Monday, November 30, 2009

garlic, lemon, potatoes Oh My!

This is another dish inspired by Cooks Illustrated. As usual, I have taken a couple of liberties - but only out of necessity! The original as published is very good. There are a couple of technique keys that are worth pointing out here. The first is that the potatoes should be in even wedges. Not even in size = not even in cooking. The second is that the flavor enhancers (garlic, oregano, lemon juice) are all powerful but quite transient. Add them late in the process - i.e. when the recipe says so, and not before.
It is a bit irritating to make these because the potatoes do have to be in a single layer in a large skillet (typically 12") and not everyone has one handy. I used 2 10" skillets for this - one non-stick and one not. Not a lot of difference between them, but the caramelization on the untreated pan was slightly better.

You want to use potatoes that are not mealy (e.g. russets) and not waxy (e.g. reds). I use Yukon Golds but Maris Piper would be fantastic.

2T canola oil (1T per pan)
2T unsalted butter (1T per pan)
3lbs medium sized yukon gold or other intermediate potatoes. Peeled and cut lengthwise into wedges. Typically 8 wedges per potato. I cut the largest into 8 wedges and then look at the size of the others before deciding how many wedges per potato.
6 cloves of garlic pressed through a press. (1/2 of the pressed garlic per pan)
2T Extra Virgin Olive oil (1T per pan)
3T lemon juice + grated zest of 2 lemons (divided between the pans)
4T minced fresh oregano (can use marjoram if that's what you have - but always ensure it is fresh)
4T minced fresh parsley
Salt/pepper as needed

This method is per pan. So if you are using 2 pans (like I did) then do them simultaneously.
Heat vegetable oil and butter until foaming dies down. Add potato wedges in a single layer keeping heat at medium. Don't let the oil smoke, but do keep the sizzling going. They should be a deep golden brown after 5 or 6 minutes. Don't peek until at least 4 minutes have gone by. Turn the potatoes and cook on the other side until that side is golden brown.
Cover the potatoes tightly and turn the heat down to allow the potatoes to cook through.
Make up the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and organo into a small bowl. When the potatoes are cooked (6-9 minutes from when they were covered), add the lemn/garlic/organo mixture, stirring to prevent burning. Stir gently fo as not to break the potatoes. Cook uncovered for a couple of minutes. Serve in a warmed bowl, garnished with the parsley.

Madame's comment: "More Please."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seeing red - meat that is

In a previous post (when will it be done?) , I wrote about rate of change - knowing when something will be done by observing its rate of change of temperature increase. There is a flip side to this. When faced with a tricky challenge - in this case very uneven pieces of meat, how do you manage the cooking so that it all comes out OK. As always, there is a story.
For the Steak au Poivre, I wanted three nice pieces of New York strip. I asked the butcher at the local "Central Market" for 3 pieces of about 12 oz each. That isn't what I got, as I discovered when I got home. One piece was a honking great 16 oz - about 1 inch thick. One piece was about the 12oz that I asked for and a bit thinner. One was about 9 oz and much thinner. We all wanted medium rare steaks, so what to do?
Luckily my old friend rate of change comes to the rescue. I know that the large piece will take the longest to cook (and as it happens, I will eat meat more rare than anyone else), so that piece went into the pan a full minute before the next sized piece. The last piece went in a full three minutes after the first piece. I flipped the steaks in order (largest first). When the largest piece was done, they all were.
So the moral of the story - good technique and taking size into account, you can adjust the major variable (time) to suit the dish at hand.

