My patience was gone. I'd been waiting for Richard Blais' first cookbook for what seemed like years, and I'd just about given up hope. In fact I'd retreated, drawn the shades, let the cat get his own beer, cancelled my subscription to the world, and crouched, hidden behind the kitchen door, suspicious at anyone who came to my door, who wasn't the delivery man.
And then it appeared. Like a bright yellow flower blossoming on the long cold walk down a stoney, snowy, path. It came. Clutched under the arm of the delivery man amid the icy, and slippery pools that exist when the dew subsides to a watery melt. One bright dot on this grey, late-February horizon. The Richard Blais book! And it was bigger and more interesting than I could have ever imagined! So darn clever! Richard has outdone himself.
THE SKINNY Reading this cookbook at times feels like you've been privy to a mad professors secret notebook. A print-version of all we loved while watching him on the Top Chef episodes, but unlike the Science classes I remember back in High School, Richard's kind of science, mixed with food, is fun. You can literally hear his brain ticking as you wander through each recipe, like he's plotting it out, step by step, and it's beautiful, and wondrous and original.
Of course there is a whole section on what to do with liquid nitrogen. (Because it's Richard, so what would you expect?) and if we use it, he teases, we'll be able to make ice cream in 5 short minutes, but as soon as he mentions Cryogenic Gloves, and sourcing it from an Industrial Gas Supplier, I'll admit, he kind of lost me. Likewise with the recipes that require a Sous Vide machine. Yes, I would like one of those, for sure, but I remember clearly the waffle machine that is taking up space in my kitchen, that I still haven't used. But that's me.
The book is only part chem lab, though, in fact he shows real restraint in that area by sticking with the conventional method for most of the dishes. There is a side panel to some recipes called 2.0 where he takes the recipe one step further by introducing a new ingredient or a more challenging way to make the recipe. Like the Green Gazpacho, that a home cook will love, and the more adventurist cook can shift up by freezing the top of it with liquid nitrogen, by following the 2.0 version.
His voice throughout is honest and charming; for instance when he provides a Swedish Meatball dish, (it's easy, no sous vide required, nor liquid nitrogen, and you can even sub out the xanthan gum for cornstarch), while acknowledging that after years of thinking he was Swedish, he's not, after all, but rather Norwegian.
While it's hard not to read this book and not feel inspired and awed by his wicked cleverness, (Macaroni and Headcheese, "Everything Bagel" Vinaigrette) there are still things like plain old 'Spaghetti and Meatballs' which make me in some banal way know that Richard Blais is a parent like the rest of us, has the same issues with his kids eating habits and yet loves preparing something so simple yet satisfying.
Yay Richard Blais!
Ok, I need to lie down now. Take a couple of Aspirin, or something. And delivery man you can leave now, thanks, my February is now much brighter.
PANCAKES with WARM MAPLE SYRUP & COFFEE BUTTER From the new book Try This at Home by Richard Blais. Copyright © 2013 by Richard Blais. Serves 6 (makes about 18 pancakes)
If I entered a competitive-eating contest, it’d be one for pancakes. I like mine crispy edged, yet soft and tender inside. After years of tinkering, I’ve found that the best way to get this texture is to start with a fresh pancake batter, but you don’t even have to make it yourself. (I love the buttermilk-based Robby’s pancake mix available here, or Amazon.) If you can, let the batter sit overnight in the refrigerator to hydrate and swell—that extra time makes for the fluffiest pancakes, I promise you. I love the play of the sweet maple syrup with the creamy, slightly bitter nature of the coffee butter in this recipe.—Richard.
2 cups high-quality store-bought pancake mix (such as Robby’s pancake mix) 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour 2 cups whole milk 2 large eggs 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 1⁄2 cup brewed coffee 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened Pure maple syrup, warmed, for serving Sliced fresh strawberries or blueberries, sprinkled with sugar, for serving
1. In a medium bowl, whisk the pancake mix, flour, milk, eggs, and melted butter together until smooth. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and as long as overnight.
2. Put the coffee in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until reduced by about half. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
3. Put 4 tablespoons of the softened butter in a small bowl and whisk in the cooled reduced coffee until completely incorporated. Set aside until ready to serve.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter on a pancake griddle or heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the batter by ¼-cup amounts to make 4- to 5-inch pancakes and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottoms are browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pancakes and continue cooking until browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate in a low oven to keep warm until ready to serve. Continue with the remaining batter, adding the remaining butter as needed.
5. To serve, put 3 warm pancakes on each plate. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of the coffee butter and some warm syrup, garnish with the fruit, and serve immediately.
2.0 Whipped Maple Syrup Maple syrup is sweet and delicious, but I give it more textural interest by using Versawhip, a soy protein. It’s one of the cooler so-called “molecular” ingredients that chefs play with; it’s probably no coincidence it’s also one of the most forgiving and easy to use. It aerates maple syrup until it’s the consistency of whipped cream, without using any cream. Versawhip is available from the manufacturer WillPowder (WillPowder.net); the online gourmet retailer L’Epicerie (Lepicerie.com); and Amazon.
To make whipped maple syrup, put 1 cup of pure maple syrup and 2 teaspoons Versawhip in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low speed until dissolved, then increase the speed to medium-high and whip until the syrup holds soft peaks. The whipped syrup can be held at room temperature for up to 1 hour.
Makes about 3 cups
Reprinted from the book Try This at Home by Richard Blais. Copyright © 2013 by Richard Blais. Photographs copyright © 2013 by John Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.
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