Thursday, April 29, 2010

Herb Garden

We are blessed to have a very large deck on the back of our house and the best thing about it is that because of the slope of our yard, the deck sits at a level looking into the trees at about 20 feet up. It's almost like having a tree house! Anyway, every year I plant herbs and flowers on the deck..herbs and geraniums on the sunny side and impatiens and hostas (they come back) on the shady side.

A year ago we moved a rosemary plant that had grown too big for the deck into the front, but I fear it may have sustained too much damage in the cold spell to come back, we'll see. This year I have Marjoram, Oregano, lots of Thyme, my faithful Chives that have been coming back for 10 years +, Basil, Sage, Lavander and some new Rosemary, also my Mint seems to want to make a comeback so we'll nurture it.. Also new this year we have an upside down tomato plant!  Our tomatoes in the front haven't done well the past two years so we are experimenting with this newfangled thing. The rest of the world (outside of my deck) seems upside down these days, so why not gravity-defying tomatoes? Should be fun!

It's just so nice to be able to go out and pick a tomato and a few basil leaves and make a salad. Snip a few thyme sprigs for a recipe.. I still need to plant some Italian Parsley, but I don't use it for cooking. It's for the butterflies (the yellow ones with black decorations). They love to lay their eggs on the under side of the leaves and then when the eggs hatch the caterpillar eat the plants up! I love them!

Here are some photos, the early stages, not so pretty now, but given a month of sunshine and some water, they'll be gorgeous. Plant some herbs in a sunny spot and see how rewarding it is to use them in your cooking! It's well worth it.

See you soon!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bouchon - Blanquette de Veau or Veal Stew

Having immersed myself in a foodie world, reading blogs and books and taking classes and talking to chefs, the one fundamental that I always knew to be true was that you always use the freshest best ingredients you can find for any dish. What I didn't realize until this blog project was how difficult it can be to find those freshest best ingredients. One of the things that makes Thomas Keller so successful is his network of suppliers. He knows who has the best of the best and has built relationships with them. That type of network is impossible for a housewife on a budget, although I CAN make friends with the various department managers at Whole Foods and other local stores, but sometimes the ingredients will still elude me. But this being a Bouchon recipe, and bistros always use what they have, I don't feel badly about the substitutions.

With the thirteen pounds of veal that arrived the other day, I scrambled to find a use for all of it. The bones and some meat went into a white veal stock. The rest of the meat we cleaned up removing all silverskin and cut it into chunks to make veal stew! I switched a few ingredients due to the season and availability, but I think I got the same effect. Let's start with the meat:

Put this in an ovenproof pot and pour in enough cool water to cover. Bring to boil and skim off all impurities.

Drain the meat in a colander and while it's still hot, rinse with cool water to wash off any impurities that stuck to the meat. Wash the pot and return the meat to it and add your 6c white veal stock and aromatics consisting of a leek split lengthwise then tied back together, 1 large or 2 small carrots cut into sections, 6 garlic cloves, 1/2 onion studded with 6 cloves and a bouquet garni:

Cover the pot and slide it in a 350 oven for about 2 hours. To check for tenderness, stick a piece of meat with a paring knife and if there's no resistance, it's ready. Remove the aromatics and lift the meat out and put it on a plate covered with plastic wrap. Ladel the braising liquid through a fine sieve into a medium pan you should have about 4 c. Place the pan over medium heat reduce to 3 1/2 cups.

While the meat is cooking cut up your vegetables. The recipe calls for baby carrots (with the greens cut to 1/4 in) and baby turnips, red and white pearl onions.  Baby carrots (not those things in the bag that are big carrots cut to look like baby carrots) are no where to be seen around here. I cut up some carrots and red potatoes (turnips had seen better days) and got some frozen white pearl onions. The recipe also calls for 20 white button mushrooms, cleaned and stems cut to the body of the shroom.
The recipe calls for cooking the carrots and turnips separately in boiling, well salted water. I just threw them in together I was running out of time having lost myself in a computer game for an hour LOL, and drained them when just tender. Reserve some of the liquid unless its too salty. 

