Consommé: round one

From this …

Fragrant, local plum tomatoes cooked low and slow with all the usual suspects.

… to this …

Gently pressed through a fine sieve to extract all of the juice and none of the texture. Then returned to the pot with a herb-filled raft* (I was a bit liberal with the tarragon, truth be told. Lesson learned) to extract all of the color and hopefully none of the flavor.

… to this …

Perfectly clear and delicately flavored.. it just doesn’t look like a tomato soup though, does it?

*The raft is made from beaten egg whites, herbs, in some cases, vegetables, and in the case of a meat or poultry consommé, ground [insert animal part of your choice here]. It is stirred into a cool stock/broth/soup and slowly heated up – this is what clarifies your soup and turns it into a consommé.

There’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for why this works – something about the solid particles in the broth being attracted to the egg proteins as they heat up blah blah (Wikipedia can probably help out if you’re that interested), I prefer to think of it as magic.  You start with an opaque, messy pot of soup and you finish with a brilliant, glistening jewel. It’s got to be magic.

I hadn’t planned on writing about this but it just looked so pretty I couldn’t resist (it’s also why there are so few photos). I don’t usually blog about a dish unless I’ve made it a few times and thoroughly tested my recipe. This is still a “dish-in-development” (sounds poncy, doesn’t it?) so I haven’t written the final recipe yet… maybe more to come, we’ll see.

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Okey dokey artichokey

The thing is, I’m not one to question a cool new thing – if someone tells me this [insert cool new thing here] is the coolest, newest thing, I want it to be. I mean, who doesn’t love a cool new thing? I want to learn about it and then I want to tell my friends about it. Thus making myself cool by association (I am not at all cool but a girl can dream).

So when I spotted the brown-tinged, slightly forlorn looking artichokes labelled “frost kissed” with a label that speaks in the first person, “Frost Kissed™, To Delicious (sic), Once cooked, I transform into a perfect green artichoke with an enhanced, nutty flavor,” I was intrigued. This, I figured, must be the coolest new thing in food today. Then I tried them. 

Things you should know about the Frost Kissed™ Artichokes – first, that “Frost Kissed” is a trade mark. Second, that artichokes become “Frost Kissed” at temperatures below 32º. “The outer layer turns brown, flakes and peels, much like a sunburn.” That reference to scorched human flesh notwithstanding, I decided to give them a whirl.

They were to be a light, post day-at-the-beach supper with a gentle lemon butter sauce and a chilled rosé. I cooked them in the simplest possible way: blanched until just on the too-firm side of cooked, cooled in an ice-bath, drained immediately, removed choke, then back into boiling water for a few minutes at supper time.

While draining and removing the choke I was amazed at the amount of water coming out of them and thought, as you do, that it could not possibly be the fault of the coolest new thing, that I must have overcooked them. When it came to eating, the results were, predictably, disappointing. The leaves were waterlogged and had very little flavor.

I persevered. I knew that the soggy artichoke experience must have been my fault. So on Saturday I headed to the farmers’ market and bought a regular globe artichoke, the kind not kissed by frost and without any of those creepy sunburnt flesh references. I then went to the store and bought a Frost Kissed™, slightly brown artichoke and decided to try again.

Before cooking I went onto the Frost Kissed™ website to make sure I hadn’t missed a clever cooking trick – their cooking recommendations were pretty similar to what I was doing, the only real difference being that they used plain salted water while I added a couple of lemons, bay leaves and peppercorns to my pot. So I did not alter  my cooking method.

I did, however, stand dutifully over the pot during the whole cooking time, constantly checking the tenderness of my thistles to ensure I didn’t overcook them. The website advises cooking globe artichokes for between 30 and 45 minutes depending on their size. Mine did not take that long. The Frost Kissed™ was ready to come out of the pot after boiling for 18 minutes and the regular one was ready after 24 minutes – the regular was a bit larger but I think the difference in cooking time was more down to the water content of the Frost Kissed™ artichoke.

Again, I cooled them in an ice-bath and drained them upside down. Again, the quantity of water that came out of the Frost Kissed™ artichoke was astonishing compared with what came out of the other.

I have a friend who says, “The proof of the pudding is on the wall,” and I think in this case that mixed metaphor might apply. The texture of the regular artichoke was far better than the Frost Kissed™ and the taste was, well… artichokey. The flavor of the Frost Kissed™, however, was a bit more intense than the regular globe – and perhaps I had overcooked the first one a bit and diluted the flavor.

Given the choice, which would I choose? I preferred the regular artichoke and, barring an intense artichoke craving (I haven’t had one yet, but I hear they happen), I don’t think I’d rush to buy the Frost Kissed™ again.

I like the idea though, that farmers and supermarkets are finding a place for produce damaged by less than perfect weather and urge you to give the Frost Kissed™ variety a go. I don’t think the supermarket or the producer is trying to dupe anyone into buying an inferior product, it’s still pretty good and they’re not calling it “the coolest new thing in food” with a matching price tag. The Frost Kissed™ and the regular artichokes were both priced at two for $5. Perhaps my cooking method was wrong, maybe these artichokes would do better if roasted in foil with a drizzle of olive oil, thus eliminating the addition of water to an already watery product. Maybe next Frost Kissed™ season I’ll give that a go. Or if you give them a go, please let me know the results.

