Monday, May 4, 2015

Extreme Cooking, part 2

Today's post should have been day four on the theme of "sure, cooking is easy, but it doesn't have to be." The problem with extreme cooking is that it doesn't leave much time for blogging. Plus, the weather just turned lovely here in northern Michigan, and I've been wanting to take my cooking breaks outside. Finally I remembered my laptop can also go outside.

Dinner for four turned into dinner on the deck for nine, mostly due to my realization that four people couldn't possibly eat all of this. And we had leftovers, so now I'm trying to wrangle friends into stopping by for lunch. I still have a quart of chilled beet soup.

The most labor-intensive component of the menu was the burnt bread sauce for the slow-roasted carrots. The most difficult component was thinly slicing the gravlax. Even with a sharp knife, my carving skills leave much to be desired. I managed, but it wasn't perfect. The biggest hit was the pistachio dip with flax seed crackers.

I'll explain the recipes, but I don't have the patience to type them all in, even my barely-streamlined versions. Each one from Bar Tartine is pages long. If you think you're up for this type of cooking, I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.

Also, you'll see now why I'm such a bad food blogger. After four days of cooking (not all day -- it wasn't that intense), I only have a few pictures. I get distracted in the kitchen and I forget to document every step. I have a few photos, but not of everything.

First, the popular flax seed crackers began with flax seeds soaked in a broth of kombu dashi, sundried tomatoes, onion, dill, parsley and garlic. (This meal was made possible by my Vitamix, definitely the workhorse of my kitchen).

After soaking for about an hour, I thinly spread the mixture onto four pieces of parchment paper and put them in the dehydrator for about a day.

Once they were crispy, I broke them into chunks. I didn't take a photo of the finished product, but I think I'll make more to take for book group later this week, along with this French Onion Dip from the chef-authors of Bar Tartine.

The pistachio dip, also made in the Vitamix, wasn't too fussy except for shelling a bag of pistachios, where were toasted with shelled pumpkin seeds:


Aside from those delicious green nuts, it had charred green onions, grapeseed oil, lots of garlic, charred green chile, lime juice and cilantro. Here it is in the blender:

I warned my guests to drink plenty of water (we had plenty of wine, too), primarily due to those crackers and the equally high-fiber bread on which I served the gravlax. The bread recipe is from Chad Robertson, the master baker who is a co-conspirator of Bar Tartine and the owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I had made his Rene's Rye Bread during the holidays and loved it, so I was happy to have an occasion to try it again. It involves some planning as it features sprouted rye berries. I started those a couple of days before I made the dough and they were perfectly ready on mix day:

The wet ingredients were sourdough starter, buttermilk, barley malt syrup and beer. I used Bell's Smitten Golden Rye this time, just because I had a bottle in the fridge.

The dry ingredients included a blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (Chad's recipe calls for spelt, but I already had wheat ground so used that) and whole rye flour. But this is the reason I warned everyone to drink plenty of water:

Look at all these seeds! Flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower.
The dough mixes up to slurry, about the consistency of concrete (so the recipe says -- I have no personal experience with concrete mix).

It sits in a warm spot in the kitchen for a few hours, then goes in a pan to sit some more. I use a pullman pan, which has its own lid. It rests in the refrigerator overnight and is baked the next morning. And it is awesome!

Now for that burnt bread sauce. As noted in part 1, I started this four days ahead by charring some day old bread and putting it into the dehydrator. The next day, the charred and dried bread slices were pulverized into a powder by the Vitamix and transferred to a jar for storage. I also charred, dehydrated and powder two bunches of green onions. Still, I was not done. I had to make a kombu dashi, which was simple: simmer seaweed in water and strain. But there was still more bread to char:

I charred onions:

And I charred garlic, arbol chiles and almonds. By this time, I was done with photos, so the rest of the story will be from my memory. All of those ingredients, along with a hothouse tomato, parsley, lime juice, honey, salt and pepper went into the blender and then into a bowl.

Next up was an almond milk sauce which was kind of easy because I cheated and used store-bought almond milk. Into the blender with the almond milk, a small cooked potato, a little serrano chile, more lime juice and honey. Whir, strain into a jar, store in the fridge.

The carrots weren't so complicated because I already had made the specified chutney spice powder in a previous recipe. I'm building my Bar Tartine powder pantry little by little. I warmed this in butter, then tossed the carrots in and roasted them in the oven at 250 for about an hour. The serving presentation -- and I really wish I had taken a photo of this -- was a big glob of the burnt bread sauce with the almond milk poured over it, the carrots spread on top of it all, and little green pools of drizzled carrot oil. I forgot to grate toasted almonds as a finishing touch, but it was still quite lovely and delicious.

I used this Serious Eats recipe for gravlax and mine looked almost like the photo except for the slices of gravlax appearing as if they'd had a shredder accident.

Dessert was stupid simple and a clear indication of my exhaustion by that stage. After all the dishes had been cleared, I popped back in the kitchen, tossed a few ripe bananas, some Breyer's vanilla ice cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon and most of a jar of Smucker's caramel sauce in the blender, whizzed it smooth, then trotted out back to the porch with the blender pitcher and two bottles of rum. I set it all on the picnic table and let my guests pass it around to help themselves.

Was it worth it? Oh, yes. Perhaps my mother was onto something when she told me, "You get out of something what you put into it." But then, I've never been fortunate enough to experience that laziest and most sublime of treats -- the perfectly ripe peach picked from a branch of a neighbor's tree hanging over the fence.

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