Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm baaaack! With Macarons!

I really wanted macaroons. I mean *really* wanted. Laduree is expensive, and Pierre Hermes is even more expensive seeing as how I'd have to book a flight to Paris. So I asked myself, how hard can it be?

Well if you want to use the Pierre Hermes (the *best* imo) recipe… it's not easy. Also you need a standing mixer or a 3rd arm, of which I have neither.

This is batch #3. It turned out to have soft insides with light airy shells that start cracking at the very suggestion of teeth, and tasted pretty close to perfect. So I figured that I'd better record the recipe before I lose it.

I don't normally do things recipe style, but this time, it's necessary:


100g almond flour (sifted)
100g powdered sugar (sifted)

75g egg whites (preferably aged in the fridge for up to a week)
100g granulated or castor sugar
food coloring

140g white chocolate
80g jam
20g heavy cream
whatever else you want.

You'll also need an electric mixer, pastry piper, and a kitchen scale. I didn't own the latter 2, so I had to go out and buy them.

I got the scale for $30, and a pretty comprehensive decorating set for $20.

Make sure that your scale can measure in both metric and standard, and has a tare button, unless you like to challenge yourself with addition and subtraction while making a technically difficult dessert.

First, you sift 100g each of almond flour and powdered sugar. I haven't figured out how to deal with the bigger pieces of almond flour, but so far it's just sitting in a bowl. Do not food process this. somehow I made cement when I did that.

No need to mix it afterwards either. just leave it in a pile in a mixing bowl.

DO NOT put food coloring or egg white in this. This is a picture from batch 1 that ended in tears.

Next, in another bowl, you mix your 75g egg whites with a little food coloring, and you mix it while slowly adding the 100g of granulated or castor sugar, until you get stiff peaks.

Then you incorporate the fluffy meringue into the almond and powdered sugar mixture, and keep mixing and turning and smearing the paste against the walls…

This mixture probably needed another 20 turns. It has to barely hold its shape, and as a few websites described it, the batter has to come off the spatula in ribbons. I don't know what that means. My best ones came off as soft goop.

You then want to pipe them straight down. I got lazy and piped some of them sideways, and so the macarons rose sideways. They ended up looking like spaceships.

Once they are on the pastry sheet, which is hopefully on a metal baking sheet or pan, you want to smack the whole thing downward to get rid of the nipples (yes that's what it's called. don't be so immature). This is when you find out if your mixed it enough, because if you didn't, the nipples won't go away.. and you get something like the macarons below. They will still be delicious, but they will look inappropriate.

You can see at the upper left some of the ones that were a little sideways.

Leave the wet batter out for 30 minutes until a film forms. You can touch it at this point without batter sticking to your finger. Then you bake the dots in the oven for 12 minutes (sometimes I need 15) at 300 degrees. Open the door twice in the middle. I don't know why, but I think it helps the shells form the foot, or maybe the first guy who made it had to always check on the macarons and was too embarrassed to admit it, and incorporated the step into the recipe.

If you do everything right, the shells will be beautiful.

And then you can fill them with filling!

I made some lime jelly. it was much too green.

I also made some cranberry and white chocolate ganache. you have to melt the chocolate in a double boiler  like so.

Don't mess with the weights here either. I tried to adjust the ratios, and it seems that there isn't too much leeway. I can add a little more cream, but it pipes out too fast, and it's difficult to control. The portion posted should almost perfectly match the number of shells made.

Way too much green food coloring in the lime jelly.. I didn't put any food coloring in the 2nd set of lime jelly.

At this point, I taste tested and thought that I failed because everything was a little too chewy. But it turns out that you just need to refrigerate these in an airtight container for 1-2 days, and they will come out quite perfectly delicious!

Batch #2

Batch #3

It can be done!! And unless I want different flavors of macarons all at once, I might as well just make them at home. The upfront time and utensil cost is relatively high… but then you make $100 of macarons with $10 of raw materials, and it's all worth it. Also this yields the most deliciously lick-able batter ever… even if you fail.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Perla - a gem in the dirty oyster that is west 4th

Perla was on every top 10 new restaurants last year, and finally I had to go and see what's going on.

