When I enrolled in a 4-day "Boot Camp" in French Bistro cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, I knew almost nothing about French cuisine. Sure, I had read Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child cover to cover. But it is one thing to read about cooking techniques in a book; it is quite another to have a chef walk you through the proper execution of a rolled omelet, a perfectly seared mushroom, or a luxurious lemon beurre blanc.
As a chronically distracted home cook, I wanted to spend time in the kitchen uninterrupted by my life whizzing around me. I wanted to be organized, focused, and efficient, thinking only about what I was whipping, whisking, folding, kneading, searing and sauteing.
Besides a total lack of formal education in the culinary arts, I suffer from a long list of cooking afflictions: a squeamishness about using heavy cream, a reluctance to make any sauce besides marinara, a mostly helter-skelter approach to food preparation, and a tendency to overcook eggs.
An enormous chandelier made out of saucepans greets you as you enter the CIA.
So I arrived at the CIA with a long list of culinary goals, and a twinge of nervousness that felt very much like the first day of medical school.
Making Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts taught me how to work with puff pastry dough.
And just like in medical school, where it important to wear scrubs, a cap and a mask before entering the operating room, at the CIA our first task was to don the traditional chef's uniform: checkered pants, a chef's jacket, a toque and an apron. It sure does help to look the part.
Fellow boot camper Blanca and I making Ravioli stuffed with Roasted Chicken, Spinach and Cremini Mushrooms.
Jennifer with our perfect ravioli.
Cooking without distraction was a real vacation for me. On Bistro Lunch day we made French onion soup, frisée au lardons, smoked tomato bisque, pickled cherry tomatoes, gaufrette potatoes with aioli, Croque Monsieur, and open-faced hanger steak sandwiches with caramelized onions (see last post).
Heirloom tomato and goat cheese tarts are baked briefly, then topped with a chiffonade of basil and drizzled with olive oil.
Next we tackled classic and contemporary bistro dinner fare: Mussels in saffron and white wine broth, Cabernet-braised beef short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes, roast chicken ravioli with cremini mushrooms and spinach, and Provencal herb-crusted salmon with lemon beurre blanc and rice pilaf.
One of the perks of being a Boot Camper is getting to sample what the real CIA students are working on.
The CIA students in the neighboring kitchen were perfecting their brunch dishes. I quickly learned to eat like chefs do: taste everything, but don't actually eat anything.
Nicole getting ready to sit down to our 'Family Meal' after cooking for 6 straight hours.
By Day 3, we were really rolling. We tackled my nemesis: breakfast and brunch. This was by far the most stressful day due to the huge number of dishes and the importance of timing them all perfectly. First we made cheese blintzes with a mixed berry sauce, French toast with orange sauce, and honey grapefruit á la Salvador Dali. Next we learned how to properly scramble eggs (per my request), and how to make a perfect French rolled omelet.
The eggs are constantly agitated over low heat until starting to set, then the curds are flattened out evenly with the spatula.
With a tilt of the pan, and a flick of the wrist, Chef rolls up the omelet...
And gives it a bit of shape with a paper towel.
Voilá: the perfect French omelet is tapered on both ends, has little or no color, with an interior like soft scrambled eggs, and a smooth exterior: no wrinkles.
We baked mushroom, leek and Brie turnovers and ham and cheddar scones (my latest breakfast addiction.) We learned how to trim a beef tenderloin, shape filet mignon, make hollandaise sauce, and steak and eggs benedict. We smoked a salmon and prepared gravlax, a 3 day procedure involving tequila.
Gravlax was one of the easiest brunch dishes we learned; since we were in Texas, if felt fitting to use tequila to cure the salmon for 3 days.
Rolling blintzes: crepes filled with ricotta, farmer and cream cheeses, which will then be sauteed in butter, and served with a mixed berry sauce.
Cheese blintzes with mixed berry sauce. My kids would just flip if I made them this for breakfast.
Meet my Chef Instructor, Chef Michael: a great guy who knows his stuff, and doesn't mind sharing his secrets. In Chef Michael's kitchen there is no haughtiness, no condescension, no tantrums, no Charlie Trotter-like raging on the underlings. With a can-do attitude and a common sense approach to food preparation, Chef made my fellow Boot Campers and I feel like we could actually cook.