An old flame? - Steak au poivre

Our friend Bryan - he of the champagne dinner fame, sometimes calls up saying, "I was thinking of opening a bottle of (insert interesting wine here), I'd like to share it with you and Madame, so what would go well with it?" This means that he would like to discuss a pairing with me, and have me cook. Of course that's not a problem. An excuse to drink something delicious, enjoy Bryan's company and have something pretty special. Friday night was no exception. The phone call (on Thursday evening) went something like, "Are you guys busy on Friday, I was thinking of opening a 2004 Clos de tart and would like to share it with you both, what would go well with it?"
The tasting notes suggested pepper and silkiness - among some herby fragrances. So what to do? Well steak au poivre came to mind. The black and pink peppercorns giving some help to the peppery nose, and the cream accentuating the silkiness of the wine. There is a slight sweetness to the dish, courtesy of the shallots (I don't know if they are classic or not, but they seemed necessary), and there you have a terrific complement.
I am not a fan of beef tenderloin, so used New York Strips instead. They turned out rather well served with pommes boulangere and a simple salad. A very good (and easy) time was had by all.
To make this dinner you have to start a bit in advance. The potatoes take about 1 1/4 hours to cook. You also have to factor in prep time.
Pommes Boulangere
2 oz. unsalted butter
2 lbs Yukon Gold (or other intermediate not waxy/not floury potatoes) peeled
1 small onion
8-10 sprigs of thyme
1 cup warmed chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Warm the chicken stock slowly until nearly boiling. Better not to boil it because you don't want any evaporation. However adding it warmed to the potatoes makes them cook more quickly. Less danger of burning the top while still cooking them through.
Grease a gratin dish with a small amount of the butter.
Slice the potatoes thinly and evenly (about 1/4 inch thick). This is easiest done with a mandolin or V slicer. You really do want them to be of even thickness so they cook evenly. Do not rinse the potatoes. Peel and slice the onion into rings - a bit thinner than the potatoes.
Place a layer of potatoes, overlapping very slightly, in the bottom of the well greased grain dish. Cover with a scattering of the onions and 3 sprigs of thyme, a couple of good pinches of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. repeat with 2 more layers, then finish with a layer of potatoes.
Pour the warmed stock over the potatoes, then dot with the remaining butter, season with more salt and pepper (again about 2 pinches of salt and a couple of healthy grinds of pepper).
Place the gratin onto a baking sheet and then into the oven for about an hour. It isn't terribly time sensitive, but when the top is crunchy and light brown it will be cooked. If you need to hold it until other dishes are ready, then simply turn the oven off.

Now for the steak au poivre. This is one of those dishes that looks really impressive - so much so that the natural instinct is to think it is difficult to do. It isn't! That's the beauty.

Steak au Poivre
4 12 oz ribeye steaks (off the bone)
Kosher salt
2 1/2 T cracked black pepper
2 oz butter + 1 short glug of olive oil. No need for extrav virgin. You could use safflower, etc.
2 good sized shallots (about 2 oz total) minced
1/4 cup brandy (make sure it isn't salted. Use the real thing not the supermaket flavoring)
1 cup thick cream
1 T whole pink peppercorns (optional)

make sure the steaks are removed from refrigeration about 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. Lightly coat them with kosher salt about 15 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile crush the black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until you have fairly even, but still well textured pieces. You do not want dust!
Heat a large skillet on the stove, add the butter/oil and allow to become very hot - almost smoking. You may need to keep an eye on this as it can burn easily. Put the cracked black peppercorns onto a flat plate and coat both sides of each steak with them. Pressing them in as necessary.
Cook the steaks in the hot oil/butter to the desired degree of doneness. If you want them any more than medium, you will probably need to finish them for a couple of minutes in the oven, since prolonged time over the direct heat will cause the outside to become overcooked.
Once the meat is cooked, remove from the pan, tent with foil, and allow to rest while you make the sauce. Into the still hot pan, add the chopped shallots and gently sweat. They will help get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and add extra flavor and sweetness. Making sure that there are no open flames nearby (turn the flame off under the shallots too), add all but 1 T of the brandy. Reignite the flame under the pan, and flame the brandy. This will burn off some of the alcohol and add a slightly woody, charred flavor. It is subtle, but pretty important. When the flames have died down, add the pink peppercorns and the cream. Allow the sauce to boil for a short time to thicken. It should not separate. Finish the sauce with the remaining T of brandy, stirred in at the last minute (again, make sure that all flames are off).
Traditionally this is served with the sauce poured over the meat, but we prefer to place the sauce on the plate first and rest the meat on top. If I had been thinking, a little thyme as a garnish would have been nice.
Because this was an informa dinner, I plated the steak, but served the potatoes and a light salad family style.
Oh and yes, it did indeed complement the Clos de Tart perfectly. Even though we opened it a good hour before drinking, it was really only towards the end of the course that it showed its true potential - opening up with a surprising amount of floral notes - probably heightened by the pink peppercorns. As predicted, though, the black pepper and silky sauce was the perfect pairing.