Meanwhile back to the veal...

With the strained braising liquid reduced, whisk in by spoonfuls 1/3 cup of premade roux (either cool or at room temperature) and whisk until completely mixed bring to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes or until reduced to 3 cups. **In a whisper voice: add 1 c heavy cream ** stir to combine and simmer 5 minutes. then return the meat to the sauce.  Darn I thought I had  picture of that! Oh well. At this point the Blanquette (meat and gravy) can be cooled and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. If not storing, take a little 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir it into 1/2 c creme fraiche and then return the mixture to the pot.

Simmer for 3-4 minutes and add a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Back to the garnish...
Place a T of water and a T of butter in a skillet and heat until melted. Put the mushrooms in the skillet and toss them to coat all sides with the liquid mixture. Then flip them over so that all mushrooms are sitting stem side down, salt and pepper to taste and cook for 3-4 minutes, you can toss them if some are dry, but the tops should not brown.

Add to the skillet containing mushrooms, the blanched vegetables, the pearl onions and 1/4 c of the blanching liquid that you set aside, and 1 T butter, Toss the pan to coat with butter and keep it on medium heat just long enough to heat the vegetables through.

Final steps: Squeeze 1 T fresh lemon juice into the blanquette; then season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss chopped Italian parsley in with the veggies (I used chives).

To Plate:
Spoon the meat and sauce onto a plate or bowl, garnish with the vegetables and top with a sprig of chervil (chives again for me).

Wow! The mix of flavors and textures could not be beat. As you might imagine the sauce was dreamily creamy, so flavorful with the savory veal and the tang from creme fraiche and lemon. A perfect sauce I'd say. The veal was as tender as it could be and still hold together in pieces. The vegetables added a nice textural counterpart, and the carrots a sweetness that played well with the tanginess of the sauce. The Mushrooms! What a surprise! If you've ever had fried mushrooms you know that burst of mushroom juice that you get in the first bite? That's exactly what these were like, without the greasy coating. A very fresh burst of mushroom juice exploding in your mouth, it was great!  WSH did not have enough flattering adjectives for this dish. He LOVED it. And honestly he hasn't been all that swept away by the recipes I've done, save  for a few. When he said that this was a dish he could see being served at a restaurant the caliber of Bacchanlia (only in a tiny bowl), I knew I'd hit the jackpot.

See you soon.

Edit: After walking away and re-reading I see how this reads in a very disjointed way. I will try to put ingredients up first. It's hard enough cooking bringing 3-4 things together at the end. It's even harder to write about it coherently.  Leave me a comment if you have a suggestion. Thanks! : )

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TFL- Braised Veal Breast, Polenta Cakes, Glazed Vegetables and Sweet Garlic

The Butcher finally came through. Although he couldn't procure the Bobby breast specified in the recipe, we got a slab of veal. Thirteen pounds to be not exactly exact. So there was some trimming to be done and some butchering to be done, none of which was photographed due to my sister's sensibilities...just in case she is still reading these silly musings. We chose the end of the slab that had the shorter bones and thicker meat; in hindsight it may have been better to chose the other end, no way to tell for sure. Anyway, as I scurried through my T. Keller cookbooks looking for veal stew recipes (Bouchon- Blanquette de Veau coming soon), WSH produced the breast of veal. This meal was a two day process by the way. First things first, the veal has to braise for four hours or so and be compressed overnight, so I tackled that first.
Where's the beef? veal?

Here are the components of the braising liquid: chicken and veal stock mixed, carrots, leeks, onions, half a head of garlic, bay leaf, thyme, italian parsley

First you heat some canola oil in an ovenproof pot/skillet big enough to hold all this! Season the veal with salt and pepper and when the oil starts to pop place the veal, fat side down into the pan to brown 5 minutes or so over medium hugh heat. Turn the veal, but it won't brown as well on the bone sidedue to the curvature of the ribs.Here's the yummy fat-side up shot:

When that's done, remove the veal to a plate and pour off any excess fat... how do you tell how much is excess? I don't know either, so I swagged it. Put the veggies and herbs in and let them sizzle for a little while until they start to barely carmelize.

