Biscuit Love

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For a long time, I didn’t understand why anyone would care, particularly, about biscuits.  I thought they were okay; useful in a pinch when you didn’t have time to make proper bread.  Then, chance brought me to the Loveless Cafe, an (apparently) legendary spot in Nashville’s swankiest suburb.  (Think Santa Monica with pickup trucks.)  As a life-long professional cook, I’m quite jaded, and, honestly, rarely actually enjoy dining out.  Dinner at Loveless, however, was awesome — so good, in fact, that I woke up early and went back for breakfast the very next day.  And the biscuits — transcendental.

“Oh,” thought I, suddenly a committed biscuit-phile, “so that’s what a biscuit can be.”

Early this year, I forget exactly why, I set about developing a biscuit recipe of my own, using, of course, the Loveless biscuit as a gold(en-brown) standard.  I cannot — will not — assert that the results are of Loveless caliber. They’re more inspired-by that imitation-of, and the Loveless recipe for the genuine article is a closely-guarded secret.  Nonetheless, these are some mighty fine biscuits.

A few notes about the recipe, material and otherwise:

  • Flour is an important component here; a generic, all-purpose flour will not yield satisfactory results.  Tipo “00″ is Italian in origin, and is unique in that it is ground extra fine from soft (i.e. lower-protein, warm-climate) wheat.  Also excellent for fresh pasta, the finer grind produces more surface area and subsequently absorbs liquids more efficiently than other flours.  The lower protein content produces a supple, forgiving and workable dough and a tender finished product.  (King Arthur produces an Italian-Style flour that, though I haven’t actually tested it, I’m confident would perform very well.) If one must substitute, try White Lily, or a similar (generally Southern) lower-protein flour.
  • Like most superlative stuff, these biscuits contradict almost all conventional biscuit wisdom.  For one, they’re drop biscuits, so no rolling, cutting or dusting with flour required.  For two, no butter!
  • The yeast in this recipe is mostly for flavor; the baking powder does the leavening.  Apparently, however, recipes, like this one, that feature multiple leaveners belong to a tradition of “newlywed” recipes that feature a sort of systemic redundancy as insurance against domestic disquiet.
  • I use yogurt instead of buttermilk, because we always have it on hand.  Modern “buttermilk” is cultured, and really just a thinner consistency yogurt anyway, so while these may not be, in the strictest sense, “buttermilk biscuits” I won’t tell if you don’t.  (For the detail-oriented, we use Butterworks Farm‘s whole Jersey milk yogurt — it’s local, and the Jersey cow’s milk is exceptionally rich and flavorful.)
  • Variations:  beyond enjoying with jam and butter, try studding these biscuits with extra goodness (bacon, cheddar & chiles, for example).  They also make a dandy crust for fruit cobbler.
Tree-ripened native peaches and wild Maine blueberries baked with a touch of honey & lemon under our signature buttermilk biscuit crust.  With "frozen custard" vanilla ice cream, of course.

Tree-ripened native peaches and wild Maine blueberries baked with a touch of honey & lemon under our signature buttermilk biscuit crust. With “frozen custard” vanilla ice cream, of course.

 

Manor Buttermilk Biscuits

Yeild = 20 ea.

Preheat your oven:  375° F for convection ovens, 415° F for still (standard) ovens.

Prepare a baking dish (roughly 10 inches x 12 inches) with a light coating of non-stick spray.

Combine:

  • .6 ounces instant yeast
  • .3 ounces sugar
  • 3 ounces warm water (about 110° F)

Let stand 15 minutes someplace warm.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together:

  • 18 ounces tipo 00 flour
  • 4.5 ounces cornstarch
  • .9 ounces baking powder
  • .6 ounces plain salt
  • 1.2 ounces sugar

To the flour mixture, add:

  • 7.5 ounces vegetable oil (use a neutral-tasting oil, like canola or soy)

Stir gently 3-4 times before also adding:

  • 9 ounces whole milk + 9 ounces yogurt (preferably whole milk or “full fat” yogurt)
  • the yeast mixture
Buttermilk biscuit dough, scooped and ready-to-bake.  Note the proximity of the dough portions to one another, and the shaggy, hardly-mixed quality of the dough.

