Monday, May 31, 2010

The French Laundry: Gazpacho

What's good for your palate is not good for your Prada. If you decide to make this recipe, make sure to vacuum-seal your favorite closet items, stash them in a bin and put it in the trunk of your car and park the car ten zip codes away from your kitchen!

OK, I'm overreacting but consider yourself warned with the smell of vinegary goodness this recipe brings into your kitchen.


Hope I didn't scare you. The soup itself is actually very simple to make. Anyone could do it. It involves just 3 steps: chop, mix, strain and voila! Ok, maybe four if you think declaring "voila" is a step on its own. And yes, you read it right, there's no cooking involved in this.

So that's for the soup. The balsamic glaze it needs as a garnish is another story. It took about an hour and a half to make. And if you don't have a Dutch oven or a diffuser, it requires constant glances to keep the "steam rising without simmering". And this slow reduction process releases a sweet & tarty aroma that nearly cost me my entire wardrobe!
Yes, all that heartache just for a garnish. Ok, I'm overreacting again. =)

Here's what you'll need.
French Laundry Gazpacho (2)

Ingredients can be found here.
And if you're wondering what the heck is an English cucumber, you're not alone.

First is to reduce the balsamic vinegar.
The book recommends using a diffuser for this (or maybe a Dutch oven) but I have a "melt" setting on my cooktop so I kinda got by.

French Laundry Gazpacho

You're done reducing the balsamic vinegar when it coats the back of the spoon and drips every so slowly.

French Laundry Gazpacho (1)

I got about a cup of the balsamic glaze and stored it in a squeeze bottle.
As a bonus, I also got a one-of-kind "Prada-infused-with-Balsamic-Vinegar-of-Modena" purse.

Now for the soup, just mix all the chopped ingredients and put it in the fridge overnight.

French Laundry Gazpacho (3)

The following day, I removed the thyme, pureed the mixture, then strained it.
I'd suggest leaving a third of the mix unstrained so could see for yourself the difference between a smooth soup and chunky one.

Now another word of warning here. Do NOT underestimate the task of straining. Didn't realize it to be quite so meditative. There's something about the spooning and pushing the liquid through that sets you into a trance... reflecting on life, reminiscing about good 'ole college days, thinking of some wonderful memories from high school and all the way back to gradeschool. And after all that reminiscing, reflecting and thinking, you still won't done straining! It took 40 minutes to squeeze 4 cups out of the mix. Yes, you could end up with strained arm muscles from all the straining. No worries though. Redemption will quickly come in the form of compliments from friends who will all unanimously declare that the strained version is the clear winner of the two.

The verdict? This recipe rocks! But wait til my next post about a slightly sweet & summery variation of this. It's so cool and smooth and serving it made me feel the same way, cool and smooth! It was also the perfect good use of the leftover vegetables.

Time: Soup (unstrained) minus balsamic glaze = 15 minutes
Soup (strained) minus balsamic glaze = 1 hour
Soup (strained) plus balsamic glaze = 3 hours

Difficulty: Depends on your choice above.

Calories: About 130 per cup.

Total Cost: $12.50 and that's using all organic veggies. You kinda have to use organic vegetables for this since you're eating them raw.

Will I do this recipe again? Probably not this recipe exactly but definitely yes on its variation. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The French Laundry: Gruyère Cheese Gougères

After trying this recipe, my conclusion is this: cheese puffs are like jeans. Huh?! Yes, I know, I know... it's odd enough to have them together in one sentence let alone as a revelation resulting from making a French Laundry recipe, but trust me, I have a point to make here.

See, before I started this blog, I thought JBrand (yes, the jeans!) is just a hype. The thought of paying $150 for a pair seemed outrageous for me whose most expensive jean purchase then was a $30 DKNY. However, I'm glad I kept an open mind because the first time I tried them on, I knew right away that the perfect jeans do exist! It may have cost me 5x more than a regular pair but I feel (and hopefully look) 10x better wearing them. That alone is worth the premium.

So my point is this: Like jeans, there is such a thing as the perfect cheese puff (and from now on, let's call it by its French name "Gougerès"; pronounced goo-ZHAIR). But unlike JBrands, gougeres is NOT sold at Saks. And gladly, it also doesn't cost $150 upwards! All you need is $7 and 1 hour of dedicated time in the kitchen. And like the JBrands, one try and you'll swear by these! Trust me on this.

Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
with Moscato d'Asti wine pairing

So now that I've made my point, read on because this recipe is surely a must-try!

It's so easy too, even easier than the Cream of Walnut Soup I first made from the cookbook.

This is all you need. Ingredients listed here.


First, combine water, butter, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Then, add all the flour at once, reduce the heat and mix with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes until it forms a ball that looks like this:


I then transferred it to a mixer, and using a paddle attachment, mixed it for about 30 seconds to cool down the batter. (If you don't have a stand mixer, that's no excuse!! I made this before mixing it by hand and it was just as good!)

Then, I added the eggs and continued to mix it until the batter forms a silky soft peak that look like this.


Finally, I mixed in the Gruy
ère cheese.
This cheese definitely smells stronger than any of the varieties I'm used to.
It's like a Swiss cheese with a lot of personality! Ah, wait, it IS a "Swiss" cheese.

From wiki:
Gruyere cheese is a hard yellow cheese made from cow's milk,
named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland


The book says to transfer the batter to a pasty bag
and pipe the batter on the baking sheet but I didn't bother.
I just used a spoon and made sure the mounds are as round as they can be
and then, sprinkled each puff... err "
gougère" with the remaining grated Gruyère.

