10/24/2009

Tricked by Truffles Omelette



Our current Cook the Books selection, Peter Mayle's French Lessons, it turns out, is not really a language course, but a cultural tour of some odd French festivals, fairs and markets (a Catholic mass to auction truffles, for instance). I found it moderately interesting, though his novel, Hotel Patis, was a much more entertaining read.

Mr. Mayle, by the end of his gastronomic researches, is apparently ready for a purge, and it is here, at the Eugenie-les-Bains spa, with chef Michel Guerard of cuisine minceur fame, that the food descriptions begin to sound a bit more appealing.  As the restaurant has three Michelin stars, it is no wonder. In fact, it sounds like the ideal getaway for a gastronome, or expense account  foodie.  My dream job.

Though for a dish inspired by the book as a whole, I thought of  his description of the the perfect omelette on page 35:
"It was a vibrant bright yellow, the yellow that only comes from the yolks of eggs laid by free-range hens, and the consistency had been exquisitely judged by the chef, just on the firm side of runny....  the plump, moist, soft-skinned golden envelope that slides so cleanly from the pan." 
 This might be my challenge, paired with something I've long been wanting to try - truffles.  From what I've read it seems that truffles are well matched with egg and pasta dishes.  So, maybe a souffle or an omelette?? The first step, and what proved to be more difficult than  I had imagined, was finding the truffles.  Out of season apparently, and immoderately expensive when in season.  But, I thought maybe a small jar of trouffle honey, or perhaps a very small preserved truffle?? It could be considered my early Christmas present.  I ended up ordering a tiny, wee jar of truffles (Summer variety) preserved in salt, 2 of them, about the size of marbles, truffle butter (Winter) and a small jar of truffle honey.

The initial truffle experiment was with veal chops, which were browned nicely on both sides, then finished a few minutes in the oven.  In the pan, with the crusty bits, I added some Merlot, a little Balsamic vinegar and a small amount of beef stock; reduced that down til syrupy, then swirled in, off the heat, little knobs of truffle butter.  Very flavorful, though can't say that we really tasted truffle. Still not sure exactly what that should be. The flavor must have been overpowered by my lovely pan reduction sauce.  It sounded nice though.  Merlot and Balsamic Reduction with Truffle Butter.

I  read somewhere, in the course of my  research, that the more delicately flavored Summer Truffles shouldn't be cooked, which eliminated a souffle from the running.  So, the next  attempt was an Omelette aux Truffes, which I served with Asparagus Spears in a walnut oil and Spanish Sherry vinaigrette, and a crusty loaf of French bread.  This will be my Cook the Books entry for our current event, hosted this round by Jo at Food Junkie, Not Junk Food.

Here you see the melting chevre escaping our omelette, and the black bits would be the trouffles.
I pretty much followed the directions given by one of my favorite cooking authors, Alice Waters, so as not to do my usual scrambled eggs thing.

First, I  prepared the ingredients, so there would be a casual flow, and not panicked disorder, as is quite common.  I steamed the asparagus, mixed up a vinaigrette, and then while a cast iron skillet heated on medium low for 3 to 5 minutes,  grated the two little truffles, crumbled my lovely, salted chevre and beat the eggs lightly, adding minced parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Next, I put a lump of butter in the pan and let it melt and sizzle, swirling it around.  Before it browned, the eggs were poured in.  The edges began to set almost immediately, and, as advised, (like me and everyone else hasn't done this before?) I pulled the sides in toward the center with a spatula, letting the uncooked egg  flow under on the hot exposed bottom, lifting edges, tilting the pan, etc.  When it was mostly set I placed crumbled, soft cheese across the center and cooked another moment or two.

Then, the grated truffles were sprinkled down the middle, before folding the omelet in half over itself.

Finally, the lovely, oozing creation was carefully slipped onto a serving plate, where it happily befriended our asparagus in their vinaigrette.  Alice recommends dragging a piece of butter over the top to make the omelet shine.  I thought, oh well, might as well gild this lily, and swiped some of that truffle butter across.

