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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Current Jus - a Gutsy Cooks selection

Since I didn't host Thanksgiving dinner this year, I had no leftover turkey to use up over the weekend. A hearty roast beef dinner seemed like just the thing for a festive dinner for two. When I went to the grocery store, I saw that beef tenderloin was $25 a pound--it didn't take a math whiz to figure out that even making half of the recipe (which calls for two pounds of tenderloin) was going to cost me $25. Holy cow! (No pun intended). Still, I decided to go for broke (literally), and I made the purchase.

I was a little scared to handle this gold-plated hunk of meat, but all I had to do was brown it on all sides and then roast it until it hit 130 degrees. Being an uneven piece of meat, it bewildered my instant-read thermometer. Was it 138? Yes. Was it 115? Yes. Better too rare than overdone, I figured, so I removed it from the oven and let it rest.

When I started cutting it, I saw that it was quite rare, but I didn't need a sharp knife to carve it. A local restaurant here advertises the "Silver Butterknife Steak." This is a butterknife roast.
A delicious meal. I don't know if anything is worth $25 a pound, but this meat came close. It was tender but had a fine beefy flavor. I feared that the sauce, made with Ruby port, red currant jelly, and bacon, might be too sweet, but it was a perfect blend of tart, sweet, and salty. It didn't mask the taste of the roast, but complemented it. And the baby asparagus, along with the mashed potatoes made with leftover heavy cream, were nice accompaniments.
A real splurge for a dinner for two. But everyone has to splurge now and then, right?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans - French Fridays with Dorie

I was looking forward to making these for Thanksgiving. I like pumpkin, love Gorgonzola, and think that walnuts make almost anything better. To my taste, they weren't as wonderful as I hoped. I think they needed a little drizzle of something sweet to bring out the pumpkin flavor and to serve as a counterbalance to the cheese. But they were pretty good, and dead easy to make.
Any time that all you need to do is dump a bunch of ingredients in a food processor and whirr for a few seconds--that's easy. Here, the ingredients were a can of pumpkin, eggs, and cream.
My ramekins are bigger than standard ones. They come with lids, which is good and bad--good because they look cute and are easy to stack and carry; bad because the rim for the lid makes eating whatever's inside a little tricky. My filling only came up to about the halfway mark on these ramekins rather than almost to the brim as in the picture. Plenty of room to put the cheese and toasted walnuts on top. (I'm also cooking out of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Whenever she uses toasted walnuts in a recipe, she makes you rub off the skins, or as much of the skins as you can get off. I felt like a scofflaw not rubbing off the skins here.)
Boiling water goes into a pan that's been lined with paper towels (to keep the ramekins from slip-sliding around the pan). After about 35 minutes, a knife inserted into the pumpkin custard came out clean or nearly so, and the flans were ready for dinner.
They got