Then add your 8 cups of stock and place the veal back in fat side up:

Looks nice doesn't it? You should have smelled it cooking... It was fantastic.  And don't you go plopping this in the preheated 325 oven uncovered, mind you. First dig way down deep and fish out your geometry skill set.. or do like I did and follow the illustrations. Take a sheet of parchment paper larger than your pan and fold it in half to make a triangle. You fold and fold about six times as if you are making a paper airplane rocketship. Then you hold the tip at the center of the pan:

Then you cut off 1/4 in from the tip and trim the outside to the edge of the pan and voila you have a parchment lid! Ok it didn't fit exactly but with a few alterations it was lovely. Ready for the oven!

Meanwhile back on the stove...  Polenta! I've read various articles and seen TV segments focusing on Polentaphobia. People have been intimidated by the Italian grandmothers who say you MUST stand at the stove and stir CONSTANTLY for an hour to make it smooth. I forget where I read it, but there was an assertion that I loved put forth by someone who had some authority.  This person suggested that the idea of standing by the stove and stirring constantly for an hour was really the idea of the grandmother's family, who wanted to keep her busy for an hour and not meddling in their affairs. I don't know.. I must confess I can see it though, I can definitely see it.  For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the South, we fear no Polenta! We have had grits since childhood. Polenta is just fine ground yellow corn meal, really not so different from grits.The cast of characters  Not pictured: chicken stock and water:

When your stock/water is at a slow boil, add the minced garlic and let it cook for a minute. Then slowly add the polenta ( and at this step you really DO need to whisk constantly). Reduce the heat to low and stir occasionally until polenta is soft and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, chives and marscapone. Seriously, how could that be anything but yum?

Chef Keller says to salt and pepper to taste at this point. Being the rule follower that I am, this was quite a dilemma for me. You see, cooking grits (in the south where they are done properly) it is a Sin (capital S) not to salt the water before the grits are added. In this case I decided I'd rather break a rule than Sin, so I salted mine first. I did, however, add the pepper at the end.

Pour your polenta into a buttered or sprayed 9x13 baking dish and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the polenta and move everything around to find a space in your refrigerator where it can rest overnight.

Back to the veal: You can tell it's done when the ribs can be easily removed taking care not to burn your fringerprints off! Removed without resistance is how the book put it. Once out of the oven, discard the veggies and herbs. Ladel the braising sauce into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. I set that bowl in an ice bath to speed up cooling and then put it (covered)  in the fridge overnight. As for the veal, carefully remove the bones, and using a sharp knife with the bone side up, cut away the fat and connective tissue, taking care not to remove too much of the meat in the process.

Now here's where we stray from the recipe. It says to place the meat on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper (check) then FOLD it in half and compress the meat with weights set atop. The folding was the problem. We had a piece of meat about 3/4 of an inch thick - the size that the finished product should be - so I opted for no folding. Besides I don't think it would have stayed folded. It was a steak like piece of meat.
We did compress it with the two baking dish- 4 heavy cans of beans and /or tomatoes method and stuck it into the overcrowded fridge for the night.

Incidentally while all of the above was going on I was stirring, checking, and skimming, that's right,  I was making white veal stock for the upcoming Blanquette de Veau. I was a tired puppy when it came time to turn out the lights. Just like this old gal who was in a veal bits coma. It was her first experience with veal and she said it is now her favorite.

Cue the soundtrack: Morning has broken... Well, I didn't actually start in the morning. But anyways, on to the vegetable garnish and sweet garlic. The garnish consists of turnips, carrots, celery root (not available) and beets.  The instructions are to cut as follows: carrots into 1/4 in batons, turnips into fluted ovals, celery root, batons as well, beets into parisienne balls. Well folks, I only have a limited amount of space for specialized tools and very limited fancy knife skills so I made everything into matchsticks, only the carrots look more like logs than matchsticks. First rule: the beets (who refused to be photographed)  must always be kept separate from the other veggies or they will cast their ruby red magic on the turnips and carrots. Second rule, keep the veggies in ice water until ready to use... while you are trying to grow 4 more arms to have enough hands to finish everything at once. What would that make you ? A sextopus? Hmmm. I might be on to something here.