It is at the end of Minetta Lane right where the quiet row of famous restaurants meets trash trucks and neon color shops for drunk bar hoppers. Its giant black sign with soft swirly white letters defines the divide between the refined and crazy of New York City. It says at once "we have good food", and "we have a hot scene." And so it does.

The menu had just about everything I would want to eat from plain old chicken to charred beef tongue. We decided to take the in between route.

While we were waiting with our drinks (watermelon and tequila!), we were offered some bites:

Fried egglant and tomato sauce balls 7/10: Great way to start, but it was a little hot! and between the hotness and scratchiness, I cut the roof of my mouth. 5 minutes later, it was pretty darn good though.

Toast with ricotta, honey, and olive oil: 7/10 Very clever. I've never had honey and olive oil. Between the stickiness and whatever-the-opposite-of-stickiness-is, the spread ended up being a very interesting texture. It must have been a very mild olive oil, because I would only taste it in the finish. I'm definitely using this for a summer party on the terrace.

Charred octopus: 8/10 It was one of the better charred octopi I've had. The seasoning really stuck to the skin of the octopus, and the inside was tender all the way to the ends of the tentacles. The tomato sauce was simple but complementary.

Steak tartare with bone marrow and crispy tendon: 8.5/10: The steak itself was absolutely divine. The crispy thing that looks like flaming Cheetos is actually a chicharron made from beef tendon. (This is how you do it, Atera!). The dried and fried beef tendon was properly seasoned, and everything was wrapped up nicely by the mild flavors of the mushroom and the dabs of sauce. My only complaint is that they made the mayo-like sauce from bone marrow. I think one of the best things about bone marrow is the texture, and I would have rather had pieces of bone marrow on the tartare.

One other complaint: The dish was much too small!!

Gnocchi in red sauce: 8.5/10 The gnocchi were perfect. It was the second best gnocchi I've had in the past few weeks only because the sauce was not as interesting. The gnocchi themselves were probably as good if not better. They looked very homey because they weren't all quite the same shape and size, and you could see the ridges where they were rolled off the tines of a fork. The red sauce had a little kick and was interesting to eat, but the presentation seems very sloppy at such a nice restaurant. I would have preferred having a basil leaf on top or something.

Duck with mustard seeds and savoy cabbage: 7/10 beautiful duck, perfectly cooked. No complaint about the flavors. The pickled plums gave a really nice kick... don't eat it all at once though!

Lamb 2 ways: 7/10 Both ways were delicious but the steak was better than the belly. The belly was overcooked, and the sinews did not stay moist. The sauce was a great pairing for the dish, and really brought out the rich flavor of the lamb.

Tilefish with pea shoots 8/10: The fish was tender; the pea shoots were fresh (though not as fresh as the ones from my windowsill!); and carrot puree went surprisingly well with the dish. Once again the protein was perfectly cooked, but I think the mildly sweet carrot puree really brought the dish to another level. All of the vegetables tasted like spring, but somehow the carrots weren't grassy, the radishes weren't bitter, and the pea shoots... well they were better than peas.

Pork chop with pesto and tapanade: 7.5/10 Once again perfectly cooked, and all the sauces went very well with the meat. There was a "tapenade" on top and pesto on the bottom. I love the rich flavor of the olives and pine nuts. This is one of the more tender pork chops I've had, which is pretty impressive given the thickness of the chop.

Praline semifreddo with salted caramel sauce: 8/10 The salted caramel sauce was absolutely heavenly. The texture was gooey but not sticky, and had just enough salt so that it registered that there was lots of salt, but wasn't *salty*. It coats everything that comes into contact with it, so that you have the lingering taste of the caramel long after you've eaten the ice cream.

Ricotta cheesecake 6/10: I like ricotta cheesecake because it's lighter, but I wish that they had whipped it up a little more so that it wasn't so obvious to my tongue that I was eating ricotta.

