Monday, July 21, 2008

Hazelnut and Lemon Stuff

I have this book, Le Champignon Sauvage. Actually it’s not my book, I’ve borrowed it for an extended period, and actually it’s called Essence, but that doesn’t matter. It’s recipes from David Everitt-Matthias. It’s fancy stuff, we’re talking multi-step recipes, for example: roast grey-legged partridge with chicory caramelized in maple syrup, and elderberry gastric, or brill fillet with salsify and artichokes, hazelnut emulsion, and red wine and tarragon jus. Yes, you’re lucky if there’s a dish that contains only one word you don’t know or only one ingredient you don’t know how to obtain. And so with all those emulsions and juses and confits and stuff, comes a long process. There was actually one main that I thought to myself, “hey, it’s only got three parts, and I have access to all of them!” so I gave it a go. It was brandade (poached cod, garlic puree and potato gnocchi). Alright, the gnocchi turned out not so great, might just be me. And the fish was not cooking, and we kept thinking it should only be poached for a few minutes but wasn’t flaking like it should, so that didn’t come out well. So then I got discouraged.

But no, this post is not about that dish, because in the back of the book are desserts and not all of them are as complicated as the savory food. They’re still multi-part, but little things, and I made two of them. Well, I took two different desserts and stuck them together. Pistachio and olive oil cake plus lemon and pine nut iced mousse, or semifreddo, with one tiny change, I had perfectly good ground hazelnuts and I do love them, so I substituted them for pistachios. And I should mention that about a year ago I made the cake with pistachios and it’s an amazing color. The hazelnut isn’t as pretty but darn good. And I thought of making these two random desserts together because they seemed like they would compliment each other and they did. The hazelnut was sweet and extremely moist (probably because it contained both olive oil and butter) and had a nice orange flavor to it, and the semifreddo was really tart with a bit of crunch. I ended up liking it more than I had expected because I don’t go for lemon/lime flavors in dessert very much, but it was somewhat addictive, and I kept spooning more onto my plate. Next time, though, I would cut back on the lemons. It used six. Six! That’s a whole lot from such a powerful fruit, and it kinda made you pucker. I remedied that with a bit of powdered sugar, but there’s no way to really hide six lemons. So I’ve made the changes for yall, and added and subtracted a few other things from the original recipes.

Hazelnut Olive Oil Cake and Lemon and Pine Nut Iced Mousse

250 g ground hazelnuts
50 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
125 ml olive oil (a little over ½ c)
100 g unsalted butter, melted
1 vanilla bean
3 eggs
200 g sugar

juice and zest of 1 orange

Mix the hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt together. Add the olive oil to the melted butter, then scrape in the vanilla bean seeds. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, then slowly whisk in the oil and butter. Whisk in the hazelnut mixture, then add the orange juice and zest. Pour into a springform pan with parchment paper on the bottom. Bake at 160C/325F for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean.

juice and zest of 3 lemons (not 6)
200 ml double cream
100 g caster sugar
30 ml water
4-5 egg yolks
100 g pine nuts, toasted

Put the lemon juice and zest in a small pan and boil until reduced (he says until 75 milliliters, but it’s not that easy to measure, so just reduce). Whip the double cream until it forms soft peaks, then set in fridge. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil until it reaches soft-ball stage (115C, be careful, this happens very quickly). While it is boiling, whisk the egg yolks in a mixer until thick, airy, and very pale. When the sugar syrup is ready, slowly drizzle it on the egg yolks with the machine running on high. Whisk until cold. Fold in the lemon juice, then the whipped cream and finally add the pine nuts (his pictures have pine nuts perfectly dispersed, but mine ended up at the bottom). Pour into a bowl or pan and freeze until set, at least six hours.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cinc Sentits

Cinc Sentits, one of my first restaurants in Barcelona. My first tasting menu here, that’s for sure. I revisited it for the second time about a month ago for someone’s surprise birthday dinner, and after that, D declared it the best yet. In Spain. And possibly one of the best in his life. Good choice me.

So if you haven’t heard of Cinc Sentits, it’s a pretty nice restaurant, but I don’t think it’s as high-profile as some of the $$$$, famous restaurants in the city, although it does the same sort of modernization of traditional dishes with foams and curious combinations, etc. Only it might do it better. At least one person definitely thinks it does, he voted it better than Mugaritz, which is much more recognized internationally.

Cinc Sentits has a very clean, minimal interior, and a cubic orange vase with a single flower on each table. They have 2 different tasting menus, and during the day they do a menú del día (which I just had a couple days ago, but this is about the dinner) for about 30 euros.