He actually laughed when I made the world's worst pizza, which stuck to the pizza peel, then stuck to the pizza oven, then shredded upon exit.
Chef Michael demonstrates how to make mozzarella.
After 3 solid days of turning out dozens and dozens of French Bistro dishes, my teammates and I were starting to feel competent in the kitchen. Then Chef threw us a curve ball: on the 4th and last day, we would have all of our recipes memorized. No cookbook. The ultimate in Mis en Place (see below). Yipes.
A mixed green salad with apples and mustard vinaigrette. A sauteed mushroom souffle. Poached pears with roquefort and vanilla ice cream, which required making a creme anglaise first. A cheese souffle, caramelized onion quiche with brie and smoked salmon, roasted beet and orange salad with goat cheese, molten chocolate cake. Margherita Pizza with homemade mozzarella. Gastrique. Yipes.
Chef demonstrates how to make pasta to fellow students Jennifer and Rudy.
We survived that last day with only a few small disasters. Cooking without the book helped us be more prepared and more intuitive. Back home in Jackson in my high altitude kitchen, I tried to apply what I learned at the CIA from Chef Michael. Here's a sampling, in no particular order, of a professional chef's secrets that can apply to your home kitchen.
- It's all about Mis en Place. If the CIA is the holy grail of higher learning in the culinary arts, Mis en Place is its religion. I knew that Mis en Place referred to having all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you cook, but I learned that it also means that you understand the recipe, you've given it some thought, and you know how it's going to work. You are mentally prepared.
- Small details are important. You know that little green sprout that you'll find in a garlic clove? Do you remove it before chopping your garlic? Chefs do, because it makes the garlic taste bitter. Attention to detail is one of the qualities that distinguishes a professional from an amateur in the kitchen.
- Your most important kitchen utensil: the Tasting Spoon. At the CIA, we would each go through dozens of tasting spoons a day. You can't prepare a dish if you don't know how it tastes.
- When you are learning a challenging recipe, be prepared to chuck it and start over. Even though chefs frugally save every scrap of food that can be used somehow, they are not averse to tossing a failing dish in the trash. If you are challenging yourself in the kitchen, you are going to make mistakes. I noticed that chefs don't get emotionally attached to their food; if they mess up, they do it again until they get it right. (Although I did feel like crying when my bechamel base for the mushroom souffles was too thick, and I had to throw it in the trash. Twice.)
I was proud of my mushroom souffles even though I had to throw out the first two batches.
5. How to dice an onion (hint: I've been doing it wrong for 30 years). First, chop off the stem end, leaving the root intact. Then, place the onions cut side down and bisect it through the root. Now, peel off the outer layers. Place each half flat side down, and cut in two planes while holding to the root to protect your fingers. This works for shallots too.
When dicing an onion, keep the root intact. Hold onto it as you cut in two planes; it will protect your fingers.
6. Sear a mushroom much like you would a steak. Heat the pan on high, then add oil. When a drop of water will dance on the hot oil, add the mushroom slices so that they do not touch and have plenty of room. Sear without moving the mushrooms around. When very brown on one side, flip each piece over. Sear until very brown. Now season.
Mushrooms release a lot of water when they are cooked. If they are too close together in the pan, they will steam instead of browning nicely.
Perfectly seared cremini mushrooms.
7. When removing the skin from a side of salmon, place the fish skin side down on a cutting board. Place your knife between the skin and the flesh pointing to the skin. Hold onto the skin and pull it towards you as you cut down along it.
Chef wraps the salmon skin in a kitchen towel, and pull is toward him, as he peels off the flesh.
Chef makes this look easy; it's going to take me a lot more practice.
8. Stock vs. broth: stock is made from bones; broth is made from bones and meat. Thank goodness someone finally straightened that out for me.
Chef Michael demonstrates how to make a proper chicken stock.
9. Clarified butter. Finally, I learned why I always burn the eggs. Real chefs use clarified butter, which is unsalted butter that has been slowly melted, separating the milk solids from the golden liquid. After skimming off any foam from the top, the clarified butter is poured away from the solids on the bottom of the pan. Clarified butter has a higher smoke point than butter, so it can be heated to higher temperatures without burning. It also keeps longer than butter, covered in the refrigerator, since it lacks the milk solids that turn rancid.