I didn't have an unbroken top, not sure why, but all the flavors were there and fabulously paired with the asparagus.  However, I do feel somewhat faced with a naked emperor here.  Dare I say anything?  Or, perhaps my taste buds just need screwing on tighter?  Is truffle really all it's cracked up to be?  Bob and I were in agreement, couldn't distinguish anything particularly, wonderfully different.  There was the herbal kick of parsley, the succulent soft cheese, nice buttery eggs, and maybe a hint of mushroomy nuttiness.  But, for that, we could have saved a bundle and used shitakes here, foodie fans.  Or, perhaps it was because they weren't fresh from the earth, Black Winter Truffles??  Yes, as it turns out.  With a tad more research:

Winter Black truffles are harvested in the wintertime in the forests of the Perigord and Lot regions of France. They are designated "brushed" which literally means they have been carefully cleaned and brushed, and are ready to use. Shave over pastas; aromatize chicken and meat dishes, winter soup or even scrambled eggs. They are preserved in their own brine or juice, which can be used for sauces or broths. Preserved truffles are a nice, budget-friendly way to add visual truffle appeal to dishes. However, if you are looking to add the pungent aroma and taste of truffles to your dish, we recommend that you explore our fresh truffle. Jarred or canned truffles, sold by us or any other vendor, are mere shadows of their fresh truffle selves and will not, by themselves, deliver the aroma or flavor of fresh truffles. They are great to use with truffle oil – the oil will add the flavor, the preserved truffles the truffle “look”, but preserved truffles should be used only to garnish a dish, or in conjunction to truffle butter and oil during those times when fresh truffles are out of season or when the budget doesn’t allow for the real thing. Preserved truffles out of the jar or can have almost no flavor or odor.
This from the Gourmet Food Store site.  So now we know.  Plus, what I used were Black Summer Truffles, preserved.  Even less flavor, no aroma.  I think I need a trip to France for research purposes..  Or Italy.  In truffle season.
All in all, not my favorite book, but the challenge and experimentation is always fun in a really enjoyable event, that covers two of my avocations, cooking and reading, our Cook the Books Club.

P.S. A Winner has been posted (click on the above link) and, guess what???  Yes, I did win - again. Bow, bow, humble wave, and thank you to our judge, Beth, of Beth Fish Reads, who had a difficult time, as there were so many delicious entries.  Check them all out.

10/21/2009

Let's Make Our Own Flu Vaccine?

 

This has nothing to do with cooking, really.  Gasp! Well, excuse the heck out of me for a short (maybe not) rant about the flu that Swine don't spread, but that is definitely making a bundle for the drug industry.  In a struggling economy, I guess that would be the ticket to wealth and a happier life.  Buy into pharmaceutical stocks.

Talk the government into fining individuals for not getting a shot or inhaling a dangerous vaccine.  Insist all school children be vaccinated.  Push media hype on the big epidemic that doesn't exist.  I did have a case of "Swine Flu" myself, and guess what?  It was the mildest "flu" I've ever had.  I really cannot believe some of the invidious things people will do to make a buck.  It's hard to know where to start.  Maybe with the mercury content beyond safe levels, aluminum and other toxins?  Or, with the fact that more people died from polio after mass vaccinations?? Meanwhile, folks,on the bright side, there are inexpensive natural remedies, such as Vitamin D, which is an excellent preventative.

 The Examiner.com, is a good place to start, by asking some questions we should all be considering.  If you have elderly parents, children in school, are a health care provider, etc. etc., or just someone who believes what mainstream news sources, like the recent 60 Minutes infomercial, are pushing.  More information here.

10/13/2009

Pesto Devils


This marvelous snack came about because of excess Pesto.  Is it really possible to have an overabundance of Pesto?  The thing is you don't want to keep it for too long.  You could stand at the kitchen counter and just eat what's left by the spoonful, but thankfully,  there are other options.  

To begin at the beginning, we have Lemon Basil.  Cutting it back so that it will keep producing, gives us amounts sufficient for Pesto.  Lemon Basil Pesto with Macadamia nuts, to be exact, adapted from Alice Waters' Pesto recipe in The Art of Simple Food.

Lightly toast the mac nuts to bring out their nuttiest flavor, then proceed:
 Ingredients
2 cups lemon basil (or other variety) leaves, lightly packed
1 clove garlic, peeled
Kosher salt
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Whir in your food processor - or pound and grind away in a mortar and pestle, depending upon your craving for authenticity.  One day I'll have to try the mortar and pestle version so I really know from authentic.
While whirring, slowly add
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil or macadamia nut oil.
Taste and adjust for salt if needed.  Will keep 3 days or so, refrigerated with plastic wrap touching onto the pesto.


OK, now you've served it with your pasta, as a side with a lovely vegetable and Feta Frittata ( as I did), or perhaps with grilled chicken.  Then, say you have about a 1/3 cup or so left?  It is at this point, Deviled Eggs may start calling to you.  Sunday afternoon, and still without lunch, that's exactly what happened.  I leaped up and put some eggs on to boil.

After slicing them lengthwise, remove the yolks, mash well, add the pesto, a scoop of full-fat (only way to go) yogurt, a scoop of mayonnaise and dash of salt.  Mix well and stuff.  Eat and enjoy.  Should be called angelic.