So when we went for dinner a few weeks ago, we chose the longer menu (as I tend to do). I didn’t get the wine pairings, D did because all but one were white. Before starting, it helps to know that although the chef is Catalan, he spent a long time in Canada, which influences some of his food, most notably in the amuse that every table gets at the beginning, lunch or dinner. It’s a layered shot, sea salt at the bottom, followed by maple syrup, and topped with a cava sabayonne. And you do shoot it, all in one gulp, and it’s delicious. That union of salt and sweet is one of my favorites.
Now let the menu commence. First off there was a gel of sea water and peppers with a cockle, spear of asparagus, and cream of asparagus. Alright, alright, so I just went on about how this was a spectacular meal, but first of all I don’t like peppers. And this was my first sea water gel, and I’m not crazy about it. D gobbled it up though, and this didn’t get me started off on the wrong foot, it just gave me more room for the other stuff. Next was the foie. Yes, the foie. This more than made up for previous gel of sea water. I have decided this was the best foie gras I’ve ever had. And I used to be a foie neophyte, it’s just been a little over a year since I first had foie, but I feel like I’ve gotten a good amount in since that. This was seared foie on a coca of leeks (coca is like very thin, crispy bread) and topped with scallions and salt. Man, this was delicious. When we tried it, we were both like ‘whoa,’ and we dicussed what other foies might top it, or if this could be it. I was trying to remember all the foies I’d had, but it was hard to concentrate on anything else but the plate set before me. So I’ve recently concluded that that was the best. Period. After the foie gras, we got a tiny dish of peas, a langoustine (a big shrimp), and a foam of various spices. Delicious. I have a weak spot for shrimp, and I’ve been to lots of restaurants here that know how to cook them just right, before that point where they get rubbery, so I wonder why not everywhere can do it…it must not be too hard. But Cinc Sentits followed suit and presented us with goodness. Now I’ve never been a huge fish fan, but I continue to be surprised with the preparation at certain places. I guess if you’re willing to pay for it, you can get some quality stuff. So this was a red mullet with a squid ink sauce on a bed of wild rice and an alioli foam. Absolutely great. I’m not so schooled in fish family, and I don’t even know if I’ve had red mullet before, but this was a really nice dish, and I ate every last bite. Then the meat came. This was a quintessentially Spanish dish. Can you guess what it was? If you said pork, you’re right. I think it might have been cochinillo, which means young pig, and it came with an apple sauce and a roasted apple slice. I’ve either been in Spain too long, or else I actually do enjoy pork now, because this was good. I’ve gotten used to the crispy, salty pork dishes here, and the contrast with tender, fatty meat makes for a real party on the tongue. I wasn’t so crazy about the apple sauce, etc., but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Spain’s pig products. How did I already get at the cheese course? I’m ripping right through this review here, I think it’s because I can’t say much more but ‘good’ and ‘yum.’ So, here’s the cheese. I’m not sure what it’s called but I can find out because the second I tasted it I was almost sure it came from a cheese shop in town that we frequent, owned by a friendly Scottish lady. It was served with a little blob of confit onions, and I guess it’s enough to say that I’ve gotten this cheese from the shop more than once on my own, so you could say I like it. Onto the first dessert. It was pure pinapple. No, they didn’t just serve us diced pineapple, but they might as well have. It was pineapple sorbet, bits of pineapple, and a pineapple sauce. I didn’t like it. I was hoping for something better, it tasted like pure pineapple. So, I got some guts after a bit of coaxing and asked if there was a different dessert they could give me, claiming a dislike for pineapple. I also mentioned if there was nothing else, I would even take another piece of cheese. So I got another piece of cheese. Then the grand finale: thank god there was chocolate involved. I sometimes (always) get a little disappointed when there’s no chocolate to be had. On a tray came floating through the air little cups of chocolate mousse, a scoop of dotted vanilla bean ice cream, in a ring of salty, olive oil cake crunchies. It sounds very simple, there were no foams of who-knows-what, no sea water gels or anything, but it was definitely the right road to take. You can’t go wrong with a good chocolate mousse and pure vanilla ice cream (which I approve of when accompanied by chocolate) and salty crunchies. I thoroughly enjoyed. And I must make one note here, it’s not a bad or good thing, it just happened: every bite it took with the crunchy cake bits reminded me of a cereal I used to eat as a kid, and I don’t know what it was, but something about it gave me this weird taste of childhood, and I couldn’t pinpoint it. I have been told to mention that this is a reconstruction of a very simple Catalan dish, which includes bread, olive oil, chocolate and salt. It's actually quite delicious, sometimes I like to melt chocolate on some toast, drizzle on some oil and top it off with salt for a different dessert. So this was the Cinc Sentits experience, and we were the last ones in the restaurant, like the first time there. Their service is friendly, and you might get anywhere from 2-4 waiters at different times, which is a lot for the size of the restaurant; and they all say bye with a smile as they leave the restaurant (I guess this goes along with being the last ones there, even later than the waitstaff). Before leaving, we talked a bit to the chef’s mother who also works there. And when we went back this week for lunch, they remembered us. Side note: this is not typical Catalan behavior, but remember, they lived out of the country for a long time. So we like Cinc Sentits. We like the food, and the people, and it's good to go to a place where people not only give you good service, but ask where you're from. And where if you get some rare pineapple dessert, you can ask to change it for something else. Looking back now, I wish I had just gotten two of the chocolates...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What to do with Dried Shrimp

I think I must like them so much because essentially they’re Chinese pasta. Little bits of ravioli with a Chinese flare. Alright, I know it’s not that simple, but I do love dumplings. They’ve always been in that sort of ‘only-when-I-go-out-to-eat’ category; this is where they’re different than pasta. I can’t just make them at home…or can I?

