Saturday, May 24, 2008


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 28 - TV Cooks

When thinking about this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, TV Cooks, I was in two minds about participating. There has been sufficient negative print regarding the post-modern breed of celebrity chefs and cooks that I didn't want to open myself up to criticism (namely, for lack of both depth and individuality). But then, I thought, "Who am I kidding?" The fact of the matter is that television channels like the Food Network and the proliferation of food-focussed magazines, all of which are either driven by or concentrate on cooks and chefs, may potentially curb what appears to be a very dangerous trajectory in the course of consumption - some of us are now questioning the provenance of our food and are thinking about what we are putting into our bodies. If one looks beyond the glossy lives, smooth skin and kitchen gadgets, what is there to criticise? Besides, I'm part of the target audience for these shows: willing and fabulous.

While we're talking about home truths, if it were not for television cooks, such as Nigella Lawson, Tyler Florence, Tamasin Day-Lewis and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I might not be cooking as I do now - regularly and with some respect for ingredients. The appeal of the cooks on television is not necessarily their looks, though that can stop one from changing the channel when one is surfing, but their accessibility. The best tv cooks condense their knowledge into culinary bullet points, perfect for generations X and Y - the Short-Term Attention Span Set. Accessibility is paired with enthusiasm for ingredients and recipes, and each episode often climaxes with a lifestyle plug: food + friends = the good life.

It was the endorsement of a lifestyle I wanted that finally motivated me to work in the kitchen in a meaningful way (also, I had time on my hand as a student and felt guilty watching my angelheart Eric cook after a day's work followed by a typically-hellish Los Angeles commute). As you will note in my earlier posts, cooking centres around dinner with my angelheart Eric or gathering around the dining table with our good friends, most notably the divine poetess Suzanne (now in Paris), the stylish and effervescent Ailene and her husband, the espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko (both now in Colorado). Since leaving Los Angeles, the drive to cook has simmered. At first I attributed this to heartache; and while I think this quite true, I think that holding dinner parties for my Kiwi friends will get the boil going again.

So, moving forward, I am revisiting the cookery books that inspired me so much in the first place. (And I appreciate your patience, having listened to me rattle on about justifying my participation in this month's theme Weekend Cookbook Challenge, TV Cooks.)

What my angelheart Eric and I love so much about Tyler Florence is his enthusiasm for big flavours (heck, the guy even keeps a "flavour journal"!). One of my favourite cookery shows is the old format of Tyler's Ultimate in which Tyler would visit two different people to learn their approach to a particular dish (sometimes going to different countries) and then he'd return to his Manhattan apartment (with its gorgeous brick wall), enlightened and inspired to put his spin on the two recipes and produce the ultimate version of the episode's featured dish (the apple pie, lasagne and paella episodes are particularly compelling and mouth-watering). There is a cookery book of the same name plus two others by this young chef: Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen and Eat This Book.

Eat This Book celebrates big global flavours. The cover shows Mr. Florence in step, powering foward with grocery bags on which are printed Chinese charcters - he is urban, savvy and purposeful. The cover does not misrepresent the contents of the book. Eat This Book places diversity on a pedastal and is a culinary passport of the decentred yet globalised world in which we live.

The recipe that inspires this post highlights Tyler Florence's skills - it presents classically-paired items (pork and apple) and adds his post-modern spin; this is global fusion that is achievable without necessitating a leap of faith from one's comfort zone.

The glory of pork belly is that it is a cheap piece of meat that can be poshed up. It responds well to dry rubs and pastes, and because of its tender structure it is best braised, allowing many possibilities for great depth of flavour. While Mr. Florence suggests serving the dish with a potato and celeriac mash, I have opted for something that is not as soft, for the apple and pork belly offer enough - roasted kumara, cut into chips.

New Zealand kumara is also known as sweet potato. While pre-European Maori are shown to have grown many Polynesian cultivars, the most common kumara is the Owairaka Red, which was developed from a larger American variety of sweet potato. It is rich in Vitamins A and C, and the best thing is that you do not have to peel it (besides, the skin has a special fibre that has special health properties related to both cancer and longevity). Today I have chosen the red kumara for its mellow taste - if I had chosen orange kumara, it might have created too sweet a dish, what with the baked apple on the plate, too. For more information on kumara, go to Kaipara Kumara.

The following menu has been tweaked for a variety of reasons, one of them being that sage is not easily found in New Zealand, so I chose to forgo it altogether, and that I created a slightly spicier apple side by using ginger loaf instead of cornbread muffin, as you will see. Enough for four.

Braised Pork Belly and Buttered Apples
(Adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat This Book)

For the pork belly:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted then ground
2 tablespoons thyme
1/2kg/1lb pork belly (one slice, unsmoked)
salt, pepper
720ml/24 fl. oz cider
1 cup chicken stock

For the kumara:
3 kumara, approximately 900kg/1.8lb, cut into wedges
olive oil
salt, pepper

For the apples:
4 apples (I used early season Pacific Rose because they hold their structure well when cooked and have a lovely pink blush)
56g/1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup crumbs from a moist ginger loaf (or, per Mr. Florence, corn muffin)
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, pepper
1/2 cup cider