10/10/2009

The Music Man Opening


Photos courtesy of Daniel Nathaniel III
This is what you might call a Grandma's prerogative, brag post.  Kealani, as Amaryllis, here in The Music Man, currently playing in Hilo's historic Palace Theater.  Yes, she sings, dances, acts and plays the piano.  What a kid!  Hey, I'm allowed remember?

The entire cast, orchestra, and crew did a really outstanding job last night at their opening.  One criteria being Bob, who actually stayed awake the whole time.  See The Tribune-Herald for additional photos and a more detailed write-up.

If you happen to be in town, don't miss this wonderful show.  If you're out of state, isn't it about time you came to Hawaii for a visit?

10/06/2009

More Bananas, Banana Almond Cake



Well, I just discovered that the ground, toasted almonds in my recently made Banana Almond Cake are on the list of trendy foods.  Haven't decided how that changes anything exactly, but hey, guess I'm just so with it.  I was looking for more ways to use up all our bananas.  Did the Passionfruit-Banana Sorbet, dried bananas, Banana Waffles, even sliced one into my Ahi Coconut Curry, a dish I've been making (with variations) a lot lately.  Then discovered this fantastic cake via Jules at thestonesoup blog.  Posted several years ago.  Back when toasted almonds weren't trendy.  She was ahead of her time.

This so beats Banana Bread.  It's in a whole other league, folks.  There's no flour, so it's gluten free, and the cake is light, yet moist from the fruit and ground nuts.  Toasted ground almonds smell so wonderful - they're in the running with fresh ground coffee, grated nutmeg,  and even, yes, chocolate melting. I want to roast and grind some more, just for the aroma, the flavor of which comes through in this cake.  And, as more bananas are on their way......

I used my Sumeet Asia Kitchen Machine, which was mentioned previously in the context of grinding cacao to make truffles.  It whirs them into submission very quickly. And, after the almonds are removed, just dump the bananas in and give them a whir.  So, here's my version of a now trendy cake. 
 
Banana Almond Cake

1 3/4 cups (250 grams) raw almonds, toasted
2 eggs
1/2 cup (110 grams) white sugar
1/2 teas. baking powder
1 3/4 cups (250 grams) bananas, peeled & mashed well
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teas. lemon zest
2 teas. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds
confectioners sugar to dust top before serving

Preheat oven to 300 F ( 150 C).  Butter a 9" (22cm) fluted flan tin with removable base.  Jules recommends taking a large square of baking paper, moistening it, then lining the base and sides of the tin with it.  I only put parchment paper on the bottom, which was a mistake. The cake stuck to the sides, messing with the nice fluted business.  Even with moistening the paper, it seemed there would be big creases around the sides, but next time (and there will be a next time) I'll do it anyway.

Process the whole, toasted almonds until finely ground.  Beat eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Stir the almonds and baking powder well together, then gently add to the eggs.  Puree bananas with lemon juice and stir into the almond mixture with lemon zest and vanilla.  Mix to incorporate, without over doing it, so as not to deflate the eggs.

Pour into your prepared pan, then sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the surface.  Bake 40-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let it cool in the pan on a rack.


Carefully remove from the tin to a serving plate and sift confectioners sugar over the top.  Serve with whipped cream, or whole milk yogurt if desired.  Very much in the Italian tradition of cakes made with seasonal fruits and ground nuts, great for an afternoon snack, along with a glass of vin santo or iced coffee.

10/03/2009

Ode to Abiu


This is not a recipe.  This is to thank God for his.  All the recipes of creation he has come up with; so many, simply unbeatable fruits in this world of ours, which really need nothing further from us.  These Abiu, for instance. I can't think of any better way to eat them, than to just eat them. You'd have a hard time improving on anything so good.


Simply cut the fruit in half, then spoon out the creamy, instant vanilla custard.  I have found that most of the visitors, friends, repair guys, etc., coming by, have never heard of Abiu..  They're not too well known, I guess you could say.  A South of the Border phenomenon. At least Wikipedia has heard of them.

Some years the fruit flies get them and we have to tie little net bags around the fruit.  This year, as I've mentioned, even though I did bag some, the unbagged ones don't seem to be bothered.  My theory is that since there are so many little strawberry guavas fruiting right now, they're keeping all the fruit flies too busy to go looking under leaves for this fruit.

But who really knows the mind? of a fruit fly?  The other day they were buzzing all around my Thai Basil.  Maybe they're developing a taste for Thai food. I also like the way abiu don't all ripen at once.  You have a sort of pantry effect here.