RESTAURANT-Y

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Confession: Mr. Alpenglow’s modus operandi for entertaining is to slavishly mimic his favorite restaurant experiences. Case in point? Chicken liver mousse. It’s one of those rare dishes that defies the Impossible Trinity: cheap-as-hell ingredients, everything can be made in advance, and it flies off menus. Otherwise elegant diners from the Standard Grill in New York to Bestia in L.A. can be seen stuffing their faces with chicken liver like squirrels in November. Next time you throw a party, try this version — Julia Child’s. It’s surprisingly easy. Mr. Alpenglow has paired it with fresh blackberries, stewed pear, and raisins in the past — but nothing else sings quite like port-braised cherries. The gelée is so unnecessary, but why not?

CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE with PORT-BRAISED CHERRIES
(mousse recipe by Julia Child)

for the mousse:
2 cups of chicken livers
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup of cognac
1/4 cup of whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
Pinch of thyme
1/2 cup of melted butter
kosher salt and pepper

Remove any greenish or blackish spots from the livers, as well as any sinew. Cut the livers into 1/2-incch pieces. Melt butter over medium heat in a sauté pan until foam has subsided. Sauté livers with the shallots in butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until the livers are just stiffened, but still rosy inside. Scrape into the blender jar. Pour the wine or cognac into the pan and boil it down rapidly until it has reduced to 3 tablespoons. Scrape it into the blender jar. Add the cream and seasonings to the blender jar. Cover and blend at top speed for several seconds until the liver is a smooth paste. Add the melted butter and blend several seconds more. Adjust seasoning. Pack into the bowl or jar and chill for 2 to 3 hours. Serve at room temperature so that the mousse is soft.

for the cognac gelée:
1/2 c. water, separated
1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. dry vermouth
2 tsp. cognac

Place 1/4 c. of warm water in a ramekin, sprinkle unflavored gelatin and let it stand for about 10 minutes. In a small saucepan heat wine and sugar over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Once the gelatin has softened, add the other 1/4 c. of hot water to the ramekin and dissolve until mixture becomes clear. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm wine mixture and mix thoroughly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add cognac. Let the warm mixture stand until it almost reaches room temperature. Once it has cooled, pour over chilled mousse. Return the mousse to the fridge and chill until the gelée has set.

for the cherries:
1 cup of dried pitted cherries
1 cup of port
2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the cherries, port and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Mix well and cover. Let steep for 30 minutes and serve at room temperature. Serve the chicken liver mousse with the cherries and grilled bread that has been drizzled with olive oil.

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BAKING WITH BOOZE

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This stalwart of a cake has been baptized inside and out with fine bourbon, making for sweet, sweet redemption. Mr. Alpenglow served it with homemade Meyer lemon ice cream. Together, cake and ice cream paved the way for one thing: more bourbon.

KENTUCKY BOURBON CAKE
(recipe by Julie Richardson)

for the cake:
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

for the glaze:
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup bourbon

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To make the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a bowl, then whisk the mixture by hand to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. As you make the batter, stop the mixture frequently and scrape the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Blend in the eggs one at a time. Combine the bourbon and buttermilk in a small bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk-bourbon mixture in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape down the bowl. Stop the mixture before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is golden and springs back when touched, 40 to 45 minutes. Make the glaze by combining the butter, sugar and bourbon in a small saucepan over low heat just until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, whisking to combine. Remove the cake from the oven but leave it in the pan. Pour holes all over the top of the cake with a wooden skewer. Pour three-quarters of the glaze slowly over the cake, reserving the remaining glaze. Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes, then flip it out onto a serving plate so the glazed part is on the bottom. Brush the top with the remaining glaze. If the glaze has thickened, re-warm it over low heat.

PORCINI DOUGHNUTS

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Mr. Alpenglow has a healthy fantasy life. Unable to go in the flesh, he imagines eating at restaurants around the country — perusing on-line menus, soaking up the reviews, Google Image-ing particular dishes. In this way, he’s visited many fine establishments without paying a dollar: Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Manresa (Los Gatos), Le Pigeon (Portland), Blackberry Farm (Tennessee), and Gwynnett St (Brooklyn) among them. Ever since he caught wind of their Dried Porcini Doughnuts, Mr. Alpenglow has been making repeated trips to Rich Table (San Francisco). Last night, the pretending reached a critical threshold and the doughnuts just had to happen. They were every bit as magical in reality as they were in fantasy.