Buttermilk biscuit dough, scooped and ready-to-bake. Note the proximity of the dough portions to one another, and the shaggy, hardly-mixed quality of the dough.

Mix until just combined.  The dough should be more-or-less cohered, but will be wet and shaggy.  It’s okay.  Don’t over-mix.  If your dough is smooth and soft, you’ve over-mixed.

Allow the biscuit dough to rest/rise for 10 minutes before proceeding to scoop 2 ounces mounds (about 1/4 cup each) into your baking dish (a #16 ice cream disher does this most efficiently and uniformly, but feel free to improvise).  Make sure the mounds are close together — right next to each other — so they push against one-another as they rise in the oven.  Fear not! they’ll break readily into individual biscuits once baked.

Bake in your pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking 7-9 more minutes.

Removing the biscuits from the oven, while they’re still hot, brush/sprinkle the tops with:

  • 3-4 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

Allow to rest for 15 minutes in the pan before turning out on a wire rack to cool.  Or, eat ‘em right away, piping hot from the pan.

 

 

 

Heirloom Eggs from Pete & Gerry’s

We had the recent good fortune to receive a selection of New Hampshire’s own Pete & Gerry’s eggs, including their prized heirloom varieties.

They’re being featured, while supplies last, on this week’s fine dining menu in a trio of miniature egg dishes:  a lobster-infused custard, a goat cheese souffle & a vegetable “fritto misto” with “circulated” (slowly poached) egg.

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Savory Ameraucana Egg & Lobster Essence Custard ~ Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese Soufflé ~ Vegetable Frito Misto with Cherry Peppers, Confit Garlic & Circulated Marans’s Egg Yolk

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Savory Ameraucana Egg & Lobster Essence Custard ~ Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese Soufflé ~ Vegetable Frito Misto with Cherry Peppers, Confit Garlic & Circulated Marans’s Egg Yolk

The heirloom eggs have a distinctive taste, with a rich, dark orange-yellow yolk, and, in the case of the Ameraucana variety, a curious light blue-green shell, seen at the center of these plates full of a lobster-infused custard that is topped with lobster meat & marigold petals.

National Ice Cream Month @ The Manor on Golden Pond

Cool and refreshing, but also delectably decadent, ice cream is the perfect foil to a hot summer day. And, since July is National Ice Cream Month, as officially designated by President Regan in 1984, it seems fair that frozen confections might, for the next few weeks at least, be considered more of a civil duty than a private indulgence. Right?

At any rate, a summer getaway in New England would hardly seem complete without some ice cream, so I’ve put together the following suggestions for ice cream outlets both near and far:

Road Trip!

Sometimes it is the journey, not the destination, that proves most rewarding. But sometimes the destination is a superlative New England ice cream parlor, and in those cases the journey might be nice, but the reward is pretty obvious.

Sandwich Creamery: Though available at a number of retail outlets in our area, one should consider taking the time to meet the (bovine) ladies responsible by visiting the creamery itself. Less than 20 miles from The Manor on Golden Pond, the Sandwich Creamery is, nonetheless, well off-the-beaten-path. It’s also a working dairy, so don’t be surprised if, on any given day, the retail presence at the creamery amounts to a self-serve cooler and “honest john” cash box. Excellent ice cream (and cheese! — I’m partial to the coulommier), and sorbet as well.

Kellerhausthe World Famous Kellerhaus Ice Cream Buffet is housed in a faux-Bavarian edifice alongside a dizzying assortment of souvenirs, collectibles, bric-a-brac and an on-site candy and chocolate making operation which also offers every conceivable manner of non-frozen confection, from the silly (bubblegum cigars) to the sumptuous (dark hazelnut ganache-filled truffles). As one might imagine, there is an air of copiousness to the build-your-own sundae “ice cream buffet” offered at Kellerhaus that might defy ice cream cognoscenti. Nonetheless, the ice cream on offer is their own, and — like a good bubblegum cigar — the mere idea of an ice cream buffet is a thrill that necessarily excites one’s inner child, if not also one’s gourmand sensibilities. Perhaps more of an excursion than a road trip, Kellerhaus is only about 15 minutes further along U.S. Rte 3 from The Manor on Golden Pond.