One of my favorite menus from the CIA Bistro Boot Camp is elegant and simple: Crispy Herb-Seared Salmon, with Lemon Beurre Blanc, and Perfect Rice Pilaf. It is the perfect spring/summer menu.
To print a copy of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Crispy Herb-Seared Salmon
This yields 6 servings. If you only need enough salmon for 3 or 4, keep the other quantities in the recipe the same, but adjust the amount of salmon.
This recipe is adapted from the Culinary Institute of America, where I learned the secret to perfectly seared salmon: grapeseed oil. Its high smoke point allows the herbs to form a nice crust on the salmon without burning.
I couldn't find savory or lavender at my little grocery store, so I used Herbes de Provence instead. Herbes de Provence is a spice blend of those herbs as well as rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Just make sure you have a fresh jar; it should give off an intensely floral aroma.
One other thing: dried orange peel comes in a jar, or you can make your own by cutting the peel from an orange in strips, leaving behind any white pith, and toasting it in a 300 F oven for 5 or so minutes. Watch carefully so that it does not burn. Once just toasted, cool and chop finely.
Crispy Herb-Seared Salmon is part of the perfect spring menu. Although we are still skiing powder, we can pretend it's spring!
for the herb mixture:
- 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. dried savory, 1 tsp. dried rosemary, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, and 1 tsp. dried lavender OR 4 tsp. Herbes de Provence plus 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. crumbled bay leaves
- 1 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp. dried orange peel
- 6 Salmon filets, 6 oz. each, skin on or off
- Kosher or sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 4 tablespoons diced butter
Herbes de Provence, fennel seeds, nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves and dried orange peel coat the salmon fillets.
- To prepare the herb mixture, place all the herbs and spices, including the dried orange peel, in a mortar and pound them to a fine powder. Or whiz them in a coffee grinder (I have an old one that I use just for grinding herbs).
- To prepare the fish, spread the herb mixture on a plate. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then press the rounded side of the fillets into the herb mixture to coat evenly.
- Place a rack onto a baking sheet, and reserve.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Lay the salmon, coated side down, in the pan. Cook just until the herbs have formed a crust and have browned. Remove the salmon from the pan and transfer, herb side up, to the baking sheet. The salmon should appear very rare.
- Top the salmon filets with butter.
- Finish cooking the salmon in a 375º F oven until firm and just cooked through to your liking; if you like it rare, this should only take a few minutes.
- Serve the filets on a heated platter atop a heaping pile of Perfect Rice Pilaf, accompanied by the Lemon Beurre Blanc.
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Herb-crusted salmon is seared on one side, to produce a crispy, Provencal-spiced coating.
Perfect Rice Pilaf
At the CIA, they teach 3 crucial steps for perfect rice pilaf: measure your ingredients precisely, check your oven temperature accuracy with an oven thermometer, and use long grain white rice.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
- 1-2 tablespoons minced onion
- 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
- 2 1/4 cups chicken stock, heated
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- Kosher or sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the butter or oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes.
- Add the rice and saute, stirring frequently, until coated with the butter or oil and heated through.
- Add the heated stock to the rice. Bring to a simmer, stirring the rice once or twice to prevent it from clumping together or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Add the bay leaf, sprig of thyme, salt and pepper. (I use 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 grind of the pepper mill. You can taste again for salt before you serve it.)
- Cover the pot and place in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes. (Check for doneness at 15 minutes; at high altitude it may take the full 20 minutes.)
- Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Uncover, and using a fork, separate the grains to release the steam.
- Adjust the seasonings with additional salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf and thyme.
- Serve hot.
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Lemon Beurre Blanc
Please do not be alarmed by the amount of butter in this sauce. You will only use a small amount to elevate the salmon to an new level of Frenchness. This is another great recipe from the CIA.
Yields 1 1/2 cups
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream (more if needed to thin the sauce)
- 2 tsp. minced shallots
- 2 black peppercorns
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, cold, cubed
- Kosher or sea salt, to taste
- ground white pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest, grated
I just loved taking pictures of our beautiful ravioli.
- First, cut the butter into cubes, and place them in a bowl into the coldest part of the refrigerator, or the freezer. They should be ice cold when you add them to the sauce.