In the end, there were still so many other dishes that I wanted to try, and the menu changes relatively often, so I really felt the pressure of dishes passing me by. Perla incorporated the latest and greatest flavors and ingredients with the utmost technique, but I feel that it has not yet found its style. There is not one defining must-have dish or a special scene that forces people to return. When they find it, I will be back.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Atera - I thought we were going to eat lichen?

The first time I saw pictures of the food at Atera, I thought: moss and rocks.

I've never had the pleasure of feeling like someone else's guinea pig, though if you've eaten at our place, you've probably been mine. It was a lot of fun. Some dishes were absolutely brilliant, and others were a bit like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. But there were enough great dishes and interesting concepts that I kept on sticking my hand in the cookie jar. In the end it was worth it.

The restaurant is in a building with a few other businesses who had all decal'ed their names in blue and white on a dirty door. I would have walked right past it if it weren't for the hanging plants in the window that didn't quite match any of the businesses listed.

The waiting area, like the restaurant itself, was 8 seats around a bar with a small area for 5 people. You might imagine my confusion when we were led there. I thought we were going to eat off bar stools. In any case, the drink menu was rather interesting. I would have had the marshmallow root if it weren't mixed with nicotine. I went for the buckthorn instead.

Mmmm... buckthorn.

The kitchen area was more spacious than I thought.

Beer foam macaroons with caviar and creme fraiche: 10/10 Absolutely brilliant. The consistency of the macaroons were *perfect* which is really amazing because that art hasn't successfully crossed the Atlantic. Most places that specialize in macaroons and even many famous French chefs on American soil cannot get it right.

Flaxseed cookie with pine nut butter: 3/10 It was like someone made a Triscuit ginger snap covered in butter. I didn't have the coordination to hold onto this thing as the butter melted in my fingers. pass.

Rutabaga in beeswax: 6/10 The rutabaga was delicious, but the wax was too thick. It stuck on my tongue a little, and the flowers couldn't quite scrape it off.

Amaranth toaste with trout roe and ramp: 7/10 Was this the lichen?! No, amaranth is a grain. It looked like lichen, so I somewhat liked it better. My problem with this dish is that everything tasted exactly the way they should taste. I am not sure if any of the 3 ingredients did anything to compliment the others.

Lobster roll with yeast meringue: 9/10 The yeast meringue was really clever and as light as air and as soft as a soufflé. There was a little too much mayo on the lobster, but still really yummy!

Sunchoke cannoli with butter cream: 3/10 I thought they said butter cream, but I tasted a really heavy sour cream. Also the chips were much too hard. I understand the progression from the previous dishes (all the salty plays on dessert), but the texture, the flavor, everything was all off.

Beef tendon chicharron: 7/10 Great concept, but season away, Chef Lightner! Maybe this is the right way, but I like mine with some spices, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

Pickled quail egg and pigs blood wafer duo: 8/10 We were told to eat wafer, egg, wafer. But that's easier said than done when the wafer is very hard, and the creme in the middle is practically liquid. I got creamed pigs blood all over my fingers, so that's -1.5. The quail egg was actually a deviled egg encased in some milk-based thing that had the same consistency, color, and was almost the same size as egg white that had been cooked to somewhere between soft and hard boiled.

Bone marrow: 7/10 The bone marrow were cooked on slices of hearts of palm to look like bones. It was fun and creative, but it was way too hot. My fingers hurt for 2 courses. Food at a restaurant of this caliber should never be served at the wrong temperature. Everyone who picked one of these up within minutes of serving had to put it back down.

I love bone marrow. I wish then had put more on top of the hearts of palm so that I could taste more of the marrow!

Swordfish deli: 6/10 Really interesting concept. Got me thinking about how this was done for a while... then I decided that I don't actually like swordfish cooked this way. It tastes like turkey?

Fluke tartare with leek and a buttermilk and vinegar ice: 7.5/10 Great tartare, and the ice was very refreshing. I like having a palate cleanser built into the dish.