Bishop’s Homemade — at least a two-hour drive, round-trip, from The Manor on Golden Pond, an outing to Bishop’s qualifies as a genuine road trip. A spectacular road trip which, passing through legendary Franconia Notch, delivers you to the Northern side of the White Mountains where skiing enthusiasts Jim & Barbara Quinn spend their free time (i.e. Spring, Summer and Fall) making the best ice cream on Earth. Full disclosure: I grew up near Bishop’s, and my reverence for their ice cream may bear a touch of childhood romanticism. I’m not alone in my assessment, however, as their many accolades attest.

Chill Out

The Manor on Golden Pond being an awfully rewarding destination in itself, most folks find their wanderlust satisfied, and last thing they want to do is leave, even in search of great ice cream. Naturally, there is no need, as our dessert menu always features a trio of our own hand-crafted ice creams and sorbets. Our selection is limited, but flavors change frequently, reflect the season’s best ingredients, and are generally geared to accommodate both conservative and adventuresome palates. A few recent examples: Rich Vanilla Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, Bananas Foster Ice Cream, Strawberry Sherbet, Blueberry-Thyme Sorbet, Cherry-Vanilla Sorbet, Guava-Gewurztraminer Sorbet, Ginger-Grapefruit Sorbet & Tomato-Cucumber Granita, to name a few. As the sweet conclusion of our tasting menu, or alongside a malty craft beer in our Three Cocks Pub, our hand-made ice creams & sorbets are an exceptional treat, year-round.

While proud of our own in-house ice cream offerings, I could hardly write about ice cream without mention of of my long-time friend and mentor Keith, whose Atlanta-based company, High Road Craft Ice Cream, makes incredible, small-batch ice cream in esoteric flavors. This is next-level stuff — transcendental ice cream. Consider Aztec chocolate ice cream redolent of cinnamon & chile pepper, ribboned with caramelized goat’s milk (Totally works, I promise.) Sharing such a thing over a Squam Lake sunset on one of The Manor’s hillside balconies? That could be ice-cream nirvana, and, in an age of dry ice and overnight shipping, it’s attainable.

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Keeping Strawberries

 

It’s strawberry season here in the Northeast.  Tending to be quite a bit smaller than their California and Florida cousins, our local strawberries are delicious, but fleeting.  Generally available for the last week or two of June and the first week or two of July, enthusiasts will get all they can, while they can.

Also unlike their cousins from warmer climates, Northeastern strawberries are distributed only locally, and, since they don’t have to travel, are usually picked fully sun-ripe and candy-sweet.  Like their brief season, however, this is an ephemeral state — ripe berries can spoil within an couple of hours.

Drying on absorbent paper after a hot bath.

I’ve often heard that strawberries’ shelf life can be radically extended by a quick rinse in a very low concentration solution of chlorine bleach.  As the sanitizing chemical of choice for many restaurants — usually diluted with water to a very low 50 parts per million — this made objective sense to me.  At that concentration, we’re taught, bleach-water breaks down quite quickly and is essentially nor more dangerous than salt water.

Still, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that there’s somehow a big difference between wiping down a cutting board or prep surface with a little diluted bleach to sanitize it and actually dunking your food directly in the stuff.  Rational and practical as it may be, such a practice is unseemly, and I’ve never bothered to attempt it.