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer and reduce by half.
- Combine the shallots, peppercorns, wine and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice in a separate saucepan. Reduce over medium-high heat until nearly dry (au sec).
- Over very low heat, add the butter a few pieces at a time, whisking constantly to blend the butter into the reduction. (Do not boil the sauce as this will cause it to separate.) Continue adding the butter until the full amount has been incorporated.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Finish the sauce by adding the lemon juice and lemon zest. Remove the whole peppercorns with a spoon.
- Place the sauce in a hot water bath, and keep warm until ready to use.
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Gastrique (gah-STREEK): a syrupy reduction of caramelized sugar and vinegar, sometimes with wine. At the CIA, we made a gastrique of apple cider and vinegar, and drizzled it on a mixed green salad with apples.
Survivors of the CIA French Bistro Boot Camp: Tom, Nicole, me, Chef and Blanca.
When four girlfriends trek into the backcountry of Wyoming for an overnight yurt ski trip, it isn't all just about the skiing.
Well, it is mostly about the skiing. Bowl after beautiful bowl of untracked powder awaited us at the wilderness boundary. At 8,800 feet and 5.5 miles in, Baldy Knoll yurt is the highest and most remote yurt within driving distance of Jackson Hole.
Like most adventures with my foodie friends, it is also all about the food. We were determined to ski well, to eat well, and to drink well.
Having to cross the weir is part of the charm of getting into Baldy Knoll. Susan recalled crossing it when it was a sheet of ice.
Eating well in in the backcountry is a tradition in our mountain community. Sure, we could head out into the wilderness with a bag of M&Ms and some bison jerky, but we would be missing out on an important part of the experience. To share good food with good friends is one of life's great pleasures; to do so in the wilderness is sublime.
Anne enjoys a few weak rays of sun, before the storm rolls in.
As yurt-mate Susan puts it: "To be able to go into the backcountry and eat a healthy, satisfying meal that also tastes wonderful...takes some experience and skill. Once you gain that experience and skill, it seems like a real injustice to spoil a great trip with bad food."
Susan shows us where a cornice is building, with Housetop mountain in the back begging to be explored.
The day we skinned into the yurt was a bit too warm, so snow was caked onto the bottom of our skins until it was as if we were climbing on stilts. When we arrived at the yurt 3 hours later, a nap briefly crossed our minds, since our yurt was cozy and quiet and dark. (These girls are the type who always dream of taking naps, but they are just too darn active to go through with it.) So off we went, dumping our gear within minutes, and heading back out into the storm system headed our way.
The yurt's cozy skylight was inviting us to take a nap, but the terrain outside just begged to be explored.
Karen and Anne heading out to explore, wind or no wind.
Touring the pristine peaks and ridges, with names like Housetop, Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe, we were truly in awe of our surroundings. As the winds kicked up to the 50 mph range, we started to work up an appetite for a fire, some wine, and a nice meal.
You can see by my ripping backpack straps how the wind was starting to roll in above Peak 10024.
Karen collects culinary snow for making water, by slowing melting it over the wood stove.
Back at the yurt, there were chores to be done before we could have our wine and comfort food. Culinary water needs to be collected and slowly melted; if it melts too fast it will "burn", and the water will taste funny.
Preparing a delicious meal in the backcountry should be easy, with most of the work already done at home. It is smart to have a no-preparation-needed appetizer, for that first surge of appetite that hits when you come in from the cold. Luckily, Susan had brought a crusty loaf of 460 Olive Thyme Bread
which we dunked into her stash of olio nuovo olive oil,
which she carries wherever she goes. A crisp, fragrant glass of Vernaccia really hit the spot.
460 Olive Thyme Bread, dunked in Olio Nuovo, and nibbled with a gutsy bleu cheese.
With chores done, we poured a crisp white Vernaccia from San Gimignano, that we had decanted into a Kleen Kanteen for easy transport.
Having just returned from a class in French Bistro cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, I had hearty French food on the brain. In the CIA kitchen, I learned the proper way to sear a mushroom, marinate a hanger steak, and caramelize onions. Making perfect garlic aioli from scratch was a triumph for me, after a lifetime of failed homemade mayonnaise. I couldn't wait to treat to my yurt-mates to the of best of CIA bistro fare.