HOMEMADE PORCINI DOUGHNUTS
(inspired by Rich Table SF; based on a beignet recipe by David Kinch)

for 16-20 doughnuts:
1 cup whole milk, warmed
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
peanut or vegetable oil for frying

for the powder:
2 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms
(smell before buying; they should be very pungent)
1 teaspoon white pepper
kosher salt to taste

Batter: Place warm milk in a large bowl. Add sugar and yeast; whisk to dissolve sugar. Cover with a warm, damp kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Add flour and salt; whisk until smooth. Whisk egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy, about 1 minute. Add to batter and whisk until smooth. Scrape down sides of bowl, allowing batter to pool at bottom. Cover bowl with a damp towel. Let stand at room temperature until batter begins to bubble, at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Stir.

Powder: Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a food processor or blender and pulse to create a powder. Transfer the powder to a bowl and season with white pepper. Taste it. Add just enough salt to bring out the mushroom flavor.

Frying: Heat approximately 4 inches of oil in a heavy cast-iron pot on medium-high flame. Just as the oil beings to smoke, reduce the heat. Spoon the doughnut batter into the oil, one at a time, working to create round doughnuts. Turn the doughnuts over in the oil to achieve a deep golden brown color all around. Remove the doughnuts with a mesh sieve and let them drain on a wire rack. Working quickly, roll the doughnuts in the porcini powder and serve immediately.

WINTER SURVIVAL

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CASSOULET
(8 servings; adapted from a recipe by Julia Child)

for the beans:
2 lbs dry Great Northern white beans
1 lb salt pork, both fat and lean
1 large herb bouquet in a cheesecloth
(8 sprigs each of parsley and thyme, 4 garlic cloves 2 bay leaves)
kosher salt to taste

for the cassoulet:
1 lamb shank (with bone)
2 lbs lamb shoulder chunks (with bone)
1 lb Berkshire pork cheeks (optional)
1 lb garlic pork sausage
4 duck legs confit
rendered duck fat
2 large onions, diced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
5 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups beef stock
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs

Beans: Pick over the beans to remove any debris. Wash and drain them. Place them in a large pot with a gallon of water, cover, and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Let sit for an hour. Meanwhile prepare the salt pork by slicing it 1/2 inch thick and simmering in 3 quarts of water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. When the beans are done soaking, bring them to a simmer and add the salt pork. Cover partially and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours (ensure the beans remain submerged in water) until the beans are just tender.

Meat: Next brown the meat. Heat the duck fat in a large pot until smoking, then add the lamb, browning all sides thoroughly. Remove the lamb and add the onions. When the onions are browned, return the lamb and add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, wine, and enough stock to cover the lamb. Simmer for about an 1 1/2 hours until the lamb is tender. Adjust the seasoning and remove the bones. Set the remaining mixture aside. Next brown the pork cheeks, sausage, and duck legs in a similar manner.

Assembly: Use a slotted spoon to layer the bottom of a large casserole dish with a third of the beans. Cover with a layer of lamb, pork, and duck. Repeat with beans, then with meat, etc. The top layer should be beans. Ladle the lamb cooking liquid (supplemented with bean liquid) so that the liquid reaches the top layer. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Place the casserole dish into a 325 degree oven for an hour or more until the cassoulet is bubbling. Halfway through, break the crust that has formed, allowing the liquid to spread. Increase the heat to 350 and after 15 minutes, break the crust once more to release liquids. Once the crust has formed for a third time, the cassoulet is ready to serve. Sprinkle with parsley.

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SELF-RELIANCE

With so many fine purveyors around, ice cream is one of these things that can easily be outsourced. Making your own ice cream is therefore an entirely needless act of self-reliance. In celebration of all that is needless, Mr. Alpenglow suggests this heady pairing of Earl Grey and Meyer Lemon.