Happily, I’ve recently discovered an alternative, chemical-free method for washing strawberries that does seem to dramatically improve their keeping qualities.  The practice is to wash the berries in surprisingly hot water — water that’s hot enough, you would think, to immediately wilt the berries.  As it turns out, strawberries are a lot tougher than I would’ve thought.  They can tolerate — to a point — remarkably high temperatures.  The mold spores and spoilage bacteria on their surface, however, cannot.  The results:  clean, fresh berries that keep a day or two longer than they otherwise would be expected to.

with black pepper and aged balsamic vinegar

This discovery comes from esteemed food-science cook and author Harold McGee, and the details can be found here.  I’ve tried it, however, and it really works!  My application is quite a bit less precise than Mr. McGee’s experiments, and my results have been slightly less dramatic than those he reports.  Still, I am certain that I have extended the shelf life of my berries by at least 1-2 days on average.

I’d also underscore the importance, as Mr. McGee notes, of getting the berries as dry as possible as quickly as possible, and of keeping them that way by storing them in a singe, sparse layer on absorbent paper to wick away any excess moisture.  Piled high in a quart-sized basket may be an attractive way to store berries — but not a very helpful one.

Roasted Carrot Soup

For this week’s post, a recipe selected from my archive of guest-requested recipes:

Roasted Carrot Soup

 Ingredients:

1 ¼ lbs carrots, peeled and sliced into ½ inch rounds

3 T vegetable oil

1 shallot, peeled and sliced into thin rings

½ t cumin

½ t espellette chili flakes

1 onion, diced

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 T butter

1 ½ quarts reserved bean-cooking liquid

1 pint half & half

kosher salt to taste

 

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 425°F. 

Combine diced onion, thyme sprigs (whole), butter and a pinch of salt in a medium-large saucepot.  Cover with a round of parchment paper and sweat over a low flame, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, translucent and fragrant.

Once sweated, be sure to remove the thyme sprig.

As onion cooks, toss carrot slices with vegetable oil and a pinch of salt.  Spread evenly on an oiled sheet pan and roast, stirring as needed, until fork-tender and quite browned (dark around the edges is okay).  Start by roasting the carrots for 15 – 20 minutes, then check and stir every 5-8 minutes thereafter until the desired degree of doneness is achieved.  Add the shallot, cumin and espellette chili for the last 5-8 minutes of roasting.

When the carrots are nicely roasted and the onions are soft and translucent, combine them in the same medium-large saucepot along with the reserved bean-cooking liquid.  Increase the flame to medium-high and simmer the combined vegetables for approximately 20 minutes until very soft.

Carefully, and in small batches, transfer the cooked vegetables & their broth to a blender and blend very smooth before passing through a very fine-meshed strainer (chinois).

Add half & half and adjust seasoning to taste.  If serving immediately, re-warm gently and serve in deep, warmed soup bowls.  If planning to serve the next day, chill rapidly in an ice bath and re-heat as needed.  Properly cooled, lidded and kept refrigerated, the soup should keep comfortably for 3 – 5 days.

A Foray into Food Photography

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Like many chefs, I find it helpful to keep a kind of portfolio, full of images of the food I’ve created.  These have been mostly utilitarian snapshots, which are fine for personal reference and reminisence.  Since I’ve started blogging, however, I’ve been doing some research into some low-cost and (especially) low-maintanence ways to spruce up the many pictures of food I take — both for the blog and for menu, marketing and training purposes.  I’ve found many helpful references, most of all this one from The Strobist.

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I acquired only a new Spiderpodium for my phone and a high-wattage CFL lightbulb for the project; everything else (a cut-up cardboard box, some linens, some tissue paper, a work lamp) was already at hand.  I’m pretty pleased with the results, which I think were clearer and prettier than any of my previous efforts.  I’m looking forward to further experimentaion.

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Check them out, and let me know if you’ve any thoughts or pointers for me.

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The Best Creme Brulee in the Country

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Hazelnut-Mocha Creme Brulee

Cocoa-Dusted Pecans, Nutella & Shortbread Sandwich

The Van Horn Dining Room was reviewed today on Simon and Baker Travel Review.  The review is positive and (if I do say so) insightful, and includes the observation that our Hazelnut-Mocha Creme Brulee is among the best in the country.  It’s always nice to hear positive feedback, superlatives especially.

