Follow the culinary adventures and misadventures of the Cooking Agents (Ray and Katie). Watch as we eat/cook our way into adulthood.
… or should I say Shrimp Salad with French Cocktail Sauce. This was by far the easiest recipe. Yes, I am aware that I’ve only done three.
Shopping for this recipe was a breeze. All I needed was Boston lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grapefruit, armangac (another one of Boulud’s expensive alcohol choices) and shrimp. I’ve decided chefs like expensive alcohol… and at the rate I’m going, I will have a very well stocked personal bar by the time I pass the CPA. Woo, party at my house!
To get back on topic, I made the salad and the cocktail sauce ahead of time. For the salad, I first peeled the grapefruit, taking care not to include any bitter white pith, but not taking enough care not to avoid slicing part of my finger off in the process. Yum. That will teach me not to sharpen my knives on a regular basis. I cut away the remaining pith and supremed the grapefruit. Then I juiced the membrane into a small sauce pan and boiled until the juice thickened to around 2 teaspoons. While that sat aside to cool, I made my very first homemade mayonnaise. I even have a twitching bicep muscle to prove it! Egg yolks, a little big of oil, and a whole lot of elbow grease go a long way. Once the mixture emulsified, I added dijon, ketchup, Worcestershire, Armangac, the grapefruit juice reduction, and salt and pepper to taste.
The salad was very easy and only required some handy dandy chopping of avocado and tomatoes. I assembled catering style by putting the leaves down on the plate. This is something that is a particular pet peeve of mine, because I think it’s a tacky way to make food look “presentable”. I only did it because Boulud instructed me to, and I follow him blindly into battle. Once that was done (gag), I piled up my diced tomatoes in the center of the plate, followed by the avocado and grapefruit surrounding the tomatoes. Easy peezy. To cook the shrimp, I had a gallon of boiling water and threw in a hefty amount of salt, a pinch of cayenne, the grapefruit rinds, a bunch of tarragon, cracked pepper, and the shrimp. After about 2 minutes, the shrimp was just cooked. I took them out and let them cool before placing them on top of my tomato mound.
Ingredients including Armagnac (far right)
Homemade Mayonnaise // Raw Shrimp (deveined and shelled)
Salt, Cracked Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Tarragon, Grapefruit Rind
Shrimp Salad with Avocado, Grapefruit, and Boston Lettuce
Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce
I’m sure shrimp is photogenic, I just had a hard time making my shrimp photogenic. The taste? The best shrimp cocktail I’ve ever had. Typically, I have the normal crowd around to eat my culinary experiments. Today, no one was around to stop me from eating about half a pound of shrimp myself. Holy cannoli! Not only is this blog endeavor making me poor and fingerless, it’s also going to make me fat. AHH.
Sundays are always a great opportunity to cook, and Sundays in winter are even better. The weather makes the prospect of leaving grim. The solution is soup! Looking at the next recipe (Lobster and Duck Garbure), I’m glad that I get one of the easier recipe in the Cafe Boulud cookbook. This recipe was easy to prepare, had simple and few ingredients, quick to make, and will definitely be added to my arsenal for quick, satisfying soups.
First, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a stockpot over low heat. Add leeks and stir until they are tender, but not colored, 8 to 10 minutes.
Leeks Tenderizing in Butter
Pour in the stock and increase heat, and bring just to a boil. Add potatoes and season with salt and white pepper. Lower the heat so that soup is at a simmer, 8 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. While potatoes are cooking, whip the 1/3 cup cream until it is fluffy and no longer running. Puree sorrel (Romaine/Bibb lettuce with a squeeze of lemon if out of season or unavailable) in a food processor or blender. If the mixture needs additional liquid you can add a table spoon or so of additional cream. gently fold the pureed lettuce mixture into the whipped cream.
1/4 Inch Diced Yukon Gold Potatoes
Once the soup is finished, ladle into a bowl and add a spoonful or sorrel or lettuce cream on top, serve immediately.
Leek and Potato Soup
Unfortunately, the store didn’t have sorrel so I used Romaine lettuce as recommended, but still found the addition quite delicious as it added creaminess, texture, color and sourness from the squeeze of lemon to make a well balanced soup.
Thursday, I found myself wandering around the poultry section in Whole Foods looking for something I’ve never needed before – chicken livers. My next recipe to make was frisée and chicken liver salad. I actually cheated a little bit and skipped a recipe. It called for about 15 different game birds and and served 10-12 people. I made an executive decision to save this recipe for when Ray and I are together and can pool our time and funds together.