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EARL GREY ICE CREAM 

1 cup whole milk
2 cups excellent heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 Earl Grey tea bags
5 free-range egg yolks
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Warm the milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan until steaming. Remove the heat and add the tea bags. Stir and cover. Let steep for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove tea bags and return to medium heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla until frothy. When the milk is again steaming, add two tablespoons of it to the eggs, whisking quickly. Repeat 2-3 times with more of the milk, then gradually pour the egg/milk mixture into the saucepan and stir constantly (be sure to scrape the bottom) until the mixture thickens to a custard and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour the mixture into a tray and refrigerate it until it is completely cooled. Pour it into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

MEYER LEMON ICE CREAM 

1 cup whole milk
2 cups excellent heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
4 free-range egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice, strained
finely grated zest of 3 Meyer lemons
pinch of sea salt

Combine the lemon zest, juice, and sugar in a glass bowl and refrigerate for a few hours so the acid dissolves the sugar. Heat the milk in a saucepan until steaming and remove from heat. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and whisk some of the warm milk into the yolks. Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly until it thickens to a custard and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, pour into a tray, and refrigerate until completely chilled. Then mix the egg custard, heavy cream, and lemon slurry together. Check the taste. If desired, add more lemon juice to make it more tart. Pour this mixture into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

BLOOD ORANGE & CAMPARI CAKE

Skip the chocolates and chalky Valentine monstrosities.
Make this decadent Venetian beauty instead.

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BLOOD ORANGE & CAMPARI CAKE 
(recipe from Russell Norman’s Polpo)

8 blood oranges
350g plain Greek yogurt
600g superfine sugar
4 medium free-range eggs
250g butter, melted and cooled
350g fine semolina
100g ground blanched almonds
100ml Campari

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Finely grate the zest of 4 blood oranges and set the fruit aside. In a large mixing bowl combine the yogurt, half the sugar, and the lightly beaten eggs. Stir in the butter and the rest of the dry ingredients, including the orange zest. Transfer this mixture into a greased round cake pan and bake for 30 minutes, or up to an hour depending on your oven. It is done when a toothpick pressed into the middle of the cake comes out dry. Leave it to cool. As the cake is cooking, you can make the syrup. Bring the juice of all 8 oranges, the remaining sugar, and the Campari to a simmer in a saucepan. Skim off any white impurities. When the sauce reduces to a medium-thick syrup, remove from stove. Transfer the cake to a large dish. Prick the cake with a toothpick. Spoon the syrup onto the warm sponge cake until all the syrup is absorbed. The cake is ready to be sliced. Offer it with a scoop of excellent vanilla ice cream.

SIREN SONG

Salt and pepper shrimp appears on many Chinese restaurant menus –perhaps too many– and Mr. Alpenglow is tempted to order it every time, from the gilded banquet halls of San Gabriel Valley to the bullet-proofed Imperial Palace #3 in West Philadelphia. This homemade version is pitch perfect: Hot, crispy, salty and spicy.

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SALT & PEPPER SHRIMP 

2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 or 3 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
4 scallion stalks, sliced
1 1/2 lbs large wild shrimp
(peeled, deveined, tails left on)
vegetable or peanut oil

In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, salt, pepper, sugar, and five-spice. In a separate bowl, mix the garlic, chiles, and scallions. Dry the shrimp with a paper towel. Add them to the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat evenly. In a large wok or non-stick skillet heat about 3 tablespoons of oil on high heat until smoking. Add the shrimp. Fry each side about 2 minutes until crisp and slightly browned. Transfer the shrimp to a sheet. Add another tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic mixture and stir until the garlic is golden and the scallions are softened. Then return the shrimp to the pan and stir to combine (you may need a minute or two to cook all the shrimp through). Serve immediately.

ASK MR. ALPENGLOW

Q: Dear Mr. Alpenglow, I have a weakness for snacks before bed, especially if I’m watching a movie or reading a book. Will you recommend some simple and delicious recipes?

A: What is this “weakness” you speak of? Snacking before bed is chief among earthly delights and should be a moment for child-like celebration.

ANTS ON A LOG
slather peanut butter over celery sticks, then line them with raisins.

CARBONATED GRAPES
the first recipe every molecular gastronomist learns: put a bunch of
halved grapes into an iSi soda siphon, charge it with CO2, and put it
in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours or overnight; release the
siphon’s pressure before removing the grapes. enjoy immediately.

HONEY YOGURT & PRETZELS
crush salted whole wheat pretzels into low-fat greek honey yogurt.

UMAMI POPCORN
pulse several sheets of nori (dried seaweed), a tablespoon of toasted
sesame seeds, and a tablespoon of togarashi (chile seasoning) in a food
processor, then toss with plain or lightly buttered popcorn.

So-Cal SCALLION PANCAKE
brush one side of a tortilla with egg; scatter sliced scallions and sea salt
over it. fold it in half and fry it in a pan with just a few drops of oil. slice.