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Where I’ve Been

August 30, 2011

Goodness gracious, it’s been quite a year.

Between finishing up culinary school and cutting my chops as a line cook here in NYC, cooking has become a bigger part of my day-to-day existence than I ever could have anticipated. That said, I haven’t been left with much time to transmit my culinary adventures (of which there have been no shortage) to you. My apologies.

In an attempt to catch up, I’d like to share the “menu project” I completed during my last few months at the FCI. Although my post on flushes out the details of the project more fully, the main gist was this: create a four course menu with a theme of your choice and support it with recipes, photographs, and wine pairings.

Perhaps in reaction to all the fancy-schmancy food I had been preparing at work and school, I opted to base my project on the packaged foods of my childhood—-the decidedly non-artisanal ingredients that I grew up eating, culled from the center aisles and freezer cases of the grocery store. With strong memories in mind, I revisited some of my favorites—-French onion dip, potato chips, canned corned beef hash, English Muffins, instant butterscotch pudding—-and recreated them ‘from scratch’ them using my newly acquired French culinary training. The resulting menu looked something like this:

Duck Fat Chips
Caramelized Onion Dip

Baby Heirloom Carrot Salad
with Mustard Thyme Vinaigrette (pictured above and adapted from my recipe here)

Duck Confit and Root Vegetable Hash
Pickled Tomatoes
Homemade English Muffins

Salted Caramel Pot de Creme
Bacon Cashew Caramel Popcorn

Over the next few days, I’ll publish the recipes for each dish. But why not start with dessert first?

Pot de Creme

Salted Caramel Pot de Creme
On Sunday nights, particularly when I was very young, we ate instant pudding. I remember vividly the old-school, hand-cranked egg beater my brother and I would use to beat the packaged powder with cold milk and the oh-so-slight skin that would form on the top of the pudding as it set up in the fridge. In revisiting this childhood favorite, I’ve adapted the original caramel-y flavor profile into a rich, pot de crème and topped it with a riff on Poppy Cock caramel popcorn—another childhood favorite.

Serves 8

800g milk (28 oz)
8 egg yolks
140g (5 oz.) sugar
2t vanilla extract
1/2 t sea salt
Bacon Caramel Popcorn, (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring a kettle of water to boil and line a large casserole pan with parchment or a clean kitchen towel. Evenly space the eight ramekins in the pan. Reserve.

2. Place sugar in a saucepan with 3T water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and continue cooking, swirling pan occasionally until sugar is a deep amber color. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Return to heat and continue cooking until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Reserve, but keep warm.

3. In a large bowl beat the egg yolks until light. Whisk a spoonful of the hot milk/caramel mixture into the eggs to temper them, then incorporate the rest of the milk.

4. Pour the custard into the prepared ramekins and cover each with aluminum foil. Carefully fill the pan with the boiling water, so that water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven about 45-55 minutes, or until the custard is just set in the center.

5. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool on a wire rack before refrigerating.

6. Serve well chilled, topped with the popcorn.

Bacon Caramel Popcorn

Bacon Cashew Caramel Popcorn
recipe adapted from recipe by Colt & Gray, Denver, CO, published in Bon Appetit Sept. 2010
makes about 8 cups

Nonstick cooking spray
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1T vegetable oil
8 ounces bacon, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews, roughly chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2T water
1T light corn syrup
2T heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 T freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large, rimmed sheet pan with foil, then coat with the nonstick spray. Also prepare a large, heat-proof mixing bowl and spoons with non-stick spray. Reserve.

2. Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy, then drain over paper towels and reserve.

3. Heat the oil and the popcorn kernels in a large, covered pot. When popping begins, shake the pot vigorously over the heat. When the popping stops, remove the popcorn to the prepared bowl and combine with the cooked bacon and chopped cashews.

4. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Place over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise flame to high and continue cooking the sugar mixture—do not stir, but swirl pan periodically to promote even cooking. As you go, brush away any sugar crystals that have formed on the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.

5. When the sugar mixture has turned a deep amber color (about 8-10 minutes), remove from the heat and add the cream, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir well and pour over the popcorn mixture, using the oiled spoons to toss thoroughly.

6. Transfer the popcorn/caramel mixture to the prepared sheet pan and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, tossing periodically until popcorn is shiny and well coated.

7. Cool popcorn and reserve in an airtight container. Serve with the Pot de Créme.


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