For those inclined to imitation, I thought I’d post the recipe.  It’s really quite simple.  A word of warning, however:  taken directly from our “working” recipe book, this is an industrial-sized recipe that will yield about 12 portions.  Unfortunately, it will not scale easily, nor do custards freeze well.  Those inclined to undertake it will likely need to plan a party concurrently.

Hazelnut-Mocha Creme Brulée

Ingredients:

3 whole eggs

12 egg yolks

4 oz. dark chocolate

16 oz. cream

12 oz. half and half

6 oz. sugar

1 packet Via coffee (Starbuck’s Instant)

1 oz. hazelnut oil

¼ t plain salt

Method:

1. Put several quarts of water on the range to heat: use this hot water for your bain marie

2. Select a sauce pot and stainless steel bowl that fit together EXACTLY with no overhanging surface – fill the pot with a few inches of water and set over a VERY low flame

3. Add to the bowl: dark chocolate, half and half, sugar, via coffee (this is your mocha ganache)

4. Set combined ingredients over simmering water and warm VERY gently, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth

5. In a separate bowl, combine: cream, eggs, yolks, hazelnut oil and whisk smooth

6. Once ganache is melted and smooth, slowly pour it into the egg and cream mixture, stirring to combine

7. Arrange creme brulée dishes in a flat-bottomed 2 in. hotel pan; pour 6 ounces of creme brulée batter into each (excess batter may be labeled, dated and stored under refrigeration up to 3 days)

8. Wrap the pan in foil, securing the foil on 3 sides only

9. Transfer to a pre-heated, 300 degree still oven

10. Carefully and slowly fill the hotel pan with hot water so that it comes 2/3rds of the way up the sides of the brulée dishes – do not overfill! it is dangerous and you’re very likely to ruin your brulées with sloshing water

11. bake at 300 degrees for 40 min – 1 hour until the custard is 90% set – it should jiggle only slightly in the center when tapped

12. remove from the oven, uncover and allow to cool before wrapping and labeling each brulée individually

13. store under refrigeration up to 3 days

Apple-Fennel ‘Slaw’; light and crunchy Thanksgiving side dish

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The following recipe is excerpted from the cookbook I prepared for our most recent “Fork in the Road” weekend getaway/cooking class series

I recently served this “slaw” for an amuse bouche alongside a butternut squash-filled profiterole.  At least one guest was taken with it enough to request the recipe for her own Thanksgiving menu. I thought I’d share it here as well, for those readers who may be looking to punch up their Turkey Day with something a little lighter and a little different.  The idea is infinitely adaptable; consider, for example, adding some macerated or dried/plumped cranberries for some sweetness and extra color. 

 Apple-Fennel “Slaw”

 Applying salt, sugar and acid to fennel in effect “cures” it – breaks down and tenderizes its texture, while also mellowing its essential astringency. The apple is added at the end to stay as bright, white and crunchy as can be. 

Having spent some years in The South, I am aware that there’s are plenty of folks who will find nothing even remotely slaw-like about this crunchy, mayo-free preparation.  Fair enough.  But Apple-Fennel “Health Salad” doesn’t have the same ring to it, though in the New York deli tradition, I’m told, “health salad” is the appropriate term for an oil-and-vinegar coleslaw.

 Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized bulb fennel (white part only), shaved very fine perpendicular to its ribs
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 T granulated sugar
  • 3 T cider vinegar
  • 1 T grain mustard
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, shaved very fine into concentric rings
  • 2-4 grinds fresh black pepper
  • 5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium-sized, sweet-tart apples, cored and julienne sliced (Cortland apples are nice for this, and quite resistant to oxidizing and turning brown.)

 Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the olive oil and apples and toss to coat well.
  2. Allow to rest 15-30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the fennel is slightly softened.
  3. Drain & reserve excess liquid.
  4. Add oil and apples to fennel and toss to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasoning adding some of the reserved liquid if necessary.
  5. Serve immediately, garnishing, if desired with some finely chopped fennel greens.

