This is one of my very favorite food events! In this work of love by 12 top Bay Area chefs, you'll experience the dishes that they love to cook, paired with the cocktails and spirits they love.
Now in its sixth year, the Star Chefs event brings top chefs together in one whirlwind, exciting evening. You will have plates and cocktails from top restaurants. The chefs scramble to do their very best, because there's a competition (managed by yours truly). Because chefs are highly competitive creature, they go all out to win! There are three awards: The Judges' Choice, the Peoples' Choice, and Chef's Choice, which is determined by their peers.
If a fun food evening with great people isn't enough, and brilliant plates by 12 brilliant chefs doesn't get you there, how about that it's for Silicon Valley Children's Fund? The Star Chefs event supports a different children's cause each year. It's sponsored by the non-profit Table for Three, headed by the big-hearted and lovely Brenda Hammond and Kathryn Williams, two loving, generous, remarkable friends (and hundreds of their loving, generous friends!).
My new pet peeve is the term “processed” when applied to food. Not the food, the term. Because just about any time the term is used, it’s without explanation or qualification. As in: It’s bad because it’s “processed.”
Here’s the the thing: Most food is processed. Nathan Myhrvold comments that cheese is not much like milk. Wine is processed. So are bread and pasta.
Eat an olive off a tree sometime. They’re pretty much inedible. And I don’t see anyone turning up their nose at coffee and chocolate, neither of which are delicious when fresh from the plantation.
What’s important is how the food is processed. Just because it comes from a factory doesn’t mean it’s evil, and just because it’s made in my kitchen from organic ingredients doesn’t mean it’s wholesome (I’m looking at you, Mr. Double-fudge peanut butter brownie.)
I learned something important today, from the podcast “Special Sauce,” hosted by the founder of Serious Eats, Ed Levine.
Ed is interviewing writer Calvin Trillin, who explains the "barbecue easement.” According to the Rabbi in Joplin, Missouri, "a noted Talmudist and Pitmaster," it says that "any farm animal with four hooves and no scales, if subjected to more than five hours of smoke, is kosher." It applies worldwide, not just in Joplin.
The note in the margin is dated 1981. "These are incredible! Flavor of chocolate and butter dominate. Sinfully rich!" It was back in the day when recipes were on paper, in books. This book was San Francisco A La Carte, published by the Junior League of San Francisco in 1979. The recipe was for Chocolate Finns.
I made them for a pot luck and soon, I could not show up without them because one of my chocoholic friends (and all my friends were chocoholics) would complain, "hey, where are those chocolate things?"
Where did Chocolate Finns come from? Usually, the Internet gushes with versions of any recipe one can name but yesterday, I could find just a couple of transcriptions of the same recipe. As far as I can tell, the first and only place the recipe ever appeared is in the book where I found them 30 years ago. They are a little like Nanaimo Bars, a Vancouver Island favorite, but not really. I guess someone in the Junior League made them up.
So I dug around and found the book and a few hours later, took my Finns to a pot luck where they received the same reception from the chocoholics (which, again, was pretty much everyone).
The Chocolate Finn is a thin, three-layer cake-candy mash-up. The bottom layer is a dense brownie. The middle layer is a candy: sugar, cream, butter. The top is a thin film of bitter chocolate. They are very — they math out to about 100 calories when I cut them as directed, into 1 x 1.5-inch pieces.
While the recipe is pretty easy, there are three separately prepared layers and unless you plan carefully, you will use quite a few bowls and pots. I plan a few adaptations to simplify the procedure (see note below) but for now, the recipe is very close to the original.
2ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, Or: 6 T (1.5 oz) cocoa plus 2 T butter
2 eggs, beaten
1cup pecans, chopped
1teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½cups powdered sugar
½cup butter, softened (do not substitute)
½cup heavy cream
2ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, Or: 6 T (1.5 oz) cocoa plus 2 T butter
PREP: Attach a candy thermometer or probe thermometer to a small (1-2 quart) sauce pan. Preheat oven to 350 °F (non-convection setting).
FIRST LAYER: In a saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate and butter. Set aside to cool slightly. Add the eggs and stir immediately; then add the sugar, flour, nuts and vanilla. Spread evenly in a 9x13-inch pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until almost set. Remove from oven.
SECOND LAYER: In the saucepan with the candy thermometer, combine the Layer 2 ingredients and cook over medium heat to between the soft ball and hard ball stage, 120°C=250°F (no higher) about 15 minutes. Spread over baked layer, tilting pan to evenly coat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or more.