Also, this post marks a first for the Cooking Agents!! It is our first video blog post:
First, I made the shallot confit. The best way I can describe making confit is pumping concentrated flavor into whatever it is you’re “confit-ing”. In this case, I chopped the shallots and cooked in white wine. Once the white wine cooks off, I added sherry vinegar and a bit of balsamic vinegar. The final product should look like a brown-reddish shallot jelly. This stuff is potent! It’s flavor explosion and the vinegar is so concentrated and acerbic, perfect to dull some of the irony liver taste.
After making the confit, I cleaned and trimmed the chicken livers of any gross stuff like fat and veins. I was kind of freaked out by the texture. It was gooshy but would snap back to its original shape. I also noticed a bit of a snap when I cut through the “skin”. That kind of creeped me out. After I prepped them, I seasoned with salt and pepper and threw them in the fridge.
I filled two small pots with water and got them on the stove top to start them boiling. In the mean time, I peeled 2 small yukon gold potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch rounds. Then, I threw the potatoes in the boiling water with a sprig of thyme, sage, and salt. In the other pot of water, I reduced the heat right before the water looked like it was about to boil. Poaching eggs is an art. If you don’t get the temperature of your water right, your egg is going to take on a life of its own. If the water is not warm enough, the eggs kind of falls apart. The white hardly coats the yolk and it looks like some alien spawn egg. If the water is too hot, the whites are too tough and you run the risk of overcooking the yolk. After poaching I egg, remove with the slotted spoon and set aside and keep warm.
Finally, in a small skillet, I heated some olive oil on medium high heat and threw in the livers. When both sides were browned, I added a small amount of sherry vinegar and a healthy scoop of the confit. Once the liquid evaporated, I seasoned with salt and pepper. I threw the liver and confit into frisée cut into one inch leaves and mixed well.
To set up the plate, I placed three potato rounds on the plate and topped it with a poached egg. To add some flavor, I chopped fresh chives and sprinkled it on top of the egg. Then on the other side of the plate, I piled up the salad with chicken livers and put a little extra confit on top.
This dish was harmony on a plate. The vinegary confit offset the irony livers and the runny yolk of the poached egg added some richness to the vinegar. When you got a perfect bite of everything, I was immediately transported to flavor town. I’m not convinced I’m a chicken liver convert, but I did really enjoy it in this dish.
Going along with the terms, I began at the end. The last recipe in the starters for La Tradition was Crusty Marrow and Porcini Fricassee. For anyone who is unfamiliar with fricassee, it’s a blanket term for a type of stew usually involving some type of poultry. In Boulud’s case, he used porcini mushrooms as the “meaty” element for the stew. He suggested serving this atop a nice hunk of beef and though I was gung ho about this initially, my enthusiasm took a nose dive once the grocery receipts began adding up. I opted for spending less, which translated into a prewashed box of baby arugula and some homemade red wine vinaigrette (a favorite flavor from my childhood, thanks to Seven Seas!).
The whole process took a little over 24 hours. I say this because it took about 24 hours to let the marrow soak in salted water (2 tsp of salt for every quart), which I changed every 4 or so hours with the exception of my sleep time. The actual prep and cook time took only an hour or so and might have taken less if I were more organized — mental note for next time.
Once my 24 hours were up, it was time to go mining for marrow. Extracting bone marrow is actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. If you refer back to my last post, my marrow bones came in two shapes – short and squatty or long and skinny. I thought the squatty ones would have been the easier of the two, but shockingly no. The marrow was so much softer in the longer bones and came out in a cinch. The others took some careful maneuvering and finally brute force, which involved prodding, poking, squeezing, you name it. You can refer to Allen’s more photo friendly manhandling below.
Marrow Extraction (not an easy task)
Ingredients / Herbs (Thyme, Tarragon, Rosemary, Italian Parsley)
In addition to the ingredients shown above were the porcini mushrooms, of course. I searched high and low for fresh porcinis. Ok, I lied, I searched three different grocery stores because I only had last night and today to go shopping. However, I was unsuccessful at all three — 1) Two Whole Foods 2) Trader Joe’s 3) Stop & Shop. I finally settled on dried organic European porcinis at $6.99 for 1.25 oz. I’m no mushroom guru, but I felt a tad ripped off by Whole Foods.
