Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ramazava, Rujak and Vanilla

My daughter's new blog entry explains that Ramazava is a dish from Madagascar that includes Zebu meat, rice and vegetables. Rujak is a dish from Indonesia that combines local fruits salad with prawn paste. So what does that have to do with vanilla? She points out that while we think of vanilla as the definition of plain, it is just as exotic a flavor as ramazava and rujak. Vanilla is an extract from the seed pod of a orchid that grows well, ironically, in Madagascar and Indonesia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Noele's Christmas Gift of Black Lava Salt

Noele's Christmas gift to Gail and me this year was a collection of tastes from her new stomping grounds. She did her shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market, and came up with a wonderful selection of fun items. She got this black lava salt from Spices and Tease.

I would have said that salt was salt, but this salt is different. It has a smokey, almost sweet note. And, I particularly like how the small crystals burst flavors throughout any dish they are sprinkled on. Now with Noele back in school, the salt has an additional taste like Noele is sitting across the table.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Noele's Shrimp and Lobster Bisque in a Bread Bowl

One of the nicest things about having Noele home for vacation is she sometimes cooks for us. Tonight she put together a Shrimp and Lobster Bisque. She served them in bread bowls, which hold a special place for Gail and me. I often find lobster bisque to be overly intense. Noele's addition of shrimp softened and blended the flavors perfectly. This combination brought full flavor without overdoing the heavy cream.

The thinner bisque melted the inside of the bread bowl, making each bite thicker than the next. Along with the bisque, Noele served a tossed salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes and a white bean pesto for dipping our extra bread. Noele can cook for us anytime.

Noele's Shrimp and Lobster Bisque

1½ T butter
1 T Olive oil
2 t Minced garlic
½ t Tarragon
½ t Thyme
½ t Rosemary
½ t Pepper
1 minced medium white onion
2 peeled and sliced carrots
2 sliced celery stocks
½ t salt
4 cu better than bullion lobster broth (5 t to 4 cu)
1 sliced tomato
2 T tomato paste
¼ cu heavy cream
1 lobster
10 medium shrimp
  1. Combine butter, oil, garlic and spices in pan, lightly cooking to wake the flavors
  2. Add onion, carrots, celery and salt, sauteing until tender
  3. Add 4 cups lobster broth. Noele used Better Than Bullion, but used 5 t to 4 cu water rather than the recommended 4 t.
  4. Add tomato and tomato paste and simmer for 1 hour.
  5. Cook and pick the lobster, chopping it into small pieces
  6. Saute, peel and de-vein the shrimp, chopping it into small pieces
  7. Blend the mixture in a blender or food processor and return to the pan
  8. Add heavy cream, lobster and shrimp and bring the bisque back to temperature

Friday, January 6, 2012

Proportion of Meat in a Duck

This is the third in my nerdy series of proportion of meat in various foods, which so far has included lobsters (32%) and chickens (36%). We bought a whole, frozen duck to make a Thai duck choo chee. Duck is a favorite of Anna's. Here's the breakdown:

Whole duck purchase weight: 6.0 lbs
Weight of bag of orange sauce: 0.6 lbs
Weight of duck without sauce: 5.4 lbs

Next I broke down the duck into pieces on the bone and trimmed off the excess skin, like I would prepare them for serving as pieces:

Weight of 2 breasts: 1.6 lbs
Weight of 2 legs: 0.4 lbs
Weight of 2 thighs: 0.7 lbs
Weight of 2 wings: 0.6 lbs
Weight of remaining back pieces: 1.2 lbs
Weight of neck and giblets: 0.5 lbs

Then I took the meat off the bones and skinned it. I measured it and compared it to the weight of the pieces with the bone and the weight of the whole duck (without the orange sauce):

Breast meat: 0.96 lbs, 60% of the breast parts, 18% of the whole duck
Leg meat: 0.28 lbs, 65% of leg parts, 5% of the whole duck
Thigh meat: 0.56 lbs, 78% of thigh parts, 10% of the whole duck
Wing meat: 0.25 lbs, 38% of wing parts, 5% of the whole duck
Back meat: 0.3 lbs, 26% of back parts, 6% of the whole duck

I found it interesting that thighs and legs had more meat as a ratio of their parts than the breast pieces. That's because the skin on a duck's breast is so thick and fatty. I also found it interesting that there was more meat on the back than on the wings.

Now the bottom line:

Meat to purchase weight ratio: 39%
Meat to whole duck (without the sauce) weight ratio: 43%
Parts to purchase weight ratio: 76%

I also found it interesting that even with all the junk in a packaged duck, the ratio of meat to purchase weight was more than for the chicken or the lobster.

Finally, not all junk is junk. Some people actually use the orange sauce, although I suspect it is included more to pump up the weight than as a service to the cook. The bones can be used for soup. And, Alton Brown calls duck fat "cook's gold." I rendered the fat from all that skin:

Weight of all duck skin: 1.4 lbs
Weight of duck fat: 1.1 lbs (about a cup)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ill Will from Bad Packaging

I posted on my leadership blog today about how misleading packaging lost me as a devoted customer. I thought it was worth cross-posting. Whitman's candies should be ashamed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve Feast from Christmas Leftovers

We had so much food left over from Christmas that the refrigerator was making I'm-going-to-die noises. And yet, Gail and I enjoy making a New Year's Eve dinner. Gail suggested a challenge of nice dishes made from the leftovers. The result was spectacular.