THIRD LAYER: In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt together the chocolate and butter. Drizzle over the top of the second layer and spread with a silicone spatula or an offset spatula. Cool until set, then cut into squares (6x8=48 1x1.5-inch pieces). You can refrigerate an hour to cool, but don't serve cold, as they are better at room temperature and are very hard to slice while cold.
Notes: I plan to eliminate a step and a pot by using a microwave and using cocoa and butter instead of the unsweetened chocolate. I already tested the cocoa substitution and it works perfectly. The new method will change the first layer instruction to:
Melt 1/4 cup (4 T) of butter and stir in 3/4 cup (3 oz) cocoa. (Hint: Place butter in a glass bowl and microwave with 1/2 cup water in a separate glass sharing the microwave. This prevents the butter from popping and making a mess.) In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar, flour, nuts and vanilla. Add half of the melted cocoa and butter, reserving the rest for the third layer. Mix. Spread evenly in a 9x13-inch pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until almost set. Remove from oven.
Then, for layer 3, simply remelt the remaining cocoa mixture and spread.
If someone out there tries this, let me know. I won't be trying it until I recover from my sugar rush. Unlike in 1981, I can't do that in a day. :)
There’s a reason so many hollandaise sauce recipes are touted as “simple,” “fast,” or “fool-proof.” Of all the sauces, I think hollandaise is the trickiest. It’s the perfect accent for so many dishes but I am reluctant to go there because it’s fussy and if it breaks, it always does it when everything else is ready to go and repairing or redoing it is a pain.
A friend, Tom Fandre, posted this recipe, developed by his Dad, who he calls "Microwave Master Donovan Fandre.” (He says his Dad has developed tons of recipes like this, often combining microwave and conventional. I jokingly said I'd love to see his cookbook: Turns out he has one: Jump Start Cooking!)
What astonished me about this recipe is that there’s no motorized device involved. Somehow, simple stirring and microwave heating combines to generate an emulsion (the thickened suspension of microscopic droplets of water and oil that is characteristic of sauces like this).
I made a small recipe good for one or two servings. Triple it to feed the family. You will need to alter the times to avoid overheating the mixture. Too long in the microwave and the egg yolk will start to cook.
Ten Minute, Foolproof (Really!) Hollandaise Sauce
1/4 pound (8 tablespoons) butter, cut into about 16 pieces
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients in a microwave-safe cup. Microwave for 20 seconds and stir (preferably with a whisk) immediately. Microwave and stir, ten seconds at a time, until the sauce is thickened and smooth.
Note: To make 1-2 servings, use 2 T butter (cut into 6 pieces), 1 yolk, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Microwave 10 seconds the first time and 5 seconds at a time thereafter.
Sometimes, I have a soup, sauce, or dressing and I wish it had more body. What I need is a fast, convenient thickener that, unlike flour and starch, doesn't need to be heated to work.
Found it: A very cool thickener with a weird name that turns out to be a kitchen superstar. It's magical! Super-convenient: 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon and a hand blender are all you need to go from watery to wonderful.
I was dismayed that I could not find a simple guide to using it, so I did some experiments.
Want just the basics? OK:
Easy to find online or in stores. One bag will last a lifetime since you use 1/4 teaspoon at a time and it is shelf-stable.
No heat required: Just blend it into the liquid. Works for hot and cold! Salad dressing, sauces, etc.
Use a hand blender or blender and sift the powder into the whirring mixture, because it clumps easily.
Use 1/8-1 teaspoon per cup of liquid. A light dose adds body; medium to thicken; more to gel. Easy to overdose: Go lightly.
What is it?
First, let's get past the funny name and fears of test tubes. Xanthan gum is an approved food product made by fermenting sugars. It's very commonly used in food products such as salad dressing (which is one of its killer apps!). It's common in gluten-free baking because it produces the thickening and elastic properties needed for baked goods like bread and pizza dough.
Some key advantages and characteristics:
All it does is thicken. It adds no flavor.
It's very simple to use: add to water- or oil-based mixtures and hit it with the blender or immersion blender.
The amount controls the thickening. Use a small amount (1/8 teaspoon per cup) to add body to a liquid; or 5-10 times that much to make a gel.
The thickened mixture is cloudy but still transparent (like jelly or cornstarch or tapioca-thickened foods).
