Monday, April 30, 2012

Updates All Around, Dinner # I-Lost-Count

So, my reader (again, singular) may have noticed my prolonged absence.  Despite my lack of blogging, I have still kept cooking (kind of).  Two more dinners since my last post, which I will blog about, someday.  Likely while I am on maternity leave.  Yep, we are having another baby, a little girl, and I cannot wait.  Unlike with my first, I did not suffer from the kind of morning sickness that is utterly life-altering and renders one incapable of doing anything.  But I didn't feel like eating much of anything, yet alone something squicky like oysters (which reminds me... need to get the raw oyster dishes out of the way while I can still beg off because I am pregnant!).  So, an extended absence.  But then I started reading all these things about how the sale of foie gras won't be permitted in California anymore, and I realized that I still have FOUR recipes that need foie, and I thought "I better get myself in gear."  I did, and i'm glad I did.  My husband emerges from a pool peaceful, like his soul is better for a swim.  I emerge from a kitchen the same way (well, if you ignore the screams at my dogs to GET.OUT.of the way.)

And, so, for my most recent dinner, I loaded up on the foie:

Starter: Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
First: Gewurzterminer-Poached Foie Gras
Second: Lobster with Poached Figs and Foie Gras
Main: Pekin Duck with Corn and Morels
Dessert: Strawberry Shortcakes with Creme Fraiche.  I can feel little E bouncing around in my stomach just thinking about this deliciousness!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Perail de Brebis with (Arugula) Aux Lardons

This was simultaneously the easiest dish to make and the dish I would eat for dinner 3 times a week for the rest of my life.  You know, if I kept things like quail eggs stocked in my fridge.  I did make a minor change to the recipe, and substituted argula for frisee.  Frisee tastes like dental floss.  Argula tastes like peppery lettuce, except a thousand times better.  No one complained about the substitution, and everyone finished their plate, so i'm guess that it was ok.

First, brioche!  I had intended to make my own fresh brioche.  Due to pesky work, it didn't happen... so Bread and Cie came through for me on Friday morning.

Slicing the brioche into 1" thick slices, and cutting holes out using my cutters took like 30 seconds.  For all of them.  AND I had some little 'cooks snacks' (leftover brioche rounds) that I got to nibble on as I prepped. 

The dressing took like 2 minutes.  Olive oil, sherry vinegar, mustard, along with a dash of salt and pepper.  My friend asked me for the recipe like two months later, and didn't believe it was so simple because it was so good.

The dressing was unusual, in that you didn't use the mustard as an emulsifying agent.  Instead, I whisked the mustard and vinegar together, then stirred in the olive oil with a spoon.  Easy, easy stuff.

Right before serving, I cut the cheese into wedges (another 2 minutes), and tossed the bread rounds in a pan with some melted butter.  Flip the round, then creak a quail egg in the hole.  Drizzle dressing on top of the arugula.  Total time: less than 5 minutes.
 I realized after serving that I forgot to put the lardons on the salad part, so I brought them to the table and let people do it themselves.  Unsurprisingly, no one complained, and there was no lardons left.

Seriously, if you have The French Laundry Cookbook and you are afraid to tackle something, start with THIS.  It was amazing.  Like, so good that I used leftover ingredients (well, subbing brie for the cheese) to make this for dinner twice that week.  And each time, it was like a 15 minute dinner, start to sitting down to each - even with doubling the recipe to make it dinner-sized and cutting the bread into pretty circles!!!!  AND it was easy to find all of the ingredients, except maybe the cheese (but it is easy enough to find a cheese close to perail de brebis).  This isn't just on my "keepers" list, it is literally in my monthly list of "things I make when i'm busy."  And, oh, have I been busy lately... but more to come on that. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Venison Chops with Pan Roasted Butternut Squash

Like so many of the other 'firsts' involved in cooking my way through the French Laundry Cookbook, this was my first time cooking venison... AND my first time eating venison.  I don't have anything against game, per se, its just that I don't really like meat that much, so I certainly wouldn't go for a good venison chop over, say, a nice steak.

The first step in making this, like with most of the meat dishes, was making the anything-but 'Quick Sauce.'  Ideally, I would have had venison bones.  I didn't.  I couldn't find any anywhere (anyone in SD want to give me a hint about where this is possible?), so I got beef bones.  I figured, if anything, it would hide the potential game-yness of the venison chops.