So Bryan, what are you bringing next?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Champagne Dinner

We were challenged to create a dinner where each course would be paired with champagne. Of course, champagne is pretty versatile, but we wanted to make sure that we had a different experience, both in texture and flavor for each course. So after much thought we decided on the following menu:
  • Mushroom crostini
  • Smoked cheddar souffle
  • "Poached" fish over petits pois bon femme
  • A cheese plate
  • Coffee and chocolates

There was, of course, some adventure involved - I was not due back from Canada until after noon of the day of the party. The fish had to be picked up, the cheeses selected and then the cooking done. All for a 7pm start. Of course with Madame doing all the major shopping, setting tables, and making the house look especially nice, we were off to a good start.

The mushrooms for the crostini were cooked with shallots, thyme, and (of all things) rum. I didn't have sherry in the house, so figured that a medium rum would add that woody flavor that we would normally get from sherry. Yup it worked! Also, I had been wanting to try locally produced raw milk (from Layla farms in Plano, TX) for the souffle, so I figured that thinning a little fresh goat cheese with the raw milk would make a nice topping for the crostini. It did.

The souffle was served with a lightly dressed mesclun salad. The fish was suzuki - a type I had never heard of, but turned out to be a fantastic choice. Thanks to Rex's seafood market as always.

The cheeses were picked with the help of Rich at Scardellos. We always get good, thoughtful advice from Rich. The champagnes were all awesome from the Montaudon that we had with the crostini, the Pol Roger with the souffle, the Rouelle Pertois with the cheese, the Delamotte as a transition from the crostini to the souffle, the Francois Montand at the end of the cheese course and the Brut de Peche that we had as an after dinner drink with the chocolates and coffee.

Now for the recipes:

Wild mushroom crostini


2oz unsalted butter

6 Oz each of wood ears, shiitakes, white mushrooms

2 large shallots - minced finely

3 Oz dried porcini mushrooms

Boiling water to cover the porcini

4 sprigs of thyme - left whole

6T medium/dark rum (I used Mount Gay) divided use

3 Oz fresh goat cheese (e.g Montrachet)

2T whole milk

24 small crostini


Hydrate the porcini. Melt the butter in a large skillet and when the foaming has finished, add the finely chopped shallots and sweat them until translucent. Add the roughly chopped mushrooms (including the hydrated porcini) and the thyme stalks. Allow to cook down and dry out. Meanwhile strain the liquid from the porcini to make sure there is no grit. When the mushrooms have cooked down, add the strained porcini liquor. Again allow the mushrooms to dry out over medium heat. Off heat, add 3T of the rum, bring the mushrooms back to heat and evaporate the liquid. repeat with the second 3 T of rum. Season to taste with salt and pepper

Mix the goat cheese and milk together to make a thick topping - the consistency of whipped cream, almost.

Place a small teaspoon of the mushroom mixture on each crostini. Top with a dab of the goat cheese/cream mixture.

Serve slightly warm. We served them cool and one of the guests suggested that they might be even better warmed. She is probably right!

Smoked Cheddar Souffle


2oz unsalted butter (+ extra to grease the dish)

2 oz all purpose (plain) flour

2 cups (16 fl oz. 1 US pint) whole milk warmed

1/4t freshly grated nutmeg

1/2T freshly ground white pepper

1/2t kosher salt

5 large eggs (uses 4 yolks and 5 whites)

2T chopped chives

1 very finely chopped red chile (optional)

1 oz finely grated parmesan cheese

3 oz smoked cheddar cheese - grated

2 oz sharp cheddar cheese - grated


Melt the butter in a large saucepan. After the foaming subsides, add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 3-4 minutes to remove floury tastes. Whisk in the warmed milk and bring to a boil. You will have a thick bechamel sauce. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

separate the egg whites and yolks. In a large bowl whisk the yolks to break them up and make them smooth. Add one third of the hot bechamel to the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Gradually add the rest of the egg yolks to the mixture whisking vigorously to incorporate. Once the bechamel is Incorporated into the egg yolks, add the grated cheddars. Set aside while preparing the oven and the dish.

Grease the inside of a 6 cup (1 1/2 quart) souffle dish with the remaining butter. Coat the inside with the grated Parmesan making a well covered layer. This gives the souffle something to cling to as it rises.

Heat the oven to 375 and make sure it has had a few minutes to stabilize at temperature. Put the rack in the bottom third of the oven.

beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cheese base. carefully so as not to upset the foam. Quickly fold in the chives and minced chile (if using). Put the dish into the preheated oven for approximately 35 minutes. The souffle should be jiggly in the middle.

Carry the souflee to the table and serve on small plates which have had the salad already placed on them. Eat immediately!