Thursday, March 7, 2013

Getting "Fresh" with Tyler Florence

Every few months, my friend Suzanne and I get together for a Cooking Day. We pick a book (or a theme), come up with a menu, gather in her kitchen to cook said menu, and hope we’ll have a delicious meal to reward ourselves at the end. We've cooked from the relatively easy (Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table; various Jamie Oliver books) to the more complicated (Mourad Lahlou's Mourad: New Moroccan), and we're always looking through both of our rather large cookbook collections to see what will inspire our next cooking day.

So I was über excited when we both eagerly agreed on cooking from Tyler Florence's new cookbook, Fresh. Both of us being Tyler Florence fans, our cooking day was a great excuse to test out some recipes from his latest book. I first came to know Tyler Florence through his Food Network show Tyler's Ultimate, and was instantly drawn to his easy, no-fuss cooking style that focused on fresh, real food to feed the family. Fresh, however, is unlike some of his previous books he's published. It's a little gutsier and fancier, and challenges the home cook a little more, but by no means is it daunting or impossible to do. No, you won't find yourself slaving away for days in the kitchen. And you certainly won't need to run out and buy a sous-vide machine! It still retains Tyler Florence's signature cooking style, but brought out of the family home and into a high-class restaurant.  

At first glance, Fresh looks like it’ll be one of those complicated cookbooks. But don’t let those photos and the intricate plating fool you. I was glad to see, after glancing through the recipes, that very few of them are very complicated. Some of them may require numerous steps and components, but each component is very doable, and you’ll be delighted with the end results.

Baby Beets, Avocado, Grapefruit, Quinoa and Sorrel

The meal started off on a light and super healthy note—Baby Beets, Avocado, Grapefruit, Quinoa, and Sorrel—or, as I like to call it, California on a platter. It is such an insanely colourful plate and almost too beautiful to eat, and it tastes just as good as it looks. Many of the elements can be prepped ahead of time—only the avocadoes and the whole salad are assembled right before serving. I will definitely be making this salad again—it can double as a fancy-pants lunch (without all the fancy-pants work), or a light summer meal. The salad certainly set the bar high for the rest of the meal.

Duck Breast, Spiced Apple Pulp, and Wild Rice Croquettes

Our shortlist for the main was actually quite long and they all sounded amazing, so it was hard to decide what we would make. But we finally settled on Duck Breast, Spiced Apple Puree, and Wild Rice Croquettes. The duck breast had a super crispy skin and was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The spiced apple puree was a beautiful accompaniment to the gamey duck, and my favourite thing on the plate. It was naturally sweet, thanks to the roasting that allowed the sugars to caramelize, and so flavourful, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and rosemary. It’s best to make the puree ahead of time to really let the flavours come together. The only thing we did differently in this recipe was finish off the duck breasts in the oven, as the ones we bought were quite thick. The duck was plated with the apple puree, some crunchy wild rice croquettes we fried up, and a rich, savoury pan sauce.

Roasted Apples, Potatoes, and Brussels Sprouts

We weren’t originally going to make a side dish, but when I came across the recipe for Roasted Apples, Potatoes, and Brussels Sprouts with Whipped Parmesan, I couldn’t resist. I’m such a sucker for roasted brussels sprouts, and thought that with the apples in this dish, it would pair nicely with our duck. This was an incredibly easy dish that was, for the most part, hands-off. The most work required was with the washing and prepping of the vegetables. The vegetables were then thrown into a hot pan that had been preheating in the oven, and then left to roast for 20 minutes. I love the unique way of serving cheese in this whipped form (grated parmesan whipped with some crème fraîche) rather than shaving the cheese overtop. The fried sage leaves add just a touch of colour and crunch to the dish.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Plums, Pistachios, and Basil

Dessert was a Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Plums, Pistachios, and Basil. The recipe originally asked for cherries, but this being the middle of winter in Canada, there were no cherries to be found this week—not even imported ones. So instead, we swapped the cherries for its stone fruit cousin, the red plum, which worked just as well. There were a few glitches to the recipe—the poaching liquid really thickened up while the tapioca was cooking, which made it impossible to strain out the pearls. Thankfully it was fixable with some water. Secondly, when we unmoulded our panna cotta, we discovered that the panna cotta had split into two layers, which had us puzzled. Despite the split appearance, the panna cotta still tasted delicious and was so creamy, with lots of vanilla. The plums, which had been poaching in some spiced red wine, were the perfect pairing. I especially loved the added touch of the salted crushed pistachios, which added a salty component and textural component to the dessert.

What I love about this book is how well Tyler balances the dishes with flavours and textures, and even colour. Each dish had multiple flavours going on, whether it was sweet and salty, or salty and bitter, or sour and salty. But none of them were ever overwhelming—they were all perfectly balanced to play off and complement each other, both as an individual element and the dish as a whole. Same goes with texture—crispy with melt-in-your-mouth, creamy with crunchy. Each plate wasn’t just a stage for the tastebuds, but a stage for the senses.

Wild Rice Croquette

While I’ve only cooked four recipes from Tyler Florence’s Fresh so far, I’m already a big fan of the book. The recipes aren’t super daunting, and the results are incredible. I also had an incredible amount of fun plating these dishes, building up all the different components together onto one plate. All the recipes in Tyler's book look fantastic, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. If you haven’t had a chance to pick it up, do it, because it is gorgeous. The photos of each dish in this book are absolutely stunning, with breathtaking, restaurant-quality plating. Even if you aren’t a big home cook, this book is worth picking up for the eye-candy alone!

View more photos from my Cooking Day from Tyler Florence's Fresh here.


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