 Finally, for those that may be curious or looking for ideas, I’ll post our planned Thanksgiving Day menu.  I always try to present Thanksgiving menus that offer a blend of traditional and non-traditional offerings, include as many local ingredients as the season permits, and, especially, give a nod, such as with oysters and venison, to some of the foods that were likely highlights of any early American feast.

Appetizers

Roasted Pumpkin Bisque: Lemon Oil, Espelette Pepper, Candied Sage

Beets Carpaccio: Goat Cheese Crouton, Tiny Greens, Cranberry-Orange Vinaigrette

Classic Shrimp Cocktail: Court Bullion-Poached Shrimp, Lemon Wedges, Our Own Cocktail Sauce

Twice-Baked Spinach Soufflé: Extra Old Grafton Village Cheddar, Delicately Curried Cream, Sweet-Tart Raisin Purée

Sweet Potato Gnocchi: Great Hill Blue Cheese, Vermont Smoke & Cure Bacon Lardons, Heirloom Apple & Herb Salad, Maple-Lemon Gastrique

Cape Cod Oysters on the Half Shell: Champagne Mignonette, Classic Cocktail Sauce, Lemon

Entrées

Classic Thanksgiving Dinner: Carved Turkey & Gravy, Sausage Dressing, Russet Potato Purée, Cranberry Relish, Baby Carrots

House-Smoked Turkey Breast: Glazed Seasonal Vegetables, Whipped Sweet Potato, Cranberry Gastrique

Lavender-Honey Duck Breast: Braised Cabbage, Roasted Baby Potatoes, Truffle Vinaigrette

Grilled Boneless Heritage Pork Chop: New Hampshire Maple-Baked Beans, Brown Bread, Greens, Cranberry-Mustard Sauce

Roasted Winter Squash: Many-Grain Pilaf, Mixed Mushrooms, Broccoli, Asiago Tuille, Pimentón Oil

Sautéed Bay of Fundy Salmon Fillet: Braised Fennel, Fingerling Potatoes, Citrus Beurre Blanc

Bacon-Wrapped Venison Medallions: Sweet Potato & Bell Pepper Hash, Creamed Onion “Soubise,” Brandied Peppercorn Jus

Desserts

Pumpkin Cheesecake: Roasted Pecans, Rum-Spiked Caramel, Whipped Cream

Double-Crusted Apple Pie: Extra Sharp Grafton Village Cheddar or French Vanilla Ice Cream

Seasonal Ice Creams & Sorbets: Apple-Cinnamon Sorbet, French Vanilla Ice Cream, Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

Cherry-Chocolate Financier: Dark Chocolate & Almond Cake, Swiss Milk Chocolate Sauce, Vanilla-Bourbon Spiked Dark Cherries

Potted Pork

Charcuterie, the French art and science of pork bi-products, appeared, in recent memory, to be a dieing craft. Interest has resurged, however, and many artisan producers are taking up the charcuterer’s mantle, not to mention the innumerable restaurants now producing house-cured everything.

For the adventurous home cook, charcuterie can be unapproachable. Doing it well tends to require the acquisition of a lot of specialty tools and meats. The capital expense of acquiring a reasonable meat grinder and sausage stuffer alone can be dissuasive, to say nothing of the difficulties of tracking down sodium nitrite or hog casings. It is also one of those crafts – like fermenting pickles or home canning – that can be dangerous if not done carefully and precisely, and subsequently seems better left to professionals.

A taste of good quality charcuterie – a fine paté for example – often becomes a compulsion bordering on addiction. An addiction not easily sated in the less populous parts of the world.

A good fix is available for the home cook: Potted Pork, a.k.a. rillettes, are an easy, fantastic project, requiring no special equipment and no ingredients not readily available at a decent supermarket. And they are tasty. In fact, arriving home from class one day as a culinary student, I announced to my wife that “I was in bakeshop today when Chef Jaques came in with the tastiest thing, ever.” My opinion hasn’t changed.

