Koken als een Hombre; culinary digressions of an amateur

NYE dinner

This three-course new year’s eve dinner worked out pretty well, hence I decided it is worthy of a writeup.

The first course, the appetizer, is a plate of prawns sauteed in butter and garlic, with some baby kale and sweet potato fries.

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Out of laziness I bought the prawns pre-cooked, meaning they don’t need cleaning and require little cooking time, but nothing stops you from doing it with the prawns raw. Melt butter, add chopped shallot and minced/crushed garlic, then after caramelization add the prawns. The prawns are topped off with some Italian parsley. For the bed of baby kale, wash and cut to size some kale leaves, and I used a dressing of olive oil and balsamic crema (glazing with truffle, imported from Rome on our trip to Italy this year!). The sweet potato fries are pretty simple, I used the mandolin to cut fries out of the orangy tuber and then deep-fried them in safflower oil in my ultra-compact fryer. For sauce, the cooking liquid/glaze of the prawns is pretty delicious.

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The main course then: veal scallopini on a gratin dauphinois, with creamy carrots.

The gratin comes straight out of Julia Child’s French recipe book: slice potatoes, wash and rinse in water, arrange in oiled baking dish and add some thin strips of butter on top. Bring some milk to a boil, after adding minced garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the hot milk over the potatoes in the dish. I also added some grated gruyere cheese on top (not in Julia’s book). Then put it in the oven at ~425F and bake ‘til done and properly browned (about 30min). The scallopini’s are cut in smaller size, salted (and peppered) with some added flour on top, then simply sauteed (roughly 1 minute each side, your mileage may vary depending on how thick the cut is). The carrots are sliced in small pieces; in a medium size pot or pan, saute a chopped shallot in oil, when hot add the carrots, saute for a while, then add (whipping) cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt, pepper and thyme (parsley as well, to be added at the end). They’ll be all nice and creamy when done. For sauce, simply glaze the cooking liquid of the veal and add to the meat on the plate. Et voila!

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For the dessert, I used my traditional pot-de-creme recipe (see elsewhere on this site), but with the addition of blueberries, pureed with cream and cocoa powder and also added as garnish on the whipped cream. I resized/scaled the recipe a bit, but I got it somewhat wrong, as the texture was too thick/solid (I’ll need to revisit this)...

Belgian chocolate truffels

Belgian chocolate truffels (or if you want, chocolate truffels made by a Belgian), serves few to many

Very simple, but oh so effective and a classic crowd pleaser. Get good chocolate, cocoa powder and it can hardly go wrong. It does take some labor and willingness to temporarily turn parts of your kitchen in a sticky mess.

Truffels!

Ingredients:

  1. 300 g dark chocolate: as usual, the darker/more bitter, the better (no baking chocolate though; the ‘red’ bars from Trader Joe’s e.g. work well)
  2. additional 50 g dark chocolate: this will be for the outer ‘skin’, you can use the same or a different chocolate, to e.g. add some flavour or spicy kick
  3. 200 ml whipping cream
  4. 100 g cocoa powder
  5. optional: some liquor (Calvados would be a good pick, or Absinthe)

Procedure:

  1. Heat the cream on a slow fire
  2. Break up the 300 g of chocolate into small pieces
  3. Bring the cream to a boil
  4. Put chocolate pieces in container and pour hot cream over it
  5. Stir until chocolate has molten and mixture is even
  6. Add optional liquor
  7. Cover container and put in refrigerator, cool down for about 1 to 2 hours
  8. When consistency is right (takes some experience; when cooled for too long the mixture will be rock hard; when not long enough it will be too runny; find the spot in between), hand knead small balls out of the mixture
  9. Heat up the 50 g of chocolate (in a bain marie) until molten and smooth
  10. Roll balls through molten chocolate, subsequently through the cocoa powder: i.e. the fun but messy part!
  11. Store the truffels covered in the refrigerator, but take them out ahead of time before consumption – the ideal temperature to consume the truffels is about just below room temperature, or as we’d call it, ‘chambré’

Any occasion is now good to savor and enjoy the delicate smoothness of the truffels and all that good flavanol in the cocoa.

Crème brûlée, California style

Crème brûlée, California style, serves 4 to 5.

Another classic dessert, very simple but delicious. And: how much more fun can cooking get, when it involves swinging a butane blow torch around? One of my favorites, in particular when served ‘flambant’ (see below); pairing savory and slighty pyromaniac delights.

I’m not sure why I called this a California-style crème brûlée – let’s assume it’s for the inclusion of (blue)berries, which are grown all over the place in the golden state. When done right, it’s a fine showcase of contrasts: the crunchy texture of the caramelized sugar crust to the smoothness of the custard below; the silky but strong aroma of the vanilla to that of the burnt sugar (or burning alcohol); the hot surface outside to the cool custard inside; the sweetness of the sugar to the acidity of the berries.

Of course, try to use real vanilla; it’s better in taste and spotting the black seeds in the custard will provide some added entertainment to your guests; extract will probably work as well though. Also, depending on the thermal conductivity of the ceramic of your ramekins, I recommend using oven mitts to hold the ramekins during the torch action. Try not to overcook the custard, it’s supposed to come out perfectly smooth and silky.

