenderloin, smoked and then cooked sous vide. Afterwards, the beef was briefly pan seared and served with a broiled butter leaf lettuce, roasted, carrots, and air fried potatoes. Again, the smokiness was pretty subtle but the beef was nicely tender. The broiled lettuce was a real treat, lending a lot of complexity to an otherwise simple vegetable.

For dessert, I fired up the butane torch and burned some sugar. Where there’s smoke, there must also be fire, right?

Vanilla creme brûlée with meringue, smoked Granny Smith apple compote, and raspberry coulis. The smoked apple compote was very successful – I used both wood chips and cinnamon in the Smoking Gun – and the meringue was a nice touch. I must admit to being proud of thinking of a way to use the leftover egg whites and browning the meringues with the torch made them very attractive.

My overall impression of the Smoking Gun? It is an easy to use tool and effective for adding a subtle, superficial smokiness to food. It isn’t the same as smoking pork belly for twelve hours to get bacon, but it also requires a lot less space, so the trade-off is worth it. I’ll have to think carefully about what items to smoke and would like to experiment with using herbs and spices. Hopefully, that means more videos!

 

Cooking Thai Food

A few weeks ago, my friend Chow, a prolific food writer who publishes at BangkokGlutton.com, invited me to help her write some Thai food recipes to include in the updated version of her handy book, “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls”. One or two afternoons a week, we have gathered ingredients in her kitchen and tested and modified different recipes to try and make ones that are easily accessible to home cooks anywhere in the world.

While I can’t share the recipes here, I will share some pictures of two of our recent dishes: pad thai and tom yum goong.

Pad thai is a common fried noodle dish that is notable for its distinct, sweet-sour sauce. Thai restaurants in the west sometimes try to make a tomato based sauce or use ketchup as a flavoring, but that isn’t an acceptable substitute for the main ingredient: tamarind. These days, tamarind is increasingly common in many countries, thanks to its use in Latin American and Indian cuisines, cultures that have large diasporas. Not long ago, I was in suburban Seattle and was able to find fresh Mexcian tamarind, using the flesh to make a sweet and sour sauce for steak. 

The pad thai also makes use of (moving left to right from the top row, down) pickled daikon radish, garlic, eggs, shrimp, the tamarind sauce, lime, toasted peanuts, bean sprouts, green onions, firm tofu, dried shrimp, and red chili flakes. Most of these ingredients are readily available. The pickled daikon can be replaced with well-rinsed sauerkraut in a pinch. Not shown are the dried rice noodles that form the base of the dish. These are available at any Asian market and at better-stocked supermarkets with an Asian foods section.

 

The end result is a stir-fry of all the ingredients with an engaging flavor that is tangy and sweet, slightly spicy, and a little bit sour. A perfect balance of flavors. Now, one thing about Thai cuisine that non-Thais don’t always understand: noodle dishes (both soups and stir-fries) are generally a single-plate food. Most Thai food is served family style, with various curries and other dishes in the middle of the table to be shared and eaten along with rice. Noodle dishes, though, are usually ordered for lunch, a snack, or dinner and are consumed by a single person. So when you go to a Thai restaurant and, along with all your other dishes, order some pad thai to share, it is a little strange. I’m not saying you can’t do it – by all means, order whatever you want – but it isn’t the way the dish is eaten by Thais.

The next dish we made was a tom yum soup. This herbal soup is not only rich in flavor but has significant health benefits from all the different herbs. The main ingredients, from top left, are lime, peppercorns, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, chilies, galangal root, cilantro, and mushrooms. We also added prawns, called “goong” in Thai. You could also make it with chicken or tofu.

The soup is made by bruising the herbal ingredients (literally beating them with a cleaver, mallet, or other heavy object) to release the oils. These are then simmered in water or, cheating a little, some broth. The fish sauce is added to make the flavor more complex and many people also add fermented chili paste. The mushrooms are cooked and then prawns are added a minute or two before serving.

The end result is a clear broth with lots of herbal flavor, a delicately cooked prawn, and a bit of spice. An alternative version of this soup, tom kor gai, is made with chicken and is finished with some coconut milk to add richness. Usually served near the start of a Thai meal, the soup is like an appetizer, with the herbs whetting your appetite and preparing you for the complex flavors of the meal to follow.

I will share more photos as we continue to experiment with the recipes.

 

Homemade Pizza and Pasta Party

Last Friday we gathered at Chow’s place to cook dinner. The menu: homemade pizzas and pasta. The pizzas were a variety of gourmet types based on the menu of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, which Chow had tried on a recent visit. The pasta was a homemade chorizo and butternut squash ravioli. And to top it off, I made kaffir lime cheesecake.

Friends gather around the large island in the kitchen, helping to prepare ingredients and eat appetizers. The ravioli are already prepared and drying and we were waiting for the oven to preheat for the pizzas.

Every time I cook at a friend’s house, it is a bit of a logistics ordeal. In this case, I needed my KitchenAid mixer so I could roll out the pasta. I was also bringing a case of Oregon beer.