Potted Pork (Rillettes du Porc)

It is best to seek out a local and/or heirloom source for the pork used for this. The distinctive, earthy flavor is important, as is the higher fat content typical of non-industrial pork. If retreating to readily available commodity pork, such as found at the typical supermarket, the spicing may need to be a little more aggressive than I’ve used here. One possible variation is using a Chinese Five Spice Blend instead of just the nutmeg.

Ingredients:

1 lbs fat back, cut into ½ inch cubes(optional)

8 lbs boneless pork butt (shoulder)

1.5 lbs. white meat stock (or water)

1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg

1.5 ounces fine sea salt

2 each bay leaves

6-8 peppercorns

6-8 thyme sprigs

1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

Method:

  1. Bind bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme sprigs and shallot slices in a double-layer cheesecloth “sachet” and secure with a 10 – 12 inch piece of butcher’s twine – it is helpful if your sachet has enough of excess string that it can also be tied to the handle of your pot for easy retrieval later.

  2. Inspect the pork butt for bone fragments, which can sometimes cling to cavity from which the shoulder joint has been removed. If present, trim away.

  3. Cut the pork into medium-large cubes, ½ inch – 1 ½ inches in size, removing any really tough connective tissue you encounter as you go. The precision and expertise with which you do this is largely immaterial: the cubes will have not have any recognizable dimension in the finished project and all but the toughest connective tissue (“silverskin”) will melt away during the long, slow cooking time. The smaller you cube the meat, the finer, softer texture the rillettes will have, which is a matter of personal preference. Some people like a soft, fine, spreadable texture and should cut small cubes. If you prefer a coarser, more pulled-pork like texture that more obviously resembles meat, cut the cubes larger.

  4. Toss the cubed pork with 1 ounce of the salt and the freshly grated nutmeg. (Reserve the remaining ½ ounce to adjust the seasoning of the finished product).

  5. Combine seasoned pork, stock or water, optional fatback and spice “sachet” in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Set over a low flame, stirring occasionally, and simmer slowly 1 ½ – 2 ½ hours, until the pork is literally falling apart. Not all of the meat need be covered by liquid at first: as the fat renders, it should be sufficient to completely submerge the meat. If necessary, after ½ hour or so of cooking, add a little more water or stock to the pot to make sure all of the pork is submerged. This also may be necessary in the later stages of cooking to keep the temperature of the rendering fat from creeping too high. For best results, maintain the temperature of the pot below 200° F — the pork shouldn’t render so far that it begins to brown or fry in the fat. At a nice, low temperature, overcooking is a virtual impossibility, so make sure the pork is literally falling-apart tender before removing it from the flame. (Those who are so inclined might find a counter-top slow-cooker, like a Crock Pot, to be ideal for this application.)

  6. Remove the “sachet,” and allow the cooked pork to cool slightly in the cooking liquid – 20 – 30 minutes at room temperature should suffice. The meat should be allowed to rest, but you don’t want it to cool to the point that the melted fat solidifies very much.

  7. Drain the pork in a colander or coarse strainer, reserving both the pork and its cooking liquid. Transfer the warm pork to an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix it at low speed until it is slightly cooled and completely shredded. A bowl of ice under the work bowl of your mixer may be helpful for this if the kitchen is warm.

  8. As the pork mixes, slowly add ¼ of the cooking liquid/rendered fat to the bowl of the mixer in a steady stream. As the fat is added and mixed with the shredded pork, it should steadily cool, stiffening and becoming creamy. Continue adding the cooking liquid, in stages, until a pleasingly creamy texture is achieved. Ideally you will use only about 7/8th of the liquid for this, but you may find you need to use all of it. Taste the pork between additions, also, and include more salt if needed. Keep in mind that the rillettes will be served chilled, and should therefore taste a tiny bit too salty when still warm.

