Saturday, March 19, 2011

Salad - it doesn't have to be boring

This dish received the "OMG this is fantastic, we must serve it to people" accolade from Madame. For those who have seen previous posts, you will observe that this is about the highest possible. Fortunately it is really easy and, I have to admit, pretty darn' good. As usual, pork fat rules, but if you have reasons for not eating things porcine you could try using browned butter instead of bacon fat.
The salad is served warmed that makes it a little unusual. Even more so, the lettuce is grilled....
4 strips unsmoked bacon cut into thin strips across the grain
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup halved walnuts
1 t chili powder
2T dark brown sugar
2 hearts of Romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise, root end intact, lightly oiled
2 oz mild blue cheese (e.g. Stilton or Stichelton) cut into 4 equal sized pieces
12 cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the bacon in a small skillet and gently fry - until crispy. Add the balsamic vinegar to a small sauce pan, place over medium heat, reduce until it is thickened and a little less than 1/2 its original volume.
When the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan, and add the walnuts to the drippings. Turn the heat to medium/low and cook gently for about a minute. Sprinkle with chili powder, then turn the heat off and add the brown sugar. Toss to make sure the sugar doesn't burn. When the walnuts are well coated, add  the vinegar reduction to the pan, keep on heat stirring regularly so it doesn't stick.When it is close to time to serve, sprinkle salt and pepper on the oiled leaves and grill cut side down for 30 seconds over high heat. The inner leaves should char slightly.

Place a grilled heart cut side up on a large plate. Pour the warmed walnut dressing over the lettuce, sprinkle the bacon over the dressing. Place the blue cheese on top of the leaves, scatter some tomatoes on the plate and serve immediately

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A couple of revelations

This isn't about specific dishes, but about how to get some things to "work". First the dreaded all you can eat buffet. Now I CAN eat a lot, but I shouldn't. So, the question is, "How do I enjoy a buffet without overdoing things?" found a simple answer after eating in Abu Dhabi where almost every meal was a buffet:

Lay the food out as attractively and patiently as you can on the plate. Decide what the plate will look like and organize things on it. Don't simply pile on. If you go for a clean look, you will put less on the plate, it will take longer to do, and it will be more pleasing to look at - and ultimately (I keep telling myself) more satisfying. Also it's good practice for presentations - you get to work on an often neglected part of the food.

Second peeling cooked eggs: I often used almost hard boiled eggs (set white, slightly runny yolks) in the "French Salad" - one of Madame's favourite dishes. In that recipe, I call for cooking the eggs in the potato water. This works really well. But I have also noticed that I have tried to cook eggs by putting them in cold water and gradually bringing to a simmer. Turn the heat off and leave to stand for about 4-5 minutes depending on how much water there is. The eggs cooked by the "start in cold water" method prove really  hard to peel. Those plunged into simmering water are much easier to peel. I haven't figured the science out, but I do know that I will be starting eggs that are intended for peeling in simmering water - not cold.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi day

On Pi day (3/14 in the USA) it is traditional to make a pie. This year was no exception. I wanted a steak and kidney, but buying kidneys is tricky, so this was steak, onion and mushroom pie. And if I say so myself it was damned good!
2T Beef drippings (or veg oil if no drippings)
1 1/2 lb beef chuck, cut into 3/4" cubes
4 medium onions sliced
1/2 lb mushrooms quartered
1/2 can pilsener beer
6 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/4" cubes
Salt/pepper to taste
Cider vinegar (1t or so) to brighten the flavors
1/2 package frozen puff pastry rolled to cover the pie dish
1 egg + 1t water beaten together

The beef drippings are the secret inredient heat them (or the oil) in a dutch oven until smoking. Meanwhile season the meat with salt/pepper. Brown in the hot fat turning once. Set the meat aside.
Into the same pan put the sliced onions and cook until sligtly browned. About 8 minutes stirring occasionally. When the onions are cooked, add the meat and any juices bask into the pan. Pour the beer over the meat. Put the lid on and cook in a 300 oven for almost 2 hours.
Cool the dutch oven, and add the potatoes and onions to the meat/onions. When the meat mixture is cool, place in a pie dish (Pyrex if possible) and cover with the rolled out puff pastry. Make vent holes in the puff pastry. Brush with the beaten egg and place in a 425 oven for 20 minutes - or until evenly brown. Note you may have to rotate it.
After the crust is set, turn the oven down to 300 degrees and cook for 18 minutes - heating up the meat and cooking the potatoes and mushrooms.

Serve a piece of pie with some simply bolied peas.