1) Pre-heat oven to 200 C/390 F.
2) Score the fat of the pork belly and pat the entire slab dry.
3) Stir together olive oil, ground fennel seeds, thyme in a small bowl. The idea is to make a paste, but I made mine slightly wetter for extra coverage.
4) Rub liquid all over the pork belly and season generously with salt and pepper.
5) Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
6) When oil smokes, place the pork belly in the pan, fat-side down. The belly may bend, so use tongs to ensure all the fat crisps up. It should only take five minutes for the fat to look resplendent in burnished, autumnal hues.
7) Turn pork belly over and move pan from the heat.
8) Drain fat from the pan, add the cider and chicken stock.
9) Cover with foil or heavy lid and place on the middle rack in the oven until done, approximately 45 mintues.
10) Core apples.
11) In another small bowl, mix together softened butter, ginger loaf crumbs, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper.
12) Spoon the stuffing into the cavities of the apples, and stand them up, snuggled side-by-side in a baking dish.
13) Once the pork is approximately 30 minutes from being done, pour the cider around the apples and bake until soft.
14) On a foil-lined baking tray, place the kumara wedges and drizzle over olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix together, then lay wedges in one layer. Place in the oven on lowest rack.
15) After minutes, turn kumara wedges over and leave to bake until done.
16) Pull saute pan out, remove foil or lid, and place over medium-high heat. Baste the pork belly as the liquid boils. (If you wish, you can reduce liquid to a sauce and serve as a gravy.)
17) Remove pork belly and cut into slices.
18) Check sauce for seasoning.

The Autumn light does not allow for the most beautiful photo of the results, but you get an idea of the dish anyway. The amount of pork belly, here, seems stingy, but I assure you that it is so beautifully rich that one does not need more. And though one does not taste the cider, fennel seed and thyme strongly, there is a sweet herbiness throughout, harmonising with the richness of the meat. I did not eat the crackling, but I adore its tactile quality; it gives the dish presence. (And such wonderful quality pork belly from the guys at Seaview Meats.)

Now I just need to set the table for friends...

Post-edit: Please visit the round-up to see what everyone else made.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 05, 2008


Chocolate Mousse

The first chocolate mousse I ever ate came out of a box. Mum must have added water or some other liquid, stirred it into the dry ingredients, which probably included gelatine and powdered milk, and let the creamy chocolate-looking mixture "set up" in the fridge some time before dinner. (I say "included," but it would not surprise me if one could still purchase it or some other post-modern variant.) I used to love "mousse" as a kid. But, of course, I am no longer a kid, and I now know better - however nostalgic the photos for today's post look (bad lighting on account of heavy, dark clouds that make my usually vivid yellow background that strange "70s ochre" of my parents' kitchen counters when I was a child), the contents are not from a box. What is ridiculous is that one does not need to depend on an instant dessert kit to make chocolate mousse - the few ingredients required and recipe are simplicity itself. And for those who are vegetarian, there is no need to look away from this recipe, for no gelatine is needed to stabilise the mousse (the chilling of the mousse keeps the whipped egg whites from breaking down).

I have not made chocolate mousse that often, but when I do make it, I tell anyone who wants to eat it that it is rich. I do not do what chefs and cookery writers conservatively often suggest: a combination of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate to please all palates (and, I suspect, to give the chocolate more dimension). I love bittersweet chocolate, and though I tell myself that cream works to balance out the acidity of the chocolate, it does actually make the dessert richer. Of course, the chocolate you use will impart its own properties - for example, a dark chocolate from Madagascar generally has fruity notes; whereas a dark chocolate from the Ivory Coast may impart cinnamon and coffee notes. I rely on Valrhona's Guanaja when making chocolate desserts because of its intense chocolate aroma with subtle berry notes. (If you have no clue about the properties of the chocolate bars available in today's market, and if you do not mind subjectivity, check out the incredible array of chocolate bars reviewed at

The following recipe, loosely adapted from Lindsey Remolif Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts, can be improved upon depending on your proclivities. In fact, you can stick to Ms. Remolif Shere's recipe to the T and add two tablespoons of cognac or brandy (or, by extrapolation, any booze). I chose to omit the brandy (I know - Shock! Horror!) because I was serving the mousse to people who are sensitive to brandy, which is to say that they do not care for it at all. I substituted the potential differentiation in liquid with a little extra cream.

The following recipe makes approximately 3 1/4 cups.

Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Lindsey Remolif Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts)

180g/6oz 70% dark/bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons coffee from freshly ground beans (you could use water instead)
4 eggs, separated
1 cup + 2 tablespoons whipping cream

1) Melt the chocolate with the coffee in a glass bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Stir frequently.
2) Remove chocolate from heat as soon as it has melted and is smooth and glossy.
3) Whisk the egg yolks into the melted chocolate.
4) Beat the egg whites in a steel bowl until they hold very soft peaks.
5) Fold one quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder. The addition of one quarter at the beginning creates a ligter mixture that is receptive to a quick folding of the rest of the egg whites - it prepares their reception! A quick folding is essential in order to prevent the egg whites from deflating too much.
6) Whip the cream until soft peaks are formed (stiffer peaks creat a foamy texture).
7) Fold the cream into the chocolate mixture.
8) Evenly divide the chocolate mixture into your serving vessels - I usually use wine glasses.
9) Chill in the refrigerator.
10) Take the mousse out five minutes before serving in order to make it more palatable (too much chill is not fun for the teeth, and it masks some of the subtle flavours of the mousse). Use this time to consider topping the mousse.

As you can see, I whipped up 1/4 cup of cream until soft peaks were achieved and then stirred in 1 tablespoon of hazelnut syrup. I spooned the cream over each mousse and garnished them with grated chocolate.

Though cool to the tongue, the richness of the chocolate and silky texture make chocolate mousse an appropriate and welcome Autumnal dessert. The variations are endless - you can use different chocolates, a little alcohol...I already have my eyes on Lindsey Remolif Shere's recipe for Frozen Caramel Mousse!

Richness upon richness!

Labels: , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?