  9. Once cool, the rillettes can be served immediately or tightly wrapped and refrigerated for service within the next 2-3 days. If planning to store the rillettes for more than 2-3 days, you should pack them into a non-reactive container (or into small ramekins for individual service), making sure to pack them tightly, without any gaps or air bubbles which can hasten spoilage. To prevent oxidation, the rillettes should then be sealed with a ¼ inch layer of melted fat taken from the top of the remaining cooking liquid. Stored in this manner in the refrigerator, the rillettes may keep as long as 10 days under their protective fat cap – though they should also be wrapped to prevent the absorption of refrigerator odors. For longer storage, it is best to seal the rillettes with fat as explained above, and then freeze, where they can last for as long as six months (thaw slowly under refrigeration for 1-2 days before serving.)

  10. Enjoy! Like other charcuterie items, rillettes should be served with crusty bread, spicy mustard and a variety of sweet-tart pickles. Pairs well with most full-flavored beers, or with lighter-style, quaff-able red wines.

To everyone who tasted our potted pork at this year’s Taste of the Nation event in Manchester, NH and subsequently came looking for the promised recipe on the manordining blog, my apologies. High winds and, distressingly, SNOW played havoc with our power and phone lines last Thursday, when this recipe was meant to be posted.

Thanks to everyone who did come out to the Taste of the Nation event, however. It was a remarkable turn-out. Thanks, too, to the many folks with who offered their positive comments on the inn and our potted pork offering at the event. See you next year!

Valentine’s Dessert Classic

Coeur à la Crème

Coeur à la Crème is a dessert from the French Bistro tradition.  Traditionally, it is prepared in a special, heart-shaped mold and has therefore been relegated almost exclusively to Valentine’s Day menus.  This is somewhat unfortunate because this is potentially a very versatile dish.  It must be prepared at least a day in advance, which makes it perfect for entertaining.  Surrounded on a platter by vibrant raspberry sauce, the bright white heart makes a dramatic presentation.  Furthermore, the ingredients are readily available and the preparation is super quick and simple.  In fact, the most challenging part of preparing coeur à la crème is typically finding the right kind of heart-shaped mold! The recipe that follows is geared to produce a dessert to be shared by two.  Should you wish to adapt the recipe for entertaining purposes, it will multiply easily.  Furthermore, if romance isn’t your intended impression, a simple cheesecloth-lined sieve can stand in just as well as the heart-shaped mold — serve this revised version to your friends and family as bombe à la crème.

Ingredients

For the Coeur à la Crème:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

6 ounces sour cream, cold

3 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch kosher salt

For the Raspberry Sauce:

18 ounces raspberries*

1/4 cup sugar

pinch kosher salt

1 tablespoon fruit-flavored liquor, such as Grand Marnier or Kirshwasser

Preparation

For the Coeur à la Crème:

1) Begin by lining your mold with a double layer of cheesecloth, leaving plenty of overhanging cheesecloth.

2) Combine cream cheese, sour cream, powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in a medium-sized stainless steel bowl.  Beat — using an electric mixer if so desired — until smooth, lightened and completely homogeneous.

3) Spoon the mixture into the cloth-lined molds.  Avoid gaps, bubbles or cheesecloth wrinkles that may mar the finished shape.

4) Set the mold on a sheet pan lined with a baking rack, wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

For the Raspberry Sauce:

1) Combine raspberries and sugar in a medium sized sauce pot and set over low heat.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until smooth and thickened.

2) Remove from the heat and stir in the fruit liquor.

3) Force the raspberry sauce through a very fine sieve (chinos).

4) Store any unused portion in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 weeks.

*Since this dessert is a Valentine’s Day classic for two, it’s likely fresh raspberries will be both very expensive and of mediocre quality.  Go ahead and use frozen berries for the sauce — they’ll probably be considerably better tasting.

To Serve

1) Unmold the dessert by inverting a serving plate over the mold.  Carefully flip the mold and plate over together.  Lift away the mold and carefully peel away the cheesecloth. Dust the surface with powdered sugar if desired.

2) Spoon raspberry sauce generously all around the dessert.

3) Garnish, if desired with any or all of:  fresh raspberries, fresh strawberries, mint or basil sprigs, citrus Supremes, Valentine’s Day candy, or edible flowers (make sure the flowers are labeled edible — preservative chemicals used for florist-shop flowers are very toxic!)

4) Serve immediately.

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