Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Cucumber-Rose Lemon Drop

You might wonder if I'm mad. If you've never had Hendrick's gin, I would understand. The first time I heard of a cucumber rose gin, I thought it sounded crazy, too.

But it works. And it works so, so well. It's hard to explain, so I'll just leave you for now with:  try it.

For New Year's Eve, it was suggested that we make "French 75" cocktails since we're in Paris. Lemon, gin, sugar, champagne. Definitely the sort of thing that has "hangover" written all over it. And easy-to-drink, too.

So we made them, using Hendrick's, because it's our favorite gin. And they were fantastic. But while I was making them, I tasted the syrup that you pour into the champagne, and realized that it would make a great drink all by itself.

And so here it is:

The Cucumber-Rose Lemon Drop

You need:

  • Two fresh lemons, of a good, tasty variety. I used some in-season Spanish ones. You'll be tasting the flavors of the lemon in the end product, so use something that's tasty, not just sour and bitter.
  • Extra-fine sugar (poudre is extra-fine, don't use powdered, it has corn starch in it to stop it from clumping)
  • Hendrick's Gin
To make:

1)  Halve your lemons, and prepare your favorite juicing device. I got about 75ml of juice out of these guys.

2) Sweeten to take the edge off the lemons. This is going to be entirely subjective. Add slowly, mixing well, and taste until it goes from "too tart", to "slightly sweet and still tart". For me, with this batch, that was 4 of these spoonfuls.

Note these are not typical kitchen spoons, they're tiny little spoons about the size of my thumb. I may have used a table-spoon all told.

3) Pour into a small glass, and add gin to taste. Again with that subjective bit. As you add the gin, the cucumber and rose will get stronger vs. the lemon. Stop when you have a nice balance.  50/50 is a good starting point, and then adjust to taste from there. At some point I'll actually measure these, but honestly, it's not how I make them, and the lemons are likely to be different from batch to batch.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bacon from "Frenchie to Go"

Because sometimes you really miss things from home, but this isn't exactly something from home.

First, some background.

On the street below our apartment is a fantastic series of restaurants by Chef Gregory Marchand.  He's a french chef that picked up the nickname Frenchie when he worked for Jamie Oliver in London.  

He runs a fantastic trio of places here on rue du Nil:
  • Frenchie - the main restaurant, small, cozy, fantastic, impossible to get reservations for (2+ month wait)
  • Frenchie's Wine Bar - first come/first serve seating because the restaurant has a 2-3 month waiting list for reservations
  • Frenchie-to-Go - a bistro/café that does breakfast and lunch
I confess that the coupling of the fantastic food and the fact that's the closest place to get lunch causes me to eat there regularly (sometimes twice a week).   But the staff is great.  Warm and friendly greetings.  And the food is, well...  it's fantastic.

One of my lunch favorites is his pulled pork sandwich. It's idiosyncratically french, with the use of a coleslaw that contains beets as well as cabbage.  But it works.  Oh does it work.  It's easily the best pulled pork I've ever had.

The other favorite is a bacon fumé english muffin avec un oeuf et de cheddar.  It's a "breakfast" sandwich.  But it's divine.  The bacon is out of this world, house-cured with maple syrup and then smoked.  The cheese is a fantastic Cheddar from Neal's Yard Dairy.

When we first ate at the café, I noticed that the menu said that they sold bacon by the kilo.  They didn't for a long time (they needed to cure a large enough stock of it, because it's house-cured).  But it was finally available. 

And it's perfect.  It is exactly what I imagine bacon to be.  Just enough fat, well marbled, smokey, with just a hint of sweetness hiding among the flavors.

I don't have any photos from after cooking it, I'm sorry.  It doesn't last that long.  In fact, when I cooked up a bunch for brunch on Christmas, I had to stake out my own claim, or it all would have vanished.

Simple Prime Rib Tips

Aaron and I did prime rib (a.k.a., côté de bœuf, should you be looking for it on a French menu) twice this holiday season, first a trial run with cheap prime rib, and then a second round for Christmas dinner, using aged grass-fed beef from the fantastic locally sourced high end boucherie across the street from me. Sadly, I also had a house full of guests, and no time to photo, so there are no prep photos available.

Like many things in cooking, it's actually really easy to make awesome prime rib once you know the technique. Was the grass-fed dry aged beef sublime? Oh yes. Was the cheap beef also delicious and meltingly tender? Yep.  In fact, it was good enough, easy enough, and cheap enough I might just add prime rib to my list of weekend dinner options.  Salt on Friday night, cook on Saturday or Sunday, some lazy rainy day when I don't plan to leave the house.  It's cheaper than a decent burgers and fries for two.

As usual, Kenji Alt-Lopez (from Serious Eats) is my go-to guy for food science, but I wound up using a mix of techniques from him and the Amazing Ribs guy to get it just right.

Salt. Salt, salt, salt. As I mentioned in this post on the old blog, salt is magic. We salted 24 hours in advance both times, wrapped it tightly with waxed paper, and let it rest in the fridge to let all the salt permeate the meat. 

Cut the bone off, and tie your roast so that it's as round as possible. That helps it cook evenly, so that it's the right temperature and level of doneness. The bone doesn't actually add flavor (that is a myth), and you can use the bone for making gravy later.

Once you've tied it and the salt has had time to penetrate, slather it with a tablespoon or two of an herbed oil. Amazing Ribs has some tasty sounding recommendations, but I just used peppercorns and rosemary in olive oil. Let that sit for another hour or so to extract all the oil based flavor compounds from the herbs. 

Cook it low and slow. I cooked it at about 225 ºF, and for six people's worth of prime rib, it took about two hours to get it to 120 ºF in the center, which is medium rare. 

Once it's near the appropriate internal temp, sear it in a very lightly oiled hot pan. Direct heat, hot as you can get, to develop a nice brown crust on that oiled herb surface without cooking the interior any further.

Once I had seared the meat, I set it aside to rest, not because it needs it, but because it bought me time to sear the bones that I had held aside, and then to build up a nice red wine pan sauce using the searing juices from both. I seared the bones in the same pan as the meat, poured a cup of wine over them and reduced it along with some rosemary, and then finished it with whatever drippings I had, and a bit of beef broth.  Then I pulled the bones and added a sprinkle of fresh parsley.  If the drippings were very lean (mine were), a tiny pat of butter swirled in helps the sauce become a nice rich emulsion that won't run off your meat.