Such a tongue twister, isn't it?
Repeat after me ...goug
ère with grated Gruyère... gougère with grated Gruyère...
gougère with grated Gruyère...

TIP: If you are as obsessive compulsive as I am, and really wanted
the perfect round mounds, just dip your fingers in water and pat each gougere gently.


Baked it at 450F for 5 minutes, then reduced it to 350F
and baked it for another 22 minutes.

As you're baking, your entire kitchen is going to smell like a French boulangerie,
forcing the hubz to stop whatever he's doing in the garage and eagerly await for the taste test.

Good food, good wife, he can't be any luckier! ;)


The verdict? It was so good we finished all 8 gougeres just between us.
Oink, oink...

Now for the surprise:
I actually gave the hubz a blind taste test. Before I mixed in the Gruyere cheese,
I saved a small batter and mixed it with a store-brand Swiss cheese.
Asked the hubz to taste both and... drumroll please....
He liked the one with the cheap Swiss cheese better!!!!

Please don't be insulted, Chef Keller, I did like the Gruyere better!
...Or maybe because I knew which puffs had the Gruyere.

We will need to invite friends over to settle this minor dispute!

Time: About an hour.

Difficulty: Very, very easy!

Calories: About 130 per puff and it's be the best 130 calories I've ever popped in my mouth!

Total Cost: $6.99. Much less if you substitute Gruyere with Swiss cheese.

Will I do this recipe again? The question is, how many more times will I do this again!

Wine Pairing: 2007 Beni di Batasiolo Moscato d'Asti Bosc d'Larei. This wine is so good even by itself but paired with the gougeres, it even heightens the foodie experience! That or I'm just partial to sweet wines. ;)

As always, let me know if you want my detailed notes on this, I'd be happy to share it!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The French Laundry: Cream of Walnut Soup

I'm back!!! And I'm so excited to share with you all my very first cooking experience from The French Laundry Cookbook!

Cream of Walnut Soup
Cream of Walnut Soup

What you'll need:

First, I toasted the walnuts for 5 minutes over medium heat and chopped them.
cream of walnut-1

Then, I made the poaching liquid by boiling the wine and then adding water and sugar and returning it to boil.
I then added the lemon squeeze after removing it from heat.
I used 1/3 of the poaching liquid ingredients for this because I didn't want to have any leftovers after.
It yielded about 2 cups which is exactly all that's needed to puree the pears later.

For the walnut cream, I combined the walnuts, cream, milk, scraped vanilla beans (including the pod) in a medium saucepan and brought it to simmer.
Then, I reduced the heat to just below simmer and cooked it for 40 minutes.
This process is supposed to let the flavors infuse!

The walnut cream mix should look like this.

The walnut mixture will then need to be strained.
The book says discarding the walnut and vanilla pod after this but I saved it instead! You'll see later why. Also, be sure to wash your strainer at this point, you're gonna need it again!

I then put the bowl on top of a saucepan with simmering water to keep it hot while I make the pureed pears.

For the pear puree, I peeled, cored and cut the pear in 8 wedges and combined it with the poaching liquid.
I simmered it for 30 minutes until the pears are soft and a knife easily cut through it.
The book says this only takes 15 minutes but for some reason, mine took 30!!
No worries though. The extra minutes was a perfect excuse for me to browse through InStyle's June mag and wondered why Salma Hayek's head is disproportionately bigger than her body!

Btw, the parchment paper cover that the book recommends was completely useless for me. It kept on slipping inside the saucepan.

Then, I transfered the pear puree into a blender and pureed it to my heart's content!

While the blender is running, add the walnut cream a cup at a time. The book stresses out that it's important to have the walnut cream hot or otherwise, the soup will break. I don't actually know how a soup could possibly break but I didn't want to find out for myself either so I followed this without question.

The blended mixture will then need to be strained.
Cream of Walnut Soup

As an experiment, I served it three ways:
A) Walnut soup + a few drops of walnut oil, exactly as the book recommends
B) Just the soup, no walnut oil
C) Soup + a teaspoon of the walnut cream mix that I saved earlier
cream of walnut

...And the verdict: the hubz loved (B) with just the soup and me (C) the soup + walnut mix!

I asked him to guess the ingredients and he couldn't tell that there's a walnut or a pear in it.
I guess that means that my 40-minute flavor infusion was a success!
It was so good we finished all 6 shotglasses just between us!

Overall, ain't bad for my very first attempt on anything gourmet!

Time: 2 hours. It could have been faster but I was repeating these words from Chef Keller to myself, "Cooking is not about convenience, and it's not about shortcuts. Take your time. Move slowly and deliberately, and with great attention."

Difficulty: Very easy! Take that from someone who's most complicated soup creation thus far is opening a can of Campbell's and microwaving it for a few minutes.

Calories: About 150 if you serve it in a shotglass like I did here which makes about 16 servings. The soup is very rich but so worth it every calorie! Heck, even if this is 1,000 calories, I'd still have it!

Total Cost: $11.70. Probably even less if you skip the walnut oil and use a really cheap wine like Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc from Trader Joe's.

Will I do this recipe again? Definitely YES! The next time I do, it'll even be so much easier coz I won't need to hold the saucepan on one hand and the camera on the other all while hoping that the strainer does not fall over and make a big mess on the kitchen floor! I will however cut on the sugar a teeny wee bit and see how that goes...

Ingredients used:
Pear and lemon from the Farmer's Market
Organic cream, organic milk and vanilla stick from Whole Foods.
Walnuts from a local grocer and it's MN made!
Terra Andinna Sauv Blanc (but Kim Crawford is recommended)

Let me know if you want my detailed notes on this, I'd be happy to share it!


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