Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recipe: Onion Low Carb-o-nara

From "Happy in the Kitchen (2006)" by Michel Richard

Serves 4

4 ounces sliced applewood-smoked bacon
3 large yellow onions (about 12 ounces each)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

Stack bacon slices, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in freezer to firm. This will make them easier to cut.

To cut onions, using a meat slicer, cut off root end of each onion and discard. Then, cut off other ends. With a paring knife, core each onion by cutting a cone-shaped piece from root end of onion, much as you would remove stem of an apple. Stand each onion on one end and cut a vertical slit from top to bottom, just reaching center. This will result in long strands of onion rather than rings when onion is sliced. Set slicer to cut 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place flat end of onion against blade and slice. To cut by hand, leave root ends intact, cut a slit in each onion as above, then cut across onions to make 1/8-inch-thick slices.

Separate onion slices into strands. Place longer strands in a bowl and reserve shorter ones for another use. You should have about 8 cups loosely packed onions.

Place a steamer basket in a pot over simmering water. Place onion strands in basket, cover, and steam 5 to 6 minutes, or until onions are translucent but still "al dente." Remove basket from pot. (This can be done a few hours before serving.)

Remove bacon from freezer, unwrap, and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch strips. Place in a large nonstick skillet and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes, until crisp and browned. Meanwhile in a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup cream and egg yolk. Set aside.

Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour out fat, and wipe pan clean with a paper towel. Return pan to burner. Add butter and melt over medium heat. Add bacon and remaining cream and simmer 30 seconds. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, toss, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until onions are hot. Remove pan from heat and stir in reserved cream mixture and Parmesan. Taste and add additional seasoning if needed.

With pair of tongs, lift each portion, letting excess sauce drip back into pan, and arrange in small mound on serving plate. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan, if desired.

Note: If you'd like to try to download this recipe with the per-serving nutritional information for $2.95 on a credit card, click here.  I tried to access the Bee's archive, but it wouldn't let me complete the transaction, so I can't vouch that the recipe or the nutritional information is actually there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twenty years of adventure

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the marriage of James David Richardson and yours truly. And we plan to celebrate it at Citronelle in DC. I've wanted to go there since reviewing Michel Richard's "Happy in the Kitchen" in 2007 for The Sacramento Bee. Below is my review; tomorrow I'll post a recipe from it. And look for my review of our meal at Citronelle in a few days.

Review: "Happy in the Kitchen"

By Lori Korleski Richardson

A home cook could pick up "Happy in the Kitchen" (Artisan, $45, 331 pages) by Michel Richard and be led to believe that this is one chef-written cookbook that is actually meant to be used. In the kitchen. Happily.

Few exotic ingredients are required for any of the recipes, and none of the recipes list more than a dozen ingredients for any of the dishes. The food looks like food, not some architect's vision created with food - just fresh food, done well.

And I'm sure that's the joy of eating at Richard's restaurants, Citrus and Citronelle in Los Angeles, and his two establishments in Washington, D.C. His ways with food have impressed such major chefs as Thomas Keller (who wrote the introduction of this book), Charlie Trotter, Jacques Pépin and Joël Robuchon. Richard's dishes make the ordinary seem extraordinary, with plenty of color and light vibrant sprinkles, salsas and sauces. Unfortunately, the lowdown on this elevation of common ingredients is technique. And for the amateur cook, that involves a whole 'nother T: time.

Yes, if you love to cook, you may knowingly nod when Richard declares that "I think someday lemon confit could be as common as ketchup; there are so many things it can enhance." But ketchup is readily available. Preserved lemons or lemon confit aren't on every supermarket's shelves. Not to worry. Richard has provided the recipe to make your own. But this is where some of the "time" comes into play: The lemons won't be ready for a month.

The dish that uses the confit, chicken with preserved lemon and honeydew melon, also demands a lot of the cook's day. Cutting and prepping the whole chickens took about 45 minutes. Reading and rereading the directions took another 15 minutes, with the conclusion that a step was left out or miscommunicated; following the directions did not get me a drumstick that looked anything like Deborah Jones' lovely photograph. "Happy in the Kitchen" was written with Susie Heller and Peter Kaminsky, who have brought out books by many chefs; but at this point, they may be more attuned to the demands of a professional kitchen than one most of us have to cook in. The chicken dish was delicious, nonetheless, and the honeydew melon practically danced across the plate, imparting a sweet tang of early summer that lifted the rich and lemony sauce to a place not far from heaven.

