Monday, November 8, 2010

Mandolin Review and Thomas Keller's Cauliflower Soup

I was recently asked to review a product from CSN Stores and decided to get a mandolin, since it was on my kitchen wish list for a long time.  Although I never needed one, I always really wanted one, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity!  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the perfect recipe in mind for testing out my new mandolin, a creamy, velvety cauliflower soup topped with sauteed cauliflower, garlicky croutons, and of course the bright red beet chips which utilized the mandolin to slice.  I had used mandolins in culinary school, but never had the privilege of using the hand guard, and feared losing a finger with every swipe of potato against the sharp blade.  My fingers survived culinary school, but I vowed to never use a mandolin without the hand guard again. 

Fast forward to a month or so ago, when my lovely new Cuisinox mandolin arrived from CSN stores.  It looks exactly like the ones we used in school (it very well could have been) and is made of metal, unlike some of the cheaper plastic versions out on the market.  The legs are very stable, and the 5 different blades come safely housed in a plastic box.  I thought the hand guard was pretty comfortable, but it took a couple tries to adhere my peeled beet properly to the spikes without it falling off with each swipe.  Turns out if you hold the hand guard from the sides and not directly over the top, you can push the item further into the spikes, pushing part of the guard out (it's kind of hard to explain, but trust me, if you look closely and try gripping items onto the guard you will figure it out).  As you get closer and closer to slicing the whole item, you can carefully push down on this expandable part of the handle to expose more of the item for slicing.  Seems pretty convenient.

I had a little trouble adjusting the thickness (you have to unscrew bolts on both sides and then push or pull the plate to increase or decrease the size), it seemed to get a little stuck.  I sliced up the beet in no time, and although some of the rounds didn't come out perfect, I thought it was just the way I was holding the guard.

It wasn't until later when I looked closely and noticed that the guiding plate was actually slightly crooked on one side: the right side was slightly higher than the left when locked into place.  As I was slicing, everything was slicing unevenly because the guiding plate wasn't actually level.  I later contacted CSN Stores to inform them that the product was defective.  The customer service representatives were incredibly helpful, and kept assuring me that they wanted me to be happy and have a product that worked.  After some contact back and forth with the manufacturer, they sent me a new mandolin to replace the defective one.  I am so grateful to them for handling the situation so well.  The manufacturer insisted that I just wasn't locking the guiding plate in place correctly, but after more testing of the original unit and the new one, I am certain that it was the product that was defective, and not my handling of the mandolin.

In any case, I finally got to test out a working model and I am very satisfied with it.  The guiding plate moves up and down more easily than the original (not getting stuck like before), and the slices are perfectly even.  This is the way it was meant to be.  I tested out regular slices, crinkle cuts, waffle cuts, and juliennes.  My only concern with the julienne slices is that although the instructions say to place the item you are slicing lengthwise on the hand guard, it's impossible for something as long as a potato to actually fit on the guard lengthwise.  I would either have to cut it in half to have shorter sticks, or use my hands to carefully julienne the entire potato.  I tried both and it was fine, but you need to be extremely cautious with the sharp blades.

Overall, when commenting on the properly working mandolin, I really love the product. It's constructed very well, and arrived to my house exactly 1 day after I ordered it!  The customer service at CSN Stores was great, and even though I ended up with a lemon the first time around, they quickly replaced it with one that works just fine, so I'm definitely happy with my purchase and would recommend this mandolin to others.  I would also definitely recommend shopping at CSN Stores considering how helpful they were through this whole ordeal.  Thank you so much :)


Waffle cut


As I had mentioned when I first announced that I would be testing out the mandolin, I wanted to make Thomas Keller's Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips.  Although the soup is pretty rich (it's a "cream of" soup afterall) I thought it was delicious.  Next time I might add a bit more curry powder, and use all whole milk instead of whole milk and cream, or do cream and skim milk to lighten it a bit.  I loved the flavor and texture of the garlicky croutons on top and the sweet and vibrant red beet chips.  This is a lovely simple soup spruced up in a truly Thomas Keller way!

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips
Serves 6 (Makes about 2 quarts)
(Recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home)

2 heads cauliflower (4-5 lbs total)
4 T. (2 oz) unsalted butter
3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
Kosher salt
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water
Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
1 medium red beet
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
Torn Croutons, recipe follows
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, and cut out the core. Trim off the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets about the size of a quarter and set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining cauliflower and the stems into 1-inch pieces so that they will cook in the same amount of time. You need 8 cups of cauliflower (reserve any extra for another use).

Melt 3 T. of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, curry, and coarsely chopped cauliflower, season with 2 tsp. salt, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Pour in the milk, cream, and water, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer uncovered. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time.

Working in batches, transfer the cauliflower mixture to a blender (leave an opening in the lid for steam to escape). Begin pureeing the cauliflower on the lowest speed, slowing increasing the speed, until smooth and velvety. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed. Transfer to a large saucepan and keep warm. The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Fill a small deep pot with 1 inch of peanut oil and heat over medium heat to 300 degrees F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line the rack with paper towels. While the oil heats, peel the beet and slice off about 1/2 inch from the top. Using a Japanese mandolin or other vegetable slicer, slice the beet into rounds that are slightly thicker than paper-thin. Reserve only the full rounds.

Carefully add a few beet rounds to the oil and fry, turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon as the edges begin to curl and pressing gently on the chips to keep them submerged. You will see a great deal of bubbling around the beets as the moisture in them evaporates; when the bubbling stops the beets will be crisp. Transfer the beets to a paper-towel-lined rack and season with salt. Fry the remaining chips in batches. The chips can be kept warm in a low oven.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. The vinegar will help keep the cauliflower white. Drain.

Melt the remaining 1 T. butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and sauté until a rich golden brown. Set aside.

To serve, reheat the soup. This is a thick soup, but if it seems too thick, add water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the soup into a serving bowl or soup tureen. Top each serving with a few cauliflower florets, several torn croutons, and a stack of beet chips (if the beet chips sit in the soup, they will become soggy and discolor it). Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Serve the remaining florets, croutons, and chips in separate bowls on the side.

Torn Croutons:
1 loaf country bread
Canola oil
5 crushed, peeled garlic cloves
2 T. (1 oz) unsalted butter

Cut the crusts off the loaf of bread. Tear the bread into irregular pieces no larger than 2 inches. You need about 3 cups of croutons; reserve any remaining bread for another use.

Pour 1/8 inch of canola oil into a large sauté pan, add garlic cloves, and heat over low heat until the garlic cloves are golden brown, flipping the cloves from time to time. Remove the garlic cloves and use the oil for the croutons.

Heat garlic oil over medium heat until hot. Spread the bread in a single layer in the pan (or cook them in two smaller pans). Add the butter. The oil and butter should be bubbling, but if you hear sizzling, the heat is too high. Adjust the heat as necessary, and stir the croutons often as they cook. Cook until the croutons are crisp and a beautiful rich golden brown on all sides, 5 minutes. Move the croutons to one side of the pan and keep warm until ready to serve. Torn croutons should be used the day they are made; you can reheat them in a low oven before serving if necessary.


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