You probably guessed that the answer is yes, I can. And you want to know how I came up with the idea to make them? Normally if I have a craving for dumplings, I go down the road to a handy Japanese place where there’s a whole section dedicated to steamed goods, but honestly, it’s the pan-fried dumplings that get me. I’m devoted to the standard, half-moon shaped goodies. So my idea did not stem from a craving. Instead, I still had dried shrimp leftover from making pad thai and it was just sitting in the back of my fridge, not doing anything but perhaps leaking a faint fishy smell. So onto my old standby, search for dried shrimp and dumplings pops up. I just wanted to glance at the recipe to see how intimidating it would be, but it got lots of good reviews and didn’t look too bad. I also think I have this unexplained prejudice against won-ton wrappers and pre-made store bought doughs, but this recipe called for you to mix together your own flour and water and that’s it. Very easy.

One thing I was lacking, though, was a steamer. I always eye the bamboo steamers in the Chinese shop, and think how I want one, but I’d only actually use it for tamales. So I went with the pan-frying method, which ended up being pretty much steamed except for a little crispy bit on the bottom. These turned out delicious and I would make them again, trying different fillings and sauces.

And a little side note: although I made these almost specifically because I had dried shrimp, I don’t think that’s an essential ingredient, and if you don’t have or can’t find, make them anyways.

Pork and Spring Onion Dumplings
Adapted from

2 c flour
1 c boiling water

2 tsp dried shrimp
2 tsp Chinese rice wine, or medium-dry Sherry (I used Sherry, I mean, I’m in Spain)
¼ medium head of cabbage, roughly chopped
½ tsp salt
1 lb ground pork (I bought a package of pork sausages and just removed the casing)
3 green onions, green part only, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce (I didn’t have any so used fish sauce)
½ tsp sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
¼ tsp ground black pepper

dipping sauce
soy sauce
fish sauce
lime juice
green onion
fresh chilies

For the dough, mix the flour, water, and salt in a bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball, then knead on a floured surface until smooth and shiny, 6-8 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
While that’s resting, you can make the filling. What epicurious doesn’t mention is that for dried shrimp, you need to soak them for about 30 minutes in water until they get soft, then pat them dry and mince them up into tiny bits. You don’t really want to get a whole hunk of dried shrimp in a bite, just the flavor. So when everything for the filling is chopped and grated, mix it all together by hand until evenly distributed. Put in the fridge until you’re ready to fill the dumplings.
Now it’s time to make the wrappers. Epicurious suggest a gnocchi method: divide the dough into three, roll each piece into a log, and then cut of 1-inch sections and roll those into a flat circle for each dumpling. I tried this and found that I had irregular shaped circles and it didn’t work so well. So then I tried rolling it out, like normal pastry, but very thin, then I took a large glass and traced the edge, so all my circles were uniform. And after you trace each individual wrapper, I would stretch it out a bit, to make it even thinner, and it’s pretty elasticky dough so it should be ok. When you have all your wrappers ready, get a glass with water and dip your finger in it and trace the edge of the circle. You’ll see that if you put too much water it won’t close together, so just a quick brush on each half of the circle will do it. Then in the middle place a little scoop of the filling and close it to make a half circle, pressing along the edges to seal. Now, if you’re feeling creative, you can kind of pleat the edges over themselves and make little folds (epicurious tries to explain the method, but I thought it was confusing, and it’s just better to experiment a little with a few, folding the dough around and stuff). Now you’re ready to cook them. The key here is non-stick pan. I didn’t have one big enough because you’re going to need to fill it with water, and I only had a very shallow non-stick, so I used regular, which resulted in lots of the bottoms of dumplings being stuck to the pan. Sad smiley. Anyways, in a non-stick pan, heat up some oil until warm over medium-high heat. Add the dumplings, as many as will fit in the pan without touching and fry for a minute or two so that the bottoms get crispy and golden. Then pour cold water in to come half-way up the sides of the dumplings. Cover them and cook until the liquid is mostly evaporated, steaming the dumplings (probably 8-10 minutes). Remove with a spatula (you might want to test one first to make sure they’re done), I put on a plate with a paper towel just to get the excess water, and then serve and eat with the dumpling sauce.
Oh yeah, the sauce. I didn’t really mention how to make that, but instead listed ingredients. Dipping sauces are up to you, if you want spicy, throw in lots of fresh chili, if you like strictly soy sauce, go ahead. Those are just the ingredients I like to use in mine, so you can pick and choose as you please.