Unlike starch-based thickeners, it doesn't require cooking to activate its thickening power.
In fact, it's immune from heat. Some thickeners lose their power with boiling — not so, with xanthan gum, which retains its superpowers. Freezing also does not affect it.
Xanthan gum is easy to find and economical. Most groceries in my area carry the Bob's Red Mill brand and it is easy to find online. If it seems expensive, you should know that one bag is a lifetime supply, since you generally use 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Shelf life is indefinite.
Seems to be safe but some people report intestinal distress, even in the small quantities suggested here.
Using xanthan gum
I found a lot of contradictory information online and decided to try my own experiments to come up with some guidelines.
First: How much should you use? Applications usually call for 0.1% to 1% by weight and this range was pretty good. At 0.1%, the thickening is just noticeable — think of the difference between juice and water. Ramp it up to 1% and it's a thick gel.
I made a video that shows different amounts. In the video, you will see what 0.25% looks like (1/4 teaspoon in 100 ml of water, blended using an immersion blender), then what 1% looks like, then a real-life application of salad dressing.
For the video, I made a quick vinaigrette using a standard formula of one part vinegar to three parts of olive oil, with a little mustard as an emulsifier and some herbs. Whirring it with the immersion blender yielded a nice salad dressing. I added 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum and blended again. I started with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of dressing, so this maths out to 0.5%. Which is more than I would want in a dressing.
Rule of thumb
As you can see in the video, xanthan gum is powerful. It takes only small amounts.
For a cup of liquid, as little as 1/8 teaspoon makes a difference and in most uses, you will use 1/4-1/2 teaspoon per cup of liquid.
In the salad dressing example, that's more than I would ever use — use just 1/8-1/4 teaspoon per 8 oz (the video shows 1/4 tsp in just 4 oz.)
To use, add the powder and mix with a blender or an immersion blender. If you mix without a blender, it's not as thick and prone to clumping.
Recipes and conversions
Some recipes will list the amount in grams, typically 1-2 grams. Few cooks have scales that can measure weights that small. I found little consistency in web resources so I took to the kitchen and did a few tests, measuring out 6 teaspoons of xanthan gum and weighing.
Here's a handy table.
Xanthan gum measures
I measured 1 teaspoon as 2.5 grams but note that the product can be packed to get 3-4 grams, so you may see some variation from other sources. I used Bob's Red Mill brand. Other brands may measure differently. But don't worry about variations — if you use 3.5 g when you were intending to use 2, the difference will not ruin the dish.
New sous vide gadget? Want to learn more sous vide? Or just want to crank up some kitchen skills? Coffee? Baking? Grilling?
ChefSteps is a great site for modern cooking techniques ("modernist cuisine" such as sous vide and foams). They have several excellent instruction programs, well-tested recipes, and gorgeous photography. Join as a premium member for a one-time $19 fee and you get access to all their lessons, now and in the future. Great deal, highly recommended.
Even if you don't go premium, do explore this site as there is a ton of great free content.
Hundreds (maybe thousands) of people use my turkey page each year. What they may not know is that I rarely make my turkey the way the page directs!
That's because I am usually experimenting. There aren’t many ways to cook a turkey that I have not tried — spatchcocking, frying, grilling, whole or in pieces, high-heat, low heat, wet and dry brine, etc. Next year's turkey page might reflect what I try each year.
As you probably know, the greatest challenge is getting the breast and legs done at the same time. The method on the turkey page has you start the bird breast down to give the legs a head start. Julia instead separates the legs before cooking and handles them differently.
She does something cool that I wanted to try: She debones the thigh and ties it up to make the leg meat as much of a roast as the breasts are.
So that’s what I am doing.
I made one change: Cook's Illustrated wet brines the breast but I love dry brining so much that I am using it on all the pieces. I am also using baking powder in the salt, as it raises the pH and helps crips the skin. (I have used baking powder and baking soda at the end of the dry brine in prior years and it made no difference, so I am trying it at the start of the dry brine, as recommended by Kenji or Serious Eats. See? I told you I experiment!)
I started with a 15-pound, frozen, unbrined Butterball and followed the directions at Cook's Illustrated to separate the legs. I removed the back. This leaves the breast with wings. Here it is, salted and baking powdered:
I removed the thigh bones:
and added skewers and twine:
And we’re ready to go. All the spare parts are in the stockpot and the legs and breast are in a plastic bag to dry brine for four days.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.