The beer in question is from Rogue, an independent brewer. The most interest beer of the evening: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Had a distinct smokiness with a subtle sweetness on the tail end of the flavor.

For the pasta, I made homemade fresh (not dried) chorizo. I bought pork belly and ground it, adding paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Browned the sausage in a pan, drained it on paper towels to remove the considerable grease, and then blended it with a butternut squash puree made from locally produced organic squash.

Make the pasta from scratch using Thomas Keller’s “Seven Yolk Pasta” with semolina flour. This is the best way to mix pasta dough, using your hands.

Using a creative technique I picked up watching Season 10 of Top Chef, I layered sage leaves between two sheets of pasta dough and then pressed them several more times. Then flattens the leaves, making the pasta pretty and adding some sage flavor.

Completed ravioli. I cut them relatively small so they didn’t have a lot of filling. In hindsight, I would have added more butternut squash and less chorizo as the sausage overpowered the squash flavor. A few more sage leaves would have been nice, too.

After boiling the ravioli, we fried them in a pan with browned butter and sage leaves. Became a bit more crispy than intended but were tasty all the same.

While I made the pizza dough (with Type 00 flour, a finer texture than regular all-purpose flour), I let Chow coordinate the toppings for each pie.

Half mushroom and pepperoni and half Jerusalem artichoke and pesto.

Salame!

Sliced Brussels sprouts, Boursin cheese, and locally produced pastrami.

Tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and rocket.

For dessert, I once again made the kaffir lime cheesecake that was such a hit on New Year’s Day. It begins by steeping the lime leaves in heavy cream.

The crust is made of graham crackers, toasted pecans, sugar, and butter.

The main ingredients are cream cheese, eggs, the infused cream, kaffir lime zest, and a little lime juice. The juice comes from a regular lime as the kaffir lime juice is much to acidic.

The ingredients are blended together until smooth and light. Truth be told, I add two or three drops of green food coloring just to augment the color. The leaves alone give it only the most pale of greens.

Tap several times to release air bubbles and then cook in a water bath for 40-45 minutes. The key to a cheesecake with a smooth top (no cracks) is to turn the oven off when the edges are set but the center is still very shaky. Then let it complete cooking in the closed (but turned off) oven for another hour. This lets it cool down gradually and prevents the cracks.

The finished product has a mixture of sour cream, kaffir lime zest, and sugar poured over the top. I garnished with a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. This worked okay the first time but this time the leaves were a bit tough. I need to choose the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them more finely. The taste of the cake was good, though, and won rave reviews.

Most importantly, we had friends gathered together and shared good food, good wine, and good company. After all, that’s what makes the best meals, right? The company with which they are shared.

Kaffir Lime Cheesecake

As dessert for a barbecue with friends last weekend, I baked a kaffir lime cheesecake. Kaffir lime, a member of the citrus family whose fruit and leaves are an essential part of Thai, Indonesian, Laotian, and Malaysian cuisines, is an unusual flavoring for cheesecake. It is very aromatic but also astringent, a quality that I thought would go well with the richness of cheesecake.

To impart the flavor, you boil cream with whole kaffir lime leaves and then let it simmer for about twenty minutes as the cream reduces. The sweet, almost lemony scent is distinctive and you cannot successfully substitute regular limes for kaffir limes. Most Asian markets sell kaffir lime leaves, which freeze well.

The end result was fantastic. The recipe, which I based on this one (but used two eggs instead of one as I think the author wrote the incorrect number), produced a substantial but not overly-heavy cake, rich enough to be a dessert while not leaving you feeling like you ate a brick. Deviating from the recipe, I made a sour cream glaze with kaffir lime zest and sugar. I will definitely make this one again.

Preparing Baked Alaska for the First Time

While in Hong Kong, Gary took us to a fantastic 1960s style restaurant called Sunning. The menu was full of classics including Baked Alaska. This being only the second time I have had the dessert, I was taken by the over-the-top nature of the dish and decided that when I returned to Bangkok, I would try preparing it.

The version prepared at Sunning Restaurant is beautiful, nicely shaped, like something right out of a Betty Crocker cookbook or Better Homes and Gardens magazine. 

The whole video experience is here – pardon the less-than-stellar audio quality.

Baked Alaska is a single layer of cake with ice cream on top – quite a thick layer of it, ideally domed. The whole dessert is then coated with meringue, which provides insulation when the dessert is then placed in a very hot oven for a few minutes to brown the exterior. 

Instead of the traditional pistachio ice cream, I opted for alternating layers of macadamia nut and mango sherbet. For some contrast, I also added crushed raspberries. The kitchen was quite warm when I was molding the ice cream into a stainless steel bowl, so instead of neat layers, there were gaps, air pockets, and swirls. Unmolding the ice cream from the bowl was a challenge the next day. Lining it with plastic wrap did not help.