At the CIA, we made open-faced hanger steak sandwiches with caramelized onions. The recipe is easily done ahead, and packed into the backcountry to be reheated on a woodstove.
Thinly sliced onions, cooked in a pan until caramelized, then doused with a shot of sherry vinegar, were easy to make ahead. As were the shiitake mushrooms, which were seared in a frying pan, then topped with a few nubs of creamy fontina cheese. Each was wrapped in a foil packet for easy, no-dirty-dishes reheating on the wood stove.
The hanger steak stayed juicy and flavorful, even though it had been broiled the night before.
The hanger steak is marinated for up to 12 hours, then broiled or grilled rare. Once cooled, the steak also went into a foil packet, so that it could be warmed on the wood stove, and sliced just before eating.
A curried couscous salad made the night before actually improves with age as its yogurt base mingles with the turmeric, curry powder and currants. A handful of arugula adds color and crunch.
Curried couscous salad.
Dessert if very important when feasting in the wilderness, so I packed in my favorite chocolate torte. The Chocolate Amaretti Torte is a veteran of backcountry travel. Mountain Man's favorite cake, it has successfully travelled from the Wind River Mountains to the Arctic Circle. Baked in a springform pan, then frozen with the pan base, it went from freezer to backpack to yurt with ease.
Unwrapping the Chocolate Amaretti Torte.
We were especially happy with our wine pairing: a screwtop Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, hand-picked from Mountain Man's cellar, was perfect alongside the juicy steak and garlicky sides. We only wished we had brought another bottle to accompany the torte, but hey, we were roughing it up there.
Susan, me and Anne with empty wineglasses and big smiles all around.
As we feasted by headlamp in our cozy yurt, with the wind picking up in earnest outside, we could not have been more comfortable, or well fed.
Morning chores include chopping wood, melting snow for the next group, and shoveling off the steps.
We were ready to tackle morning chores after one of Susan's famous backcountry breakfasts: Grits, fresh eggs from Snowdrift Farm
, a drizzle of olio nuovo, and bits of leftover cheese. Freshly brewed coffee kept warm on the wood stove, as we plotted to find the good skiing.
Susan and I consult the topo map, actually 4 topos maps taped together, of this amazing backcountry terrain.
The fresh snow on the ground looked promising, but we were concerned about the suncrust from yesterdays's high temps, and the hammering of the wind which gusted up to 60 mph in the night.
Heading out in our rainbow of gear.
Deep slabs of breakable crust greeted us the first time we tried to make turns.
After Susan's second double-eject head plant, we declared the snow to be 'unskiable', and headed out to find north-facing woods.
We soon discovered that the powder we were after had been ruined by the warm temperatures and the high winds, creating slabs of breakable crust that were mostly unskiable. A day of touring was in order, but powder skiing would have to wait until the next yurt trip.
When we got back to the yurt, the next party had already moved in: Mountain Man and 6 other guys. Due to an explosion involving beer and fleece clothing, the yurt already smelled like a frat house.
Adios, Baldy Knoll. Same time, next year.
At the end of the day, we decided it was worth the effort to eat extraordinarily well on our little adventure.
For my yurt-mates and me, sharing good food with good friends in a pristine setting was what mattered. As we let the guys take over our cozy yurt, we constructed one last decadent meal: Leftover hanger steak, caramelized onions, and a dab of saffron garlic aioli on ciabatta bread. We graciously handed over the remains of the Chocolate Amaretti Torte to the guys, who apparently had packed only snacks.
Anne, Susan, and Karen: the best yurt-mates ever.
For information about renting a yurt in the Wyoming backcountry, go to http://www.skithetetons.com/index.html
For a printable version of each recipe, print on the file below it.
Hanger Steak with Caramelized Onions
This simple marinade transforms the humble hanger steak into a juicy, flavorful entree. Your butcher may need to order it, but it will be worth the wait. See below for today's culinary word for more on the hanger steak.
for the steak and marinade:
for the caramelized onions:
- 2 1/2 lb. hanger steak (I had to order mine from Jackson Whole Grocer; ask your butcher)
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups thinly sliced onions
- 1 tsp. sherry vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- FIrst, prepare the marinade for the steak. Remove the leaves from the rosemary sprigs, and chop finely.
