A little eggsperiment

(Sorry! There’s no pun worse than a lazy pun but that was just too easy to pass up.)

Image 2Prep for our next underground dinner – April 27, Downtown Miami – is well underway and we’ve been having a play with some fun new dishes. The menu is, as always, a closely guarded secret but I thought I’d give you a hint and share a little of today’s experiments. The final product will be a riff on one of these – I’ll post pictures of the finished dish in the week after the dinner.

I love eggs as a starter and almost always have at least one course that highlights just how perfect they are. Perfect if left to shine on their own and perfect if fiddled with just a little.

Today: stained eggs.

Lavender, rooibos and black tea.

Aesthetically, the lavender was the least successful – I had hoped it would have prominent purple or blue veins but it turned out more of a pale puke-green. Not great to look at and probably not great to serve as a first course to people that have never eaten in my home. But it tasted amazing. Seriously. I don’t generally like lavender as a food flavor, I feel it’s more of a soap or potpourri ingredient but I decided to give it a go and I loved it. I paired it with charcoal salt from FalkSalt, in part because I had a mental picture of a blue veined egg on a board complimented by a pile of soot-black salt (failed there!) and in part because I thought the mineral notes in the salt would pair well with the floral lavender. I’m working on the aesthetics, better pictures to follow if I get it right – in the meantime, this is what I’ve got so far.

Image 4The second pairing was a rooibos tea egg with lemon salt from The Meadow in NYC . A great flavor combination. And so pretty. Overall a success, I thought. I won’t change a thing.

Image 3Last was the black tea – not just any black tea, Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend, the queen of teas. Actually, I didn’t really think that through. Any black tea would probably work so basically I just wasted some really good tea leaves trying to make a hen’s egg taste like tea. It was by far the prettiest and paired really well with Maldon’s smoked sea salt flakes. Also, the Maldon salt has the nicest texture of the three I used – if we decide to go with the rooibos and lemon for next week’s dinner I’ll probably make my own lemon infused salt using regular Maldon salt.

Image 1

 

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.

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.