None of this is to say "Happy in the Kitchen" doesn't have lots to teach the student of succulent secrets. Richard shreds, slices and chops vegetables in ways that add a dimension to dishes that would otherwise look very homey, and delight the eye as well as tasting pretty darn good. The vegetable "waters" impart a wheelbarrow full of flavor with almost no calories, and is a wonderful way to use produce on the brink of being tossed out. He shows us how to make sausagelike rolls without using a grinder or casings. And if you want a dish that will knock the socks off of your guests at an Easter brunch, look no further than his "reconstructed lemon egg," a dessert that is served in topped eggshells, but is actually a variant of lemon meringue pie.

One dish, his "low carb-o-nara," was quite simple to make and quite delicious as well. It uses onions, steamed to a sweet blandness, in place of the traditional spaghetti. If you can't find applewood-smoked bacon, a good thick hickory-smoked bacon works well, and if you don't have a meat slicer, Richard says you can slice the onion "pasta" by hand or use a Benriner. I opted for slightly shorter "pasta" and put the onion halves in the food processor and sliced them with a 2 mm blade, a little more spaghetti-like than the 1/8-inch slices the recipe called for.

Richard was absolutely right that no one would ever guess that it wasn't pasta in this dish. Even my guests that watched me prepare the recipe couldn't believe it as they emptied their bowls and mopped up the sauce with little slices of an Acme baguette. (Thank goodness Taylor's Market and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op now carry these so that you no longer have to drive to Berkeley for a little taste of Paris.)

Despite the problems with this cookbook, it has a lot of pluck and a lot of charm. It's good-looking enough to sit on a coffee table, but it has its practical side as well. Richard lays out all the equipment (under the heading "My Toy Box") that you'll need to make these recipes right at the beginning of the book, and there are many step-by-step photos to get you to try the techniques. The index is good, and "Happy in the Kitchen" has more than 150 recipes.

Yet I'm not sure I'd buy this as a gift for even my most dedicated foodie friends. It's just way too much work for most people who have a life outside the kitchen. It's a good reminder why we love to eat out, and pay dearly for that privilege.

Am I happy to have spent time learning what makes Michel Richard's food so good? Yes. Happy to see these dishes appear on my table? Yes, indeed. But "Happy in the Kitchen"? Not this cook.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Solid Potato Salad - appealing in an odd way

I'm not sure what this has to do with food, except the Ross Sisters are singing about potato salad. After the song, the girls break into an incredible acrobatic routine. Thanks to Nicholas Dunham for alerting me to this.

Good grills go everywhere

Our new house has one of those infernal microwave/hood combinations, which is even more infernal than most. To be blunt, it doesn't suck, and I don't mean that in a good way.

So until we can get a proper exhaust fan put in, we're going to be grilling a lot this summer. One of the first things we did was set up the gas grill out back. Since I needed to bring a finger-food appetizer for our tailgate picnic on the way to the theater, and I hadn't set up my kitchen yet (limited spices, oils, etc.), I just skewered a bag of chicken tenderloins, sprinkled them with oil and a grinding of garlic and pepper and grilled them just until done. I chilled them down, then packed them with ice packs and off we went. They were a hit! 

Monday, May 18, 2009

A light country ham supper

Since coming to Virginia, I've been experimenting with country ham and what to do with it. Originally, tasting it on the ham biscuits (that seemed to pop up at all the parties we went to when we first got here), I thought it was similar to the jambon of Provence or prosciutto, but it's courser than the latter, and not quite as dry as the former. It's delicious, but not good to eat as is or by itself.

Last night, I prepared a couple of thin slices (did I mention it's extremely salty?) in the following manner:

Slice a large yam in half, then each half in quarters. Spray with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and roast at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes until soft. 
Rinse ham briefly,  and fry to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees in a deep skillet. Remove, cover and keep warm. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan (or if you have any drippings, enough olive oil to make a tablespoon). Sauté a large onion, sliced, and a clove of garlic, minced, with a few grinds of black pepper. Add a can of plain (not marinated) artichoke hearts, drained. Cook until the onions are golden and the artichokes are lightly browned on all sides. Serve with the ham to one side and the yams on the other.

All in all, as a meat, it makes an excellent seasoning (if you don't have to watch your salt intake too closely).