- Add rosemary to a large plastic bag with the olive oil and the garlic.
- Place the hanger steak in the bag, and mix well, rubbing the marinade into the steak.
- Seal and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to 12 hours.
- Next, prepare the onions. Slice the onions as thin as you can with a sharp knife or a mandoline.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium heat; add butter, oil and onions. Cook until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes.
- Season with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
- To cook the steak, you can use a grill, a cast iron skillet, or a broiler. Wipe the marinade from the steak and season with salt and pepper. Broil, grill, or pan-fry using high heat until just underdone. (I used the broiler, and achieved rare/medium rare results with 5 minutes on one side, 4-5 on the other). Doneness will depend on the thickness of the steak, so use your judgement.
- If serving right away, let the steak rest for 5 minutes, tented with foil, and then slice against the grain into thin slices. Serve atop thick slices of peasant bread with the onions, and drizzle with more olive oil (or garlic aioli) if desired. If packing it up into the backcountry, leave the steak whole. Cool, and wrap in a double layer of foil. Reheat the foil packet on your heat source (we used the wood stove), and slice just before eating.
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Saffron Garlic Aioli
At the CIA, I learned to make garlic aioli by grinding garlic cloves with sea salt in an enormous mortar and pestle, then whisking with eggs, then olive oil in a slow steady stream. At home, I got equally good results using a garlic press to macerate the garlic, and a food processor to do the vigorous mixing. The CIA chefs encourage experimentation, so I added a generous pinch of saffron to make it my own.....Saffron Garlic Aioli.
My saffron-spiked garlic aioli is fragrant and colorful. Perfect alongside the steak, the mushrooms, and the couscous. Perfect the next day on a sandwich of leftover steak.
- 4 small or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. saffron threads (optional)
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. sherry vinegar or lemon juice
- 1/4 cup pure olive oil (not extra virgin) or vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Cut the garlic cloves in half, remove and discard the green sprout in the center. Chop the garlic finely, or mince it through a garlic press.
- Combine the chopped garlic and the salt and crush with a mortar and pestle, or if using minced garlic, mash it with the salt using the side of a large knife.
- Place the garlic/salt into a medium bowl. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vinegar or lemon juice. Gradually pour the olive oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified.
- If using saffron, crush the threads between your fingers and cover in small bowl with a few teaspoons of hot water. After 5-10 minutes of steeping, add the saffron to the finished aioli and mix well. If the saffron forms bead of color in the aioli, that's fine, just give it another vigorous stir before serving.
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Chocolate Amaretti Torte
This cake has so many attributes: the classic Sicilian marriage of chocolate, almonds and oranges; a crackly top layer contrasting with a creamy chocolatey center; it freezes well, travels well, and stays fresh for days.
You will need a springform pan for this cake, and some of those baby amaretti cookies made by Amaretto di Saronno (Jackson Whole Grocer usually carries these addictive, crunchy cookies).
This recipe comes from Giada de Laurentis' Everyday Italian cookbook.
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1 cup (about 2 oz.) baby amaretti cookies
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. grated orange zest (from one large orange)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, for sifting on top
- Butter flavored or plain cooking spray, to coat the pan
The torte is done when the top puffs up and a wooden skewer comes out clean. Don't worry if the cake cracks; that is part of its charm.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9 inch springform pan with nonstick spray and refrigerate.
- In a small bowl, microwave the chocolate chips, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes.
- In a food processor, combine the almonds and cookies, and pulse until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl.
- Without cleaning the food processor bowl, add the butter, sugar, and orange zest and blend until creamy. With the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time.
- Add the nut mixture and the melted chocolate. Pulse until blended.
- Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter to prepared pan. Bake until the center puffs and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
- Cool in the pan, and then gently remove the release the sides of the springform pan. Use a fine mesh sieve to sprinkle the top with cocoa powder. Slice and serve on the pan's base.
- If packing the cake into the backcountry, wrap tightly in wax paper, then foil. Freezing the cake will make it less likely to break in transport.
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Today's culinary word could only be....The Hanger Steak. Exactly what is a hanger steak?