The Enemy aka The Reconstituted Porcini Mushrooms
After actually reconstituting the mushrooms, I was put off by both the slimy texture and the very strong smell. I would equate this to dried herbs vs. fresh herbs. Dried is always more concentrated and less is always, ALWAYS more. Having no choice in the matter, I stuck with those little suckers and went about dicing my mirepoix and rendering some bacon fat in a skillet. After about 2-3 minutes on the heat, I removed some of the fat from the slab bacon. I then threw in my diced onions, carrots, celery, and porcini followed by the rosemary and thyme. Once the mixture began to soften, I added a cup of dry red wine. I went with Cabernet Sauvignon because I would drink the rest of the bottle, but any dry red will do. I seasoned with some salt and white pepper and reduced until the wine was about 1/4 of a cup.
Add red wine and simmer
While the fricassee was simmering, I threw my cubed marrow into a saucepan of boiling salted water for 30 seconds. Afterward, I dredged the marrow cubes in a mixture of bread crumbs, tarragon, parsley, and salt. The breaded cubes went into a round baking pan under the broiler until the breading started to brown. Note, most of my marrow melted away, which I could have predicted. Going forward, I would probably cube my marrow slightly larger than 1/4 of an inch.
To serve, I used Daniel Boulud’s red wine vinaigrette recipe, which called for dijon, garlic, salt, white pepper, peanut oil and a touch of walnut oil. I lightly dressed the arugula with the vinaigrette, topped with a small serving of the fricassee and finished with a few of the marrow cubes.
Sadly for me, this dish fell slightly below genius. I thought the marrow was delicious and the arugula salad was a nice, crisp addition. However, I’m positive the fall from grace had to do with those dried mushroom slugs. Both Krissie and Allen thought the dish was tasty and had second helpings, but I couldn’t get past the taste of the mushrooms. For anyone who cares to attempt this recipe, I’d say going the extra mile to find fresh porcinis will probably pay off. Despite the shortcomings of the fricassee for me personally, I’d say this was a a great first hurrah for me. I’m excited for the recipes to come.
The first recipe in Cafe Boulud Cookbook is Onion Soup with Braised Beef Shank. The recipe is relatively simple, but time consuming especially if you are making stock from scratch as I did. Some key tips include cutting vegetables and meat in uniform sizes, skimming fat consistently, straining the soup, and simmering for a long period of time. Cutting the vegetables in larger uniform sizes helps keep the vegetables from turning to mush too quickly and cooks everything evenly. Skimming the fat as the soup’s impurities rise to the surface keeps the soup a clear, uniform consistency, while straining helps keep the soup clear and smooth. Simmering for long periods of time helps the soup gain a more intense flavor and adds depth as water evaporates from the soup and more flavor is left over in a smaller amount of broth. One last tip is to season and taste throughout to make sure your soup has flavor in the finished product. Once you add salt, give it a few minutes before tasting again.
I made stock from the cookbook and can say that if you have the time and money, I would highly recommend giving it a try if not solely for the experience of making your own stock.
Beef Stock Ingredients
First, sear beef shank in large saute or skillet with vegetable oil and set aside. Melt butter separately in a dutch oven or large stock pot. Add sliced onions and minced garlic. Let onions cook and develop color (roughly 30 to 40 minutes) on medium heat.
Stay Gold, Pony Boy
Next, add flour and cook for 5 minutes so that raw flour taste disappears and the flour is wet. Pour white wine and heat until it is nearly evaporated. Add seared pieces of beef shank, vegetables, herbs, and beef stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer for two hours. Make sure to consistently skim fat and impurities from the surface. Strain the soup once it is finished and eat or seal in airtight containers in fridge or freezer.
Finished Product, Uneven Onion Slices Included.
Overall, the soup was simple in ingredients and had a lot of depth with neither the onions or beef stock being too overpowering and tasted like a very traditional French onion soup. The amount of salt I had to use to really begin tasting the soup was somewhat alarming, but I think that is something a home cook needs to get over if they really want to elevate their cooking. In all likely hood, it’s still far less than what you get in a restaurant or from a can. I consumed 2 bowls along with some toasted French bread I made using a bread maker. Soup absorbed bread is not something to be missed. The remainder of the evening was spent thinking of ways to consume the leftovers and peeing the consumed soup.