Visit Ocean Mist for more information about Frost Kissed™ artichokes. Even if you don’t want to know more about Frost Kissed™ artichokes their website is worth a few minutes of your time, they have loads of other artichoke information on there.

It’s cauliflower, but not as we know it – seared cauliflower “steaks” with almond and sultana butter

Cauliflower cheese, you say? Bored, bored, bored*! I know it’s an old favorite and on a chilly Sunday afternoon with a roast dinner, maybe it has a place.

However, on a balmy evening in Miami, with a 24 oz, grass-fed, naturally-raised beef porterhouse sizzling on the grill we have no business with the often overcooked cauli. Its sometimes floury sauce and its fat-oozing cheese do not belong on our dinner plates. With a bit of special treatment though, the humble, pale cauliflower can come into its own.

Some years ago Ian Leckie, head chef at Sam’s Brasserie did something very similar with roast cauliflower as an accompaniment to sea bass and last year I had an appetizer at a Miami local that was similar to what I’m going to show you here. So it’s not a totally new idea, but hopefully it is new to you.

Feeds four as an appetizer or more as a side dish

  • 1 whole head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 small handful of raisins or sultanas, soaked in a little warm water for about 1/2 an hour and then drained (I like the colour-match of the sultanas in this dish so that’s what I used but remember they are sweeter than raisins).
  • 1 small handful of whole, blanched almonds. If you’ve had almonds sitting in your pantry for months, please taste them before using them. Nuts go rancid, especially in warm store cupboards.
  • 175g unsalted butter, fridge cold and cubed (you can use salted, just allow for it when you season later)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel tops (I don’t like dill so never use it and happened to have a fennel bulb in the fridge from which I was able to scavenge the delicate, fragrant fronds)
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper (you can, of course, use black but I don’t like the black specks in my beautiful, shiny yellow sauce)

Cubed butter

Wine reduction

  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 thick slices of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 or 4 black peppercorns
  • pinch of salt

Wine reduction: you need this for your butter emulsion. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce until you have about two table spoons of liquid. Remove or strain out all the bits, reserve the liquid and set aside until you need it.

Almonds: toast in a preheated oven at 180 c for ten minutes, more or less. Keep a close eye on them, you want them brown but not burnt. Let them cool and then crack using a pestle and mortar or chop them up with a sharp knife – not too finely though.

Cauliflower: While the almonds are toasting you can prepare the cauliflower. Cut a little off the base of the cauliflower to give it a flat side that you can stand it on. Using the longest knife you’ve got, slice the cauliflower into “steaks” – I like them about 1.5 to 2 cm thick but whatever suits you is fine. Remember though that if the slices are too thin the florets may break off.

In a shallow pan, bring enough salted water to the boil to cover the cauliflower slices  – it’s hard to find a pan that will hold four slices of cauliflower so do this in batches, it only takes a few minutes. Blanch each slice just long enough to ensure you no longer have raw cauliflower. You still want it quite firm. Drain and set aside. Tip the water out of your pan, give it a wipe down, toss in one or two of your cubes of butter and return the pan to the heat.

BlancheBlanche

Once the butter has melted and started to foam, swirl it around the pan to cover the base, return the cauliflower to the pan, reduce heat to medium and sauté each side until you have a good caramelization over the cauliflower.

SautéSauté

Butter sauce: While the cauliflower is browning in the sauté pan you can prepare the butter emulsion. Emulsions can be a bit precious and tend to split if not treated with love so go slowly, use very very cold butter and keep whisking.

Put your reserved wine reduction into a small saucepan and place over a high heat. It will only take a few seconds for the reduction to heat up and when it has, reduce the stove temp and start adding your butter, one cube at a time, whisking all the time. Don’t add more butter until the cube in the pan has completely melted. You may need to remove the pan from the heat from time to time, you don’t want this to boil.

Adding butter

Keep a jug of boiling water nearby and if you see your emulsion starting to split, add a few drops (and I do mean a few drops – like a teaspoon full) of boiling water and keep whisking, it will come together again. Once all your butter is incorporated, stir in your fennel fronds or dill and remove from the heat.

Thicker

Fennel fronds

Add the roughly chopped almonds and the drained sultanas to the butter sauce and season with salt and white pepper. Put the cauliflower slices on a serving plate/plates and spoon over the sauce.

Notes: 

Cauliflower “steaks”  – great for presentation but can be finicky to prepare and is not really necessary. The same awesome flavor is achieved by simply breaking the cauliflower into florets, blanching them and sautéing them.

Butter emulsion – regardless of the quantity of sauce you are making, you will not need more than two tablespoons of the wine reduction. If you prefer not to use wine, the same effect can be achieved (with obvious flavor differences) by using a wine vinegar reduction or simply using water.

This type of butter sauce is a good one to have in your repertoire – it does not contain egg, is quick to prepare, can be flavored with just about any herb and can be used on any number of dishes – grilled/steamed/poached fish, as a dipper for asparagus, as a garnish on other veggies.   

* Apologies to any cauliflower cheese I may have offended with my cries of boredom, it is in fact, still one of my favorites.