Now to finish up. Take your compressed veal out of the fridge and the polenta as well.

First, let me apologize for the lack of pictures at this point. They were too blurry for even for me. Using a 2" round cutter (if you have one) cut the veal into rounds, brush the pieces with dijon mustard on both sides and then coat both sides with panko breadcrumbs. Cut the polenta into same sized rounds (it's okay, you can make them squares if you want as long as polenta and veal are treated the same) dust them with flour on both sides. Heat two ovenproof skillets with 1/8 in canola oil until the oil shimmers. Place the veal rounds in one pan and the polenta in the other. Shake the veal pan and when the rounds slide around they are ready to turn. once browned on both sides either set aside or you can slide the pans into a 350 oven to warm them all the way through if needed..

Somewhere before the browning, start your sweet garlic. Peel 8 cloves of garlic and place in a pan with cool water. Bring it to a boil, strain and run the garlic under cool water.

Repeat twice. On the third boil simmer until the cloves are tender. Drain. Heat some butter in a small skillet and add a pinch of sugar, toss the garlic around until the garlic is slightly browned, set aside.

Reduce the braising liquid to make the sauce ( terrible picture). Bring it slowly to a simmer and reduce until you have about 2 cups. You will use one cup for this recipe along with these shallots and parsley

Find some more pans from your garage or somewhere and drain the vegetables. Heat some canola in a skillet and place all the veggies (except the beets!) in the pan and cook until they begin to color slightly. Add 1/3 c of Beurre Monte and sprinkle in chives. At the very last minute when you are ready to plate put the beets in the pan so they can warm through.

To plate:
Place a spoonful of sauce in the center of the plate. Place a polenta round in the center. Place a veal round on top of the polenta. Finally garnish with the vegetables and a sweet garlic clove. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

The sauce was wonderful - savory rich, just beautiful. The crispy outside, creamy inside Polenta was fantastic, it had a tang and a slight sweetness from the marscapone, the garlic came through- it was lovely. The vegetable garnish was ok - it was flavorful especially because of the beets but overall it disappointed - damn! I knew I should have done fluted ovals and parisienne balls. The veal was good but not as tender as I had hoped. The dijon added a nice zing and the crispy panko played well with the creamy polenta. The hit of the night, believe it or not, was the sweet garlic. It was so perfect! Just very slightly sweet, not bitter at all, very savory and would be a great addition to many dishes.

See you soon!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bouchon - Bibb Lettuce Salad

This is a beautiful salad. Beautiful. And so easy, really. The book recipe serves 4 and calls for 4 heads of Bibb but one head looked like enough for us to split, besides that's all they had at Whole Foods. Ingredients are Bibb lettuce (what a surprise) chopped parsley, chopped chives, chopped chervil (unavailable) and chopped tarragon (ewww) and shallots (I forgot them). We ended up with chives and parsley and that worked out just fine.

First start with the lettuce:

This lovely specimen hails from a farm on Paradise Blvd! Has to be good! In Athens GA, so it's local, even better!  The idea is to deconstruct the head, clean the leaves by swishing them in cool water, spinning them to dry, and the reconstructing them to look like the lettuce head. This was as close to flower arranging as cooking but I muddled through:

You know what this reminded me of? This is kind of a long story but I'll try to make it brief. I learned to cook on the fly. I had been given kitchen experiment time in my early days, but I got thrown turbo speed into the kitchen when our Mom died. There were five or six people to feed every night after I finished my high school classes. So basically "cooking" consisted of stretching Hamburger Helper out as far as possible, those boxes of Chef Boyardee pizzas, all plopped on a plate with not even the slightest thought as to presentation.. it wasn't part of the paradigm.. feeding hungry teenagers was. Anyway, this salad reminded me of the first time I encountered presentation. I can't remember if it was a book or a TV show, but the garnish was a "tomato rose".  What you did was cut the peel from a tomato in one spiral shaped piece and then rearrange it so that it looked JUST LIKE a rose! (My teenage OMG! emphasis there).  It changed my life. Haven't seen tomato roses around in say twenty+ years but I'll never forget how eye opening they were to me.