The delightful richness of this crème can and probably should be traded off to portion size, depending on how close you’d like to keep your calorie intake in check.

Creme Brulee

Ingredients:

  1. half of a vanilla bean
  2. 450 ml of (whipping) cream (or, about 2 cups)
  3. a quarter cup of sugar (more or less, to taste)
  4. 4 egg yolks
  5. a little bit of salt
  6. additional sugar, for crust
  7. assorted berries (blueberry, raspberry and/or blackberry)

Tools:

  1. a blow torch!
  2. set of ramekins (assortment of small ceramic bowls)
  3. large baking dish (the ramekins need to fit in, for a bain marie)

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 300F (150C)
  2. Scoop out the seeds of the vanilla bean and mix them in with the cream into a cooking pot
  3. Put on low heat, until the cream simmers
  4. Remove pot from stove, let the cream cool down a bit
  5. Mix egg yolks and sugar in a separate container; do your best to remove the chalazae (the strings attached to the yolks); add bit of salt
  6. Add cream slowly to container with yolks, stir until smooth
  7. Pour mixture into ramekins
  8. Put baking dish in oven, pour in some water and put ramekins in (bain marie)
  9. Bake in oven until done (about 30 to 40 minutes)
  10. Remove ramekins from oven, let them cool down, cover and store them in fridge for a few hours
  11. Now the real fun begins: just before serving, do the following:
  12. Coat surface of custard with a (liberal) amount of sugar
  13. Pull out blow torch and let the caramelizing begin. Burn, baby burn!
  14. Add rinsed berries in ornamental fashion on top of crust
  15. For added effect, pour some liquor of high alcohol content (e.g. rum) onto crust and set on fire

Chocolate Pot de Creme

Chocolate Pot de Creme Absinthe style, serves 4 to 5.

First though, some housekeeping notes. This is my first post under the ‘Koken als een Hombre’ moniker (this means ‘Cook like a Hombre’, but don’t look for any deep meaning in that), where I plan to document and share my utterly amateurish forays into the sheltering realms of cooking and cuisine. At least one person I know bugged me to (re)post recipes some time ago, so I hope I’m not needlessly oversharing these futile attempts at savory enlightenment.

Note that I plan to use metric units for quantities such as volume, weight and temperature. Get used to it – most of the world started doing so after the French Revolution. Also note that I used the word ‘plan’ in the previous sentence; a good engineer is a lazy engineer, one of my old professors said. I don’t know if the same holds for cooks, and perhaps this professor just told that to justify his career or lack thereof, but I’m not going to promise to be consistent with units – there are always calculators, Google and a gazillion of mobile apps to translate things. Finally, everything I write here may be completely wrong or go utterly against standard practice, but rest assured that everything I’ll post is featuring something I tried out, ate and lived to tell; so at least it won’t be lethal.

Now back to business. If you’re familiar with Brasserie Absinthe in San Francisco, you may know there is one item on their dessert menu that has been there since the beginning of time. Yes, none other than their fabulous Chocolate pot de creme – first made with Scharffenberger, then TCHO and now Valrhona chocolate. I used to look for and find excuses to go there just to savor this heavenly dessert; at some point I took on a mission to reproduce it myself, and the simple recipe below is where this mission took me – when the stars align and I get everything right, it comes pretty damn close. Note that a pot de creme is not a mousse, and this pot is deliciously rich. If you crave large amounts of it (and you just may) I recommend pairing it with some hard mountain bike rides.

Chocolate pot de creme

Ingredients:

  1. 250 g dark chocolate – as dark/bitter as possible (but no unsweetened baking chocolate unless you want to add/meter extra sugar); 82% Scharffenberger used to be a good pick, but there are plenty other options.
  2. 150 ml (whipping) cream
  3. a little bit of butter
  4. 3 eggs
  5. a little bit of salt
  6. half a (soup)spoon of sugar
  7. a little bit of cacao
  8. optional: some liqueur

Procedure:

  1. Melt all the chocolate, using a bain marie (i.e. put it in a pot which goes Babushka-style in another pot of hot/heated water)
  2. Use a large container or dish to put the cream in, add the butter, beat it up somewhat and stir
  3. Add the egg yolks to the cream and add a little bit of salt – keep the egg white in a separate container
  4. Beat up the cream-yolk mixture, stir
  5. When the chocolate is completely molten, get it away from the heat source and let it cool down
  6. After the chocolate is sufficiently cooled down (you could measure and experiment with the temperature here), pour it onto the cream-yolk mixture
  7. Stir the mixture – add the cacao (also some amount of liqueur might be added at this stage – absinthe would be an appropriate pick)
  8. Put the sugar into the egg white and beat it up (modestly)
  9. Pour the beaten egg white onto the chocolate mixture, mix and stir until it ‘sets’ into a homogeneous looking blend
  10. Pour the blend in smaller containers (e.g. cups or small dishes)
  11. Put them covered in the fridge and let them sit there for a couple of hours
  12. Serve with some additional whipped cream on top (blend in some vanilla and call it creme chantilly) and/or chocolate shavings

Best served in small ramekins as shown in the photo above, but you could also do a family pack style serving, shown below. Note: due to the presence of uncooked eggs, it’s best to not let it linger around for too long.

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