First Course: Pumpkin Soup with Chevre and Goose Cracklins
We started by dressing up the pumpkin soup Gail made for when our daughters came home from school. Pumpkin soup is homey and works for Noele's vegetarian diet. This particular soup used winter squash rather than pumpkin and was mashed rather than pureed.  Gail also used more stock rather than milk, since our daughter Anna doesn't do so well with milk.

To dress it up, we took the skin from a goose we cooked for friends and made cracklins. Cracklins are simple with goose skin because it's so fatty. We cut little pieces and cooked them in a hot pan just like bacon, until crispy, about five minutes. The cracklins and a dollop of soft goat cheese blended perfectly with the soup for a perfect starter. Since Noele joined us for the soup, her portion had crisped up sweet potatoes made from Anna's leftover sweet potato fries.

Gail's Pumpkin Soup
Serves: 1 (1 ½ c)

1 t oil
¼ c sliced onion
2 T sliced celery
2/3 c vegetable stock
1 c peeled chopped pumpkin flesh (or other winter squash)
1/16 t salt
¼ c 1% milk (optional)
1 t dark brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/16 t nutmeg

1. Remove string and chop celery. Melt butter in heavy soup pot; chop onion while butter heats.
2. Sauté onion and celery until tender.
3. Add stock, pumpkin and salt, simmer until pumpkin is tender, about 15 min.
4. Cool enough to put in food processor; puree.
5. Return to soup pot. Add milk, sugar, pepper and nutmeg.
6. Reheat slowly, being careful that soup does not boil.

Second Course: Nova Scotia Hot Lobster in Portabello Mushroom Caps
I'm a bit surprised, but we had just a little bit of Nova Scotia Hot Lobster left over from Christmas dinner. We also had a package of baby porabello mushroom caps that didn't get used in Noele's risotto. We put the lobster in the mushroom caps and simply baked them. The result was a stuffed mushroom that would have made a star appetizer at any party.

In the background of the picture, you can see the split of Veuve Clicquot that we popped for New Year's Eve. That reminded us of our trip to Reims over the summer when we visited that Champagne cellar.

Third Course: Mashed Potato Pancakes
Leftover mashed potatoes became potato pancakes based on this recipe from  They were a bit too thin to be formed, but dropped into the pan just fine. We left out the green peppers.

This recipe would work well as the base for a seafood cake of any kind by adding drained crab, oysters, or even leftover fish.

Fourth Course: Mushroom Risotto Arancini
Noele's risotto is a big hit at every holiday meal. She made a lot more this year, since we usually run out. But we had leftovers this time. Gail found this recipe for arancini from Arancini are deep fried risotto balls. Yes, deep frying risotto is as delicious as it sounds.

We modified the recipe to use the leftover risotto and goat cheese we had on hand. We guessed at two cups of risotto for each dry cup of rice, but the result was slightly too thin to work with. We would have done better with three cups of cooked risotto to one egg.

Fifth Course: Pressed Goose with Potatoes and Black Lava Salt
For our last savory course, we made a casserole from leftover goose and potatoes. The potatoes were originally baked with the goose. We made a layer of potato on the bottom of a generously greased ramekin, and topped that by pressing in about a half cup of leftover chopped goose meat. We topped that with a decoration of potato slices. We were pleasantly surprised by the star decoration the potato made on top of the dish. Before baking, we added a pat of butter and some black lava salt. The salt was a Christmas gift from Noele, and added a little something special to the dish.

We ate the whole meal over about three hours, and this final meat dish added the right savory weight to sate us.

Sixth Course: Chocolate Mousse
For dessert, we made a simple dish of chocolate mouse. The mousse was leftover from a chocolate mousse crepes we had with a Hanukkah dinner earlier in the week. For this dessert, we piped the mouse into a wine goblet and topped it with whipped cream. I had a cherry on mine, mostly to decorate it for the picture. I doesn't seem to have helped much.

This particular mousse came from a recipe on The recipe simply adds instant chocolate pudding to fresh whipped cream. When we first made it, we only had half the required heavy cream. That worked fine for the first day. But after sitting in the fridge for a few days, the instant pudding firmed up a bit too much. It wasn't bad, but it would have been better with either more cream, or a lighter cream in the mix.

Epilogue: Rib Roast Open Faced Sandwich with Peppers
Tonight we made one more leftover meal. We took the last bits of the beautifully dry aged Christmas rib roast and sauteed it to render the remaining fat. We served the meat over toast topped with a milk gravy we made from the drippings, and added a sprinkle of the black lava salt. Gail sauteed some leftover peppers and added them to the side for a light but hearty supper. Cooking the meat this way refreshed it much better than a quick trip through the microwave would have.