On with the salad. You chop some herbs, and I think you can use just about any spring herb you want. The book has you season everything and then arrange the leaves but since I was only doing one, I reversed that order.  Also I did not use the vinaigrette, I used another Bouchon approved dressing which is simply a drizzle of oil, a tiny pinch of salt and a drizzle of vinegar. In this case Fig Balsamic. (Vinegar fetish has replaced the ceramic fetish I fear).

And since Eat it Atlanta just did a gnocchi post, I had gnocchi on the brain. I also had a few things I needed to use up in the fridge. Mushrooms, scallions and for a little color, tomato confit, and the gnocchi in my freezer.

Brown those up in a skillet just enough to soften:

Then heat some butter in a non-non stick skillet and toss your gnocchi around until browned:

Add the mushrooms, scallions and tomatoes and toss together to blend.

Yum!!! I served this with a grilled chicken breast. Nice Sunday supper, pretty quick and easy. Hope you'll try it sometime.

See you soon!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday Supper

Salad of Tomato Tartare and Haricot Verts and Chive Oil  from The French Laundry Cookbook
Asparagus Coins  from Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook
Potato Pave  from Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook
Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Honey Mustard Glaze  from Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook
Poulet Roti   from Bouchon Cookbook
Lemon Bars from Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook

As you see I gravitated to Ad Hoc at Home which is far less demanding than the other two books. Actually they should be weighted Heavy (TFL) Medium (Bouchon) and Light (Ad Hoc) - it's still Thomas Keller remember so "Light" is a relative term. And for those you wondering why we have two meat dishes, I'm not really thrilled with the flavor of lamb so I'll have a taste and then I'll eat chicken. I'm the cook. So I can.
I have posted the chicken recipe before so I won't repeat it today. Click here if you want to read it.

So grab a beverage, settle in and enjoy, I'm afraid this will be a long one! I'll go dish by dish if that's ok with y'all.

TFL Salad: Haricots Vert, tomato confit, minced shallot, balsamic vinegar, frisee, heavy cream, red winevinegar, salt, pepper and tomato powder and chive oil.

Take some thin green beans and blanche them in salted water. Then send them to the ice bath. Cut them into one inch pieces and set them on paper towels to dry. Take your tomato confit out of the fridge and finely mince it. Combine the confit with finely minced shallots a touch of balsamic and a few minced chives. Put that bowl into the fridge until ready to plate. Pick out some tender leaves of frisee, wash and set aside. In a bowl set inside a larger bowl holding ice, Whisk your cream until slightly thickened then fold in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Then you mix the green beans into this different sort of vinaigrette. It really is a vinaigrette, he just substituted butter fat for oil, Classic Keller.

Using a 3 inch ring mold, or a biscuit cutter like I did, place the confit mixture in the center of the plate

Carefully add a  ring of chive oil around the tomato mixture, then place the gren beans on top leaving a 1/4 in ring of tomatoes showing. Finally top with frisee, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and add a dusting of tomato powder. You can make your own tomato powder but it is a very long and often failed process. I just ordered some much easier. The final plating:

Pretty isn't it?  It was quite tasty as well. Lovely mix of textures and flavors. The frisee and the green beans gave a nice crunch to the confit and cream smoothness. The raw shallots gave just a hint of a bite in comparison with the sweetness of the tomato. The creamy dressing tasted a bit like sour cream, which when you think about it, should come as no surprise. Definite do again.

Asparagus Coins: Asparagus, chive oil, parsely water, salt and pepper.
The book says to slice your asparagus on the mandoline. My stems kept breaking and I ended up with this:

Usually WSH does the mandoline-driving around here. This is due to an incident several years ago when trying to impress my sister with my mandoline skills I had a bad accident. I kept the end of my finger but just  barely. So I am somewhat shy around mandolines, and you know what? They can sense that. They sense fear in you. So I decided to go the old fashioned way and cut the Asparagus with a knife. Worked fine.

To cook this dish you start with the tips in chive oil and sautee till they start popping, then add the coins and swirl it all around. Cook until the edges of the coins are done but the center is still raw. Then add parsley water and cook until tender.  I have no pictures of this because a) they were bad pictures and b) they were bad pictures because everything was coming together at this point and I had 3 timers going 3 pans going and couldn't be bothered. LOL You will see them on the final plating shot. Honestly the lack of pictures probably has a lot to do with this was my least favorite dish . It had no redeeming value that I could find. I mean..why? Just roast the asparagus and be done with it.  Moving on....

Potato Pave: Canola oil, a previously made potato pave, butter and minced chives.
You unmold your pave by running a knife around the sides and using the parchment handles to lift it out of the baking dish and invert onto a cutting board.

It sort of resembles bacon to me... maybe I am just wired for pork fat. Anyway, trim all edges and cut the pave into cubes. If WSH had done this they would have been precisely equal... but as you can see, they were cut by yours truly. Notice the little slices of potato, like pages in a book.

Heat canola oil in a large frying pan and add the cubes sliced side down. Actually you're supposed to add thyme and garlic but I couldn't find my thyme and please reference the statement above regarding 3 timers. This is why mise en place is so important.. Anyway, it was a minor oversight on something with as much innate goodness as fried potatoes.

Carefully turn the cubes until all sides are browned. Here's a sneak preview:

Honestly these are really fancy, really good hash browns.

Rack of Lamb 8 bone frenched rack, dijon mustard, honey, dried breadcrumbs, butter, garlic confit, minced rosemary and finely chopped italian parsley.

Let the rack come to room temp and score the fat in a  1/2 in crosshatch design.

Before proceeding further with the lamb, puree the butter and garlic confit, mince the herbs and blend all together in a small bowl with the breadcrumbs. I found hands were the best tools for this. Also, mix together the honey and mustard in a separate small bowl.

Back to the lamb: Heat canola oil in a large skillt until it shimmers, place the lamb, meat side down and allow it to brown the fat. Move it around to brown as much fat as you can.

When that's done remove the rack to a roasting pan, meat side up. Brush the honey mustard mixture on the top and sides, don't brush the underside. Then pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the meat.

Roast in a preheated 425 oven for 25 min. Let it rest about 10 min before carving for medium rare.

And here are the shots that expose me for the loving amateur I am. Did you know the word amateur has its root in the word love? At least that's what Joel Hudson taught me. And I believe it. Anyway, so that you can see the inside of the lamb here's a final plating:

The lamb was really good. Obviously high quality. It was tender and flavorful but not overpowering. WSH had no use for the breadcrumb coating, he had several descriptions, each time trying to pull himself out of a hole he had imagined he'd dug himself in. I wasn't hurt in the least, it wasn't my recipe. But I know the secret ingredient that was missing for his palette. The recipe calls for unsalted butter and I'd be willing to bet the words "Shake and Bake" would have never been mentioned in this home if I'd used salted butter.

Lemon Bars: previously made lemon bars and topping of choice
Ad Hoc at Home uses a piped meringue topping that is then browned with one of those nifty personal blow torches. Given my safety record with the mandoline, I don't see a blow torch in my future. But that's really OK because I am not a huge meringue fan anyway. I chose powdered sugar as one, and freshly whipped cream with a tiny bit of Tupelo Honey for sweetness. Sorry for the blurry pics :(

Lemme just tell ya.. either one of these toppings, or both or neither is great! These bars are sooo incredibly lemony and tart and smooth and crisp. The crust is buttery and not too sweet. These lemon bars are fantastic. And thank goodness I have neighbors requesting them already! Definite do again.

Salad: Excellent!
Asparagus coins: not so much.  Wont do this one again.
Potato Pave: Very Good
Lamb: Excellent!
Lemon Bars: I WANT MORE~!

So that was our Easter feast. I wanted to make a meal worthy of the day. Blessings to you all and additionally Happy Easter to those who observe it. Much Love!

See you soon!