The hanger steak is a thick, boneless beef cut that comes from the muscle that hold up the diaphragm, between the rib and the short loin. It is flavorful, like a skirt steak, but thicker and more tender. It is usually marinated before being cooked at a high, dry heat to a temperature of rare to medium rare. Also known as "the butcher's cut" because it is thought to be the piece the butcher will keep for himself; in France it is called an onglet.
from The Deluxe Food Lovers' Companion by Sharon Typer Herbst and Ron Herbst
The perfect dessert for a snowy night includes pears (thinly sliced), cloves, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, molasses. Mmmmm.
I highly recommend baking a pear upside-down ginger cake to take to a friend's house for dinner. And if at all possible, place the still-warm cake into the front seat of your car, so you can inhale the gingery aroma while you drive through the snow. It is wintry moments like this that I will pine for in August.
This granite buttress is a well-known landmark in Granite Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.
It may be spring in your neck of the woods, but here in Jackson Hole it is still full-blown winter, thank goodness. We are in the middle of a winter storm cycle that puts big smiles on our faces.
This was Cindee's first foray into Granite Canyon as well, but Doug was a veteran.
The cake was meant to be a celebration of sorts. A celebration of a successful backcountry tour with friends into Granite Canyon (my first). A celebration of Casey's arrival on break from nursing school. A celebration of Erich's very respectable finish in a 50k classic ski race competing against kids half his age.
You can see why skiers love Granite Canyon: it has a beautiful fall line.
A celebration of winter and friends, skiing and kids, pears and ginger.
Mountain Man shows us the safest way down.
Granite Canyon has been on my skiing to-do list for many years. Notorious for its steep terrain, stunning views in bounds of Grand Teton National Park, but out of bounds of the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, Granite Canyon is a famous avalanche path. Not wanting to get caught in a deadly avalanche, I have been waiting for the perfect day to ski Granite.
Chris takes a line by the trees for added safety.
With the avalanche danger deemed "low", and the snow starting to fall in earnest, it was now or never. Mountain Man, who has skied Granite Canyon several dozen times, served as our guide.
Cindee is all smiles as we get closer to the bottom.
We were all smiles at the bottom, even though we had a grueling traverse ahead of us to get out.
Doug used to be my partner in medical practice; now he is back to being my partner in adventure.
After skiing all day, Chris made us an amazing dinner of homemade bloody marys, pan-seared sea bass with a green curry sauce, stir-fried veggies and potato pancakes. Will get recipes and report back.
It was a gorgeous day. All I wanted to do to top it off, was to bake a cake.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
Pear upside-down ginger cake
This recipe was adapted from Winter Gatherings by Rick Rodgers. I love the kick it gets from crystallized ginger, and the pears make it ultra-moist. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, it makes the perfect winter dessert.
I made no adaptations for altitude. It's a very forgiving cake.
l like the crystallized ginger that comes in coins. It stays moist and is easy to chop.
- 3 firm but ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears, peeled, cored and quartered, then sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cups unsulfured molasses, such as "Mother's"
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped fine
Sliced pears form the bottom layer of this spicy, gingery cake.
- Preheat oven to 350F, and place the rack in the center of the oven.
- Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
- Place the pears on the bottom of the pan. You can arrange them in a pretty pattern, or just spread them out willy-nilly in an even layer.
- Sift the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt together.
- Beat the butter with the sugar with a hand or standing mixer set on high speed for about 3 minutes. The mixture should be pale yellow and very smooth.
- Beat in the molasses, then add the eggs one at a time.
- With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the boiling water, then another third of the flour mixture, and the rest of the boiling water, finishing with the rest of the flour, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Stir in the crystallized ginger, and pour the thin batter over the pears into the baking pan.
- Bake 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Once cool, invert generous squares onto a plate, and top with whipped cream.
Here's your culinary word...
Speck: German and Italian for "bacon". In Germany, it is pronounced SHPECK, and is essentially lard. In Italy, it is pronounced SPEHK, and it resembles American bacon more. True Italian Speck comes from the hog legs, rather than the belly. Speck is salted and seasoned with black pepper, pimento, garlic and juniper berries before being cured for about a month. It then undergoes 10 days of cold-smoking with ash, beechwood or juniper. Sliced very thin, speck is served as an antipasto, or it can be used in cooking like bacon or pancetta.
from The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst