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Anthony Bourdain’s Lemon Tart and Other Disasters

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Dear Chef  Bourdain;

This was my first recipe that I’d call a dismal failure. I blame my own lack of experience with baking in general, but also your frustrating lack of instructions in “The Les Halles Cookbook”. I just scrapped it and started all over again, and ended up with a perfectly edible and delightful lemon tart that served as a pretty nice counterpoint to the horrors of Guts Night.

The (eventual) finished product.

I’ve made your tart shell before, and it turned out fine but puffy. Maddeningly, and as I’ve discussed previously, your recipe for the shell tells me how to make it, but not what to do with it after. There’s this whole “pre-baking” step that you completely omit. Bastard.

Because I’d mentioned it before, my future sister-in-law read about it here, and thoughtfully gave me a really gorgeous tart pan and pie-weights to use. See, once you’ve got your pastry crust, you have to firm it up in the oven by pre-baking. If you don’t it’s just a big soggy mess, which is especially bad for a tart. I was pretty excited to give the new equipment a whirl, so I diligently got two tart crusts ready, as per your recipe. It actually went better this time, I managed to roll out the crust without it fragmenting much, and smoothly deposit it in the pan. Then I pour in the pie-weights, and get ready to pre-bake.

There's something missing from this picture. Can you guess what it is?

You’re looking at this picture right now, Chef, and saying, “What an idiot!” What seems obvious to any accomplished chef is opaque to a relative tyro like myself. But yeah, there’s no parchment paper under those little ceramic beads. Turns out, that’s a really important element. I guess if I were making a tart crust that was studded with M&Ms this would be brilliant. (Wait a minute. Wait JUST a minute! That might be brilliant! Oh shit, I have to try that!) But this?  This was not brilliant. No, it was in fact a kitchen disaster. An ugly kitchen disaster, kind of like the PETA Celebrity Cookbook. (That actually exist, man. I find the damnedest things when I’m googling around for a punchline.)

This is messier than Charlie Sheen's personal life.

Look that, Chef! Look at it! Yeah, I baked those ceramic weights right into the crusts. Why? Because I was winging it without clear instructions. Ok, yeah, if I can google up the Peta Celebrity Cookbook, I can probably google up pre-baking a tart shell.  But that’s haaaaaaard, chef! Using your book is easier!

Immediately after pulling them out of the oven, I became sensible to my error. At first I thought, “Crap, I’m going to have to scrape these weights off the top of the shell!” But I realized soon even that was impossible; the little balls had – doing their job – weighted right down to the bottom. It was impossibly studded with balls, like a Pride Parade, and there was no saving it. I at least got to taste the shell while I attempted to salvage the balls. (There’s a joke there, but I think more than one ball joke in a paragraph is worse than crass, it’s just lazy.)

After about ten minutes of shell-eating and trying not to bite down on ceramic weights, I realized fishing them out of the mess was going to be fucking impossible. I wrote ’em off as a loss, and figured they were cheap enough I could just replace them. My lovely fiancee is, arguably, even more stubborn than me, and insisted she’d try and save them anyway. (Historical note: two days later, she gave up, too.)

Defeated, I went out and bought a couple of graham-cracker pie crusts, which while terribly declasse, worked just fine. I got my meez together, which for this one is dead simple – eggs, lemon juice, cream, sugar.

It's way too late for this meez not to be fucked up.

Pay no attention to the can of coke, it has no relevance to this recipe. I whipped it all together, and poured it into the pie crusts. And I put them in for the recommended time at the recommended temperature.

Now maybe it was because these were pie shells and not tart shells, but they were nowhere near done. I think your temperature and times are consistently lower and shorter than is actually true in my kitchen, so I’m going to try and take that into account.

After all was said and done, the tarts (though I think at this point they’re really pies, right?) didn’t quite firm up to something I could slice and serve – but the jumble that we did actually get onto the plates was really nice. Creamy, just a little bit sweet and nicely tangy – it was a great palate-cleanser and light dessert. And dead simple too – I will definitely keep this one in my back pocket. Just not the tart shells, maybe. Or rather, I’ll follow someone else’s procedure for tart shells, and the pre-baking and whatnot. But these “lemon tarts” were delicious and easy to make.

Maybe next time, less disaster, more pie;

Davy

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep, Uncategorized

French Fish Fries

January 14, 2011 4 comments

Friture

Dear Chef Bourdain;

You describe friture as “ethereal” which was not my experience of them at all.  Preparing them was disgusting, and when complete they were … well, sort of good but sort of fishy-in-the-bad-way. Curiously, my Asian guests were pretty crazy about them, especially when they stole some rice from some spam musubi that another friend brought to the party.

Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little. They were kind of hard to find, and despite your exhortation to get fresh and tiny smelts, I could only get previously-frozen smelts from the always wonderful Super King Market. When I brought them up to the checkout, the girls manning the register had a lot of questions, with that look in the eye that says, “You are a crazy white person.” (I get that look a lot.) Anyway, I brought them home and got to the gross part, squeezing their guts out.

I just don't love guts. Sorry Chef.

I’ve cleaned my fair share of fish. But something about squeezing the guts right out their butts is extra gross. Actually, most of these smelts were bigger than the ones you recommended, and already had a little hole in the ventral side. So even the gentlest squeeze results in all the innards boiling out of that hole, rather than the “whazoo” as you recommend, Chef. It’s pretty laborious, too, there’s no fast way to do it. So after about 45 minutes or so, I had a bowl full.

I thought they smelled bad on the outside...

That actually was the hardest part, to be honest. The rest was just getting my meez straight and then fryin’ ’em up.

The ever important meez

I minced some garlic and flat parsley, and then seasoned some flour with salt, pepper, and a bunch of other stuff. Your recipe says “to taste” so I just kept adding dashes of interesting things I found until it tasted nice and savory. After that, I heated the oil. I didn’t have a thermometer, so I got it shimmering but not smoking.

Suddenly more appetizing!

While they were frying, I threw together the garlic, parsley, and some olive oil. Once they were sort of golden brown and floating, I pulled them out with a slotted spoon, and tossed them in the garlic mix.

Honestly, everything is better with garlic.

And that’s all there is to it, really. You’re right, once you know the method, you don’t really need a recipe. You just season some flour, and fry some de-gutted tiny fish. Then roll ’em in something for flavor. I mean, other than fish flavor.

Ethereal? Nahhh.

Some people liked ’em and some people wouldn’t touch them. I gave a few of them a try, but they weren’t quite perfectly crisp – they were a little chewy. And the chewiness sort of enhanced the fishy flavor, which wasn’t really the way to go.  I’m not sure I’d make these again, Chef. Mostly because squeezing the guts out of the fishies was not only kinda gross, but really tedious. Maybe I needed hotter oil, maybe I needed to cook them a little longer, but these weren’t really like ethereal french fries.

Sorry Chef, I have to call this one a miss. But maybe I just did it wrong – so I don’t have a firm feeling about that.

Fishily Yours;

Davy

Rooty Tooty Fresh and Clafoutis

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Clafoutis

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Recently, friend and excellent author George R.R.  Martin was in town in Los Angeles for a variety of things pertaining to the new HBO show based on his books, “A Game of Thrones“. Since it’s been years since we last saw him, other fans and friends had a party so we could all catch up. I made some mushroom soup, which I’ve written about before. This time around I didn’t have any sherry though, and it really made a difference. This was somewhat compensated for, though, because I had fresh home-made stock from my second round of stock-making. What a world of difference really good stock makes!

Anyway, I also made some clafoutis for the party. I know the picture above looks pretty appetizing, but don’t let appearances deceive you, they were pretty nasty. I don’t know whether to blame you or me, Chef, I don’t have a good standard of comparison. So it was probably me, executing something incorrectly – but  basically we ended up with a big, eggy, collapsed mess. With cherries.

I started out with cherries. I know, they’re out of season, and I’m a rotten eco-villain for buying the ones that were flown in from Chile. I’ll plant a fucking tree. Anyway, the cherries were plenty delicious so they were obviously in season wherever they came from. I borrowed a cherry-pitter from my Mother-In-Law to-be, who has an incredible kitchen – it made short work of pitting the cherries. I read elsewhere that traditionally you leave the pits in, which gives a particular flavor to the end result. But since I was passing these out at a party, I didn’t imagine I could give the “Oh, hey, watch out for the pits” warning to random party-goers so I figured I’d play it safe. Also, pastries with pits is just kinda nasty. It also might explain why Napoleon lost to Wellington. So I mixed it with the kirschwasser (that’s the same as kirsch, right?) and let it macerate for an hour.

Most heard quote, "what the fuck is macerate, anyway?"

So that was exciting. Macerating. And stuff.

Next came egg-beating. It was only after using the old-fashioned egg-beater that the hostess told me she had a motorized one. Also, with these old-timey ones, for some reason I have to resist the impulse to chase MLF around with it, grinning lasciviously and twirling the blades.

These eggs beaten without any sexual assault at all.

So after that it was just pouring it into a chilled baking pan. I also used tiny cupcake tins, because I had a stupid amount of batter and not enough things to pour it in. (That sentence was especially true in my 20’s.)

I baked it. It puffed up. It didn’t stay very puffy. I think this means that I can’t make a souffle either.

This picture is a metaphor

Chef, the previous picture was not a metaphor.

I’ve noticed most of the desserts in your book aren’t very sweet, chef. These weren’t either. I dusted them with powdered sugar – indeed, I even had a sifter! But the results was something like an eggy, liquory, cherry-flavored mess. They didn’t come out of the tins very easily (sorry Sonja!) and had a sort of soggy consistency not unlike the bits of egg left in the pan when you’re trying to clean up after brunch. Not that I’ve ever been so hung over that I’d eat that. (I totally have.)

I have to call this one a miss, Chef. Maybe someone better than me could make a delicate, delicious treat out of this. But not me, man. Just a big plate of mess. Kinda embarrassing actually, Chef, since I’d told some of these folks about my whole project. On the other hand, maybe I should have tried something a little more sure-fire. Actually, the mushroom soup was pretty well received, so I’ve got that going on.

They look cute, but those tiny pans are a bitch to clean.

I  don’t know if these ever got eaten or not. I feel bad about the cleanup, though. I don’t think I’ll try and make these again. Sorry Chef, you kinda suck at desserts. Well, I do, anyway, when I follow your instructions.

Do love pouring that batter though!

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Prep

Bearnaise Is My Bitch

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Cote de Boeuf with sauce bearnaise, truffled pommes puree

Dear Chef Bourdain;

With the Christmas just around the corner, all the cuts and roasts that are normally hard to get are on display at the local supermarkets. For my Christmas beast feast, I settled on a crown roast of pork. No recipe for that in The Book, but I’ll make do. Anyway, a bone-in rib steak, which is what we’d call Cote de Boeuf, was easily available, so I seized the opportunity. This means making sauce bearnaise, though, which is one of the things I was both dreading and looking forward to. One of my chief motivations in this project was my utter inability to make any sauce that requires an emulsion. Sauce bearnaise is like the granddaddy of all emulsions, so it was going to be a challenge. Never the less, your assertion that this sauce senses fear was well taken, and I proceeded with the courage of my convictions.

First I paid very careful attention to my mise-en-place. The tarragon reduction was pretty easy, and the process of clarifying the butter worked exactly as I’ve heard it described, but never done before. Imagine that!

Can't fuck up the meez!

I didn’t want to be in the middle of trying to keep the sauce from breaking and scrabble for something. So I got all the ingredients together, and sort of mentally rehearsed how it would go. With that in mind, I could proceed without feeling like I had no idea what I was doing, and also without having to stop to check the recipe. Here is the result.

This video goes on too long. Also my fiancee argues with me too much. Anyway the result was a really delicious sauce, and the steak was exquisite. The sauce had a tendency to separate a bit when it was left alone, but this could be rectified with just a little stirring. And the flavor! It was so intense and smooth and tangy! It was nothing like bearnaise sauce I’ve had in the past, in a very good way. This is one of my favorite recipes I’ve done so far, and MLF says it’s her favorite, hands down.