The most showy versions include setting the dessert alight with some brandy. That was a bit too much to accomplish this first time. The most important thing is that the birthday boy and all the guests enjoyed the dessert. Next time, I will work on improving my technique.

New Year’s Day Tea Party

On New Year’s Day, Tawn’s university friends gathered for what I hope will be an annual tradition: New Year’s Tea. Our host, Bim, prepared scones and a variety of snacks. I prepared the tea sandwiches. Everyone had a good time.

Bim’s scones. This was her first time making them and she experimented with a few different sizes. The larger ones were more delicate although the small ones were tasty, too.

My two types of tea sandwiches. Finding bread that was soft but would hold up to the cutting was a challenge. The bread on the left is also made with black glutinous rice, which explains the small specks.

Making the spreads. On the left, a watercress compound butter. On the right, a green olive and parsley tapenade.

Partially made sandwiches. On the left, the watercress butter is covered with cucumber slices. On the right, the olive and parsley tapenade is covered with provolone cheese. Round cheese does not work so well on square bread.

Friends and baby pose with a lovely spread of afternoon snacks.

Christmas Dinner 2012

Even though Thailand doesn’t officially recognize Christmas, we still had the opportunity to celebrate, gathering at the house of friends for a 16-person dinner. It was several days in the making and, of course, I was in the kitchen, too.

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This was the third or fourth meal that Nat and I have cooked together, supported by his staff. I’m definitely the sous chef in the operation, responsible this evening for only the soup and appetizers, although insert myself in plenty of other tasks. Left, looking a bit like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld, I call people over with their bowls for a serving of cioppino. Right, Nat and I share a laugh while cooking. (Thanks to Nat’s cousin Kik for the pictures.)

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Simple canapes: white bean hummis with roasted red pepper and sundried tomato chutney, and shredded roasted beetroot with fresh mozzarella and a drop of balsamic and black truffle syrup.

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My latest version of cioppino, the classic San Francisco Italian style seafood stew. This recipe is from chef Michael Mina and is even nicer than the previous recipe I used.

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A beautiful foccacia bread sprinkled with flaked sea salt – perfect for sopping up the broth from the cioppino. One of our two stuffings, this one made with mushrooms and the other with chestnuts.

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Potatoes dauphinoise, thinly sliced with a rich and creamy interior. Sous video turkey, super moist and perfectly cooked, dropped in a deep fryer at the end for a crispy exterior.

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Carrots roasted with maple syrup and sprinkled with corriander. Creamy Brussels sprouts with roasted pine nuts.

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Desserts are served! Angel food cake with whipped cream and strawberries – elegant – and a coconut cake with fresh coconut in both the cake and the buttercream frosting. Served with homemade peppermint and pineapple ice creams.

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Bee, Doug, Oates (former Xangan), and Tawn pose mid-way through dinner, trying to pace themselves so there is room for the cake.

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After our dinner, half the group stuggles to remain upright. From left, Linda, Doug, Bee, our hosts Nat and Cha, Tawn, and me. Hope you and yours had a happy celebration, too!

 

Making Dinner for Family

While visiting Seattle, my cousin suggested that perhaps I would like to cook dinner for the family at her new house. Of cousre, who am I to pass up an opportunity to cook in someone else’s kitchen?

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The spread – couldn’t get everyone at the table at the same time since my cousin’s three-week old daughter was demanding personal attention the entire time.

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Homemade kalmatta olive and rosemary bread.

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Grilled tri-tip of beef, marinated with soy sauce and ginger and served with two sauces, a Thai style green chili sauce and a tamarind sweet and sour sauce.

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Shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon and walnuts.

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Black beans with sofrito.

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Roasted yams with red onions, garlic, and rosemary.

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For dessert, a plum claufoutis, a French style baked fruit pancake.

 

First Attempt at Baeckeoffe

On an episode of Top Chef Masters, chef Hubert Keller prepared a dish called baeckeoffe, an Alsatian baked stew. It had an interesting back story and I decided to try making it.

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As he explained it, baeckeoffe, which means “baker’s oven” in the Alsatian dialect, was a traditional dish prepared on Sundays by the women of the village. They would marinate meats and potatoes overnight in white wine, juniper berries and herbs. On Monday morning, which was washing day, the women would drop their ceramic pots of baeckeoffe at the baker’s who would seal the lids with a strip of dough and then put them in the oven after he was finished baking the bread. The women would return after a day scrubbing clothes in the river and pick up the cooked caserole.

While the traditional recipe includes beef, pork, and lamb, I made mine with only pork. I then brought the caserole to my friend’s house and used her oven to bake it. The video showing the breaking of the bread seal and the opening of the pot is above. The opening was more of a challenge than I had expected.

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The end result was very fragrant and the meat was tender. The bread seal was flavorless, though, and overcooked. As I understand it, though, it was never meant to eat; instead, it was designed to provide a tight seal to hold in all the moisture.

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A serving of pork baeckeoffe, salad, and homemade black olive and rosemary bread. Tasty meal!