Mis: stock - chicken and veal, mirepoix, beef bones, and blueberries (my substitute for the also-unfindable huckleberries)

This time, when roasting the bones (and UNLIKE when I did the lamb quick sauce), I had a little splatter screen.  It's amazing how much pain a little $3 accessory from Ikea can save a person.

Also as a result of the splatter screen, I was able to take some extra pictures - here, after the second 10-minute bone roasting when I added the mirepoix

Eventually, I cooked the bones, mirepoix, stock, and blueberries down and strained, then strained again, then reduced again.  Yeah, not quick.

Next, I roasted the shallots.  Super easy - shallots, thyme, and a little oil...

All tossed in a foil packet, then tossed in the oven

Next, I frenched the bones.  The ruby-red meat was both a little freaky and beautiful.

The butternut squash!  My very favorite vegetable, at least when roasted (and especially when roasted then make into a soup). 

The instructions said to peel, then cut circles.  But I seriously saw no point in doing this when my circles were smaller than the neck of the butternut squash, so I just cut them lengthwise, then cut out the circles (shhh.. don't tell anyone)

These were boil (not pictured), then pan-fried (also not pictured).  And, most excitingly, they were scored, so that they had a little diamond pattern.  Really wish I had a picture of that!

The finished plate (a little out of focus, sorry):

The meat was great - not gamey at all.  In fact, I think its way less gamey than lamb, and I love lamb chops.  The bacon was a perfect amount of added fat, since the dish was generally pretty lean.  And it was super pretty when served - just look at the perfect circles and pretty bacon handle and stuff (but ignore that the sauce isn't that good a circle - i'm not great with making a circle using a spoon).  Pretty delicious, and not that hard.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tasting of Potatoes with Black Truffles

Wow, I can't believe a month has slipped by since i've last posted.  It's been a busy month.  Christmas, skiing, parties, working (boo!), and some exciting news to come helped December and the first half of January fly by.

Where was I with this dinner thing?  Oh yeah, second course.  Tasting of Potatoes.  It doesn't sound that fancy when you read it - it's basically a recipe for glorified mashed potatoes.  But after making potatoes this way, I never want to go back to plain ol' Thanksgiving mashed potatoes again (notwithstanding that this recipe is so finicky and exacting that it would be near impossible to make it as part of a dinner served all at once). 

I started with the truffle chips.  Unlike 'Tasting of potatoes,' truffle chips do *not* sound like something we would have at a holiday meal.  They were surprisingly easy to prepare, but at the same time, had some issues with the cooking.

First I shaped a potato into something resembling an oval (look at how many scraps I had trying to get there!):

Then I thinly sliced potatoes and a truffle using my Japanese mandoline (and my new 'cut-proof gloves' - a worthy $15 investment if, like me, you need fingers to work), and laid a truffle between two potato slices on a buttered-salted sheet.  Notice how the ones on the right are sliced much thicker.  If you want the chips to cook in normal amounts of time, make them as absolutely thin as you can.

And, like an hour later, truffle chips!  They weren't as crispy as I imagine they should have been.  Were I to make them again (and I think i'm supposed to for 'Chips and Dip'), I would cook them in the over until they were really "stuck" then try deep drying them.  Not that this is guaranteed to work, but it would take a lot less time than the HOUR they spent backing (with me examining them every 10 minutes saying '.... still not chip-looking, hopefully more time will do it.'

Extreme close-up!

The truffle chips were definitely the most time consuming step.  Next I (gently) boiled some potatoes, put them through the tamis, and then basically created an emulsion with ungodly amounts of cream and butter.  Best mashed potatoes ever.
Finally, I cut what felt like a million fingerling-type potatoes into tiny pieces, blanched, then cooked with some truffle bits, truffle stock, and brunoise until it got thick.  Well, thick-ish.  It said to blanch the potatoes for 3 minutes (an insanely short time, but it makes sense when they are all fingernail-sized), then to add vinegar/stock/etc, and reduce.  I think it should have reduced longer, but I didn't want to spoil the potatoes or have them break, so we went with 'not-quite-thick' potato-topping-stuff.

See?  Looks a little runny.

But it tasted delicious; earthy and rich.  I really liked it.  Not loved, though.  I think that maybe, at heart, i'm just not a huge fan of truffles (blasphemy in the foodie world, i'm sure).  It's funny, because I love mushrooms, but I just feel like truffles are overwhelming.  I thought maybe it was just a white truffle oil thing - because that stuff IS overwhelming - but it applies to black winter truffles too.  Still, the potato-emulsification was awesomeness, something that I am going to repeat (but never after a workout, because, dude! all the stirring hurt my arms).