I got a cast iron pan ripping hot. Today was the largest rainfall in Los Angeles history, so the grill was kind of out of the question. I seasoned the steak, put olive oil in the pan, and browned it on all side for about three minutes a side.

Do you want to eat this right now? I do.

I literally had to stop MLF from molesting the steak -she picked up a fork and was about to poke it. “STOP! What are you doing?” I said. “I want to poke it,” she said. To what end? This is the sort of mystery that plagues inter-gender relations throughout the ages. I convinced her not to molest the steak, and put it in a 400F oven for 12 minutes – this was a really thick steak, it needed the extra time.

Shhh! It's resting.

I let it rest. Between Assistant Chef Bourdain and a poke-mad girlfriend, I had to guard this steak pretty carefully so it could get some rest. I felt like Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, keeping watch over his campaign tent so L’Empreur could sleep in peace. When it was done, voila – amazing steak.

Of course, I did serve a shockingly expensive burgundy in cheap glasses. I did serve that steak in bleeding, fat-rippled hunks, just as you instructed.  And yet, despite my attempts to show them who’s their daddy – which your book promises I will accomplish, when I asked MLF who her daddy is, she said, “My daddy is my father.” So yeah, that just didn’t work at all.

I guess if I want to be someone’s “daddy” I’m just going to have to have kids. But they can’t have any of the wine!

Not your daddy;

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Porc Mignons a l’ail

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

For the most part, my job is better than yours used to be. Definitely not better than it is, because clearly you have about the best job in the world right now. But I’m talking the 14 hours a day on your feet in a kitchen part. Mostly I sit on my butt doing computer stuff – it’s almost always low stress, pays well, and I like the people I work with. Also, they never threaten to “stand on either side of me, drill a hole in my neck and make their dicks touch in the middle”. Well, almost never, anyway.

But tonight I’m stuck watching a database restore which is as thrilling as it sounds. So that’s why I have time for a second letter in the same day. That’s okay though, since I have quite a backlog of things I’ve made and have yet to report on. It’s just that writing these letters after work, I only have so many hours in the day, you know?

This was the beauty of porc mignons a l’ail, part of the same dinner as the rillettes, steak tartare, and onion soup les halles.

I want to eat this right now.

Read more…

Categories: Cooking, Deep Prep, Eating, Prep

Onion Soup Les Halles – or: Cry Me A River

December 16, 2010 3 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

You know how people quote Winston Churchill, and talk about “blood, sweat and tears” going into some effort or another? Well, I can say that I literally put blood, sweat and tears – oh so many tears – into your Onion Soup Les Halles.

I need a better camera, because this shit was gorgeous.

This was another one of those recipes where, if I’d followed your instructions literally, the results would have been seriously awful – but because I had some idea what the final product should look like, I could ” call an audible” and it turned out beautifully. This was part of the massive dinner I put together in honor of my best friend (and the best man at my wedding in May – oh by the way, Chef, you’re invited. It’s on Catalina, make it an episode, it’ll be awesome.) who was visiting Southern California on vacation.

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Categories: Cooking, Prep

Elite Pommes Frites – Goes Great With Meat!

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Fancy French Fries

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’ve got a lot of posts chambered, and I’m doing quite well in keeping up with the requisite pace to get the whole book done in a year. But I’m really bad at video editing, and anyway I’m doing it on an iphone, or with video taken from one, so it’s not super easy. I’m just sayin’ – I’m cooking faster than I’m writing or editing.

So I actually made the pommes frites a couple of weeks ago, the same time as my previous letter, Quasi-Steak Frites. But they warrant their own entry, given how fries are really a lot harder than you’d think. I’ts not just a case of slicing up some potatoes and throwing them in a fryer, after all. I couldn’t find “GPOD 70” Idaho potatoes, either, and everyone I asked for gave me a sort of wall-eyed goggly look, like I’d asked them if I could borrow their shoes or something. But I got potatoes that LOOK a lot like the ones in your book, so hopefully, that’s good enough.

Boss, the meez! The meez is here, Boss!

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep
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