Razor clam, garlic, and almond salad with razor clam vinaigrette: 9.5/10 I was a little worried about the number of garlic pieces at first, but I could have only killed a baby vampire bat afterwards. I loved that there were three items that tasted so different in every which way, and complimented each other so incredibly well, and yet they all looked the same! The presentation probably required an extra sous chef.

Uni and sweet potato: 9.5/10 Visually stunning, extremely fresh ingredients. Not super creative, but I can't deny that it was very fun to eat. Also at this point I think I had about half a liter of wine, and I remember thinking about how this particular dish went really well with the pairing, and did a great job of overcoming the lingering garlic.

Diver scallop on sauerkraut and hazelnut butter: 8/10 I thought he said live diver scallop, but clearly it was no longer alive as it had been cut crosswise. At this point I did wait for it to wiggle, but it didn't. The sauerkraut is a tad on the heavy side, but no matter, the play on textures was great, and the tiny blob of hazelnut butter turned out to have the flavor of a handful of hazelnuts. Pretty fun to eat.

Salmon with pork jowel and meringue of licorice: 2/10 *really* *salty*

Peeky toe crab in milk skin yuba ravioli, grain soup: 10/10 The milk skin tasted a little bit like bean curd, but much softer. The grain soup was like barley tea. Peeky toe crab filling was absolutely perfect.

Bread and butter! The butter had a texture that was obviously butter, but had a flavor that was obviously aged cheese!

Cuttlefish vermicelli: 9/10 The most tender cuttlefish I have ever had. It was only slightly firmer than real vermicelli, and the taste of the cuttlefish was very subtle. Because of thin strands, the noodles picked up the delicious light (possibly a different grain based) broth.

Asparagus in walnut consomme: 6.5/10 I'm not a great vegetable eater. I didn't think that the green and purple asparagus were properly highlighted. I tasted more herbs, and is that seaweed?

Pork roll! Did it have pork inside the tiny roll? NO! Did it taste deliciously of pork fat? YES! Was it soft and fluffy? NO! But did I ask for another? YES!

Fouchu lobster with corn powder and lobster butter: 10/10 This dish might look kind of ugly, but it is the best lobster I can remember, which is pretty much my highest accolade.

Sure I've had very fresh lobster in Maine, but if I had this dish in Maine I think I'd end up buying a house there. The lobster was a few seconds on the raw side of perfect, but that helped preserve the sweetness. Apparently because it was from the deep sea (they were not able to clarify how deep), it was supposedly sweeter? But anyway, It was just short of raw so that it was still easy to bite through, and the corn powder crust got rid of any raw fish feel.

Roasted breast of squab with ragu and spring garlic: 6.5/10. That last dish was hard to follow, but certainly it could not be done with a piece of squab the size of my thumb. It was a little dry, and the ragu was way too sour and disproportioned. Maybe they dropped a bird in the back.

Lamb with crispy sunchips: 7/10 Good, but fatty. I don't like to do the extra work of cutting the fat off. I have no problems with fatty meat... I just like my fat to be evenly distributed and incorporated into the muscle fibers.

Rhubarb juice and gelee: 5/10 Good, but a little too sour for me. I couldn't think of any other word for it.

Egg: 6.5/10 Ice cream with egg yolk jam and a hard candy shell. Really creative, but in terms of flavors, it wasn't the best ice cream.

Walnut sundae: 4/10 not a fan of too much walnut. This tiny little dollop was like walnut overkill.

Trio if ice cream sandwich, black walnut truffles, and chocolate pretzels: 7/10 really fun!! In particular, the pretzels were tiny but filled with caramel. I only had a tiny nibble of each because I was much too full after some 30 food items.

Overall it was a fun experience. I really wish I had lichen instead of amaranth. I was also hoping that the massive vine that I was sitting next to was edible. I definitely recommend the restaurant. I don't know why it's so hard to get in, but I guess if there's a will there's a way!

I hoped that for being an obedient and appreciative guinea pig, they would give me a jar of maybe vegetables or grain that looked like fruits or something, but I got an envelope with most of the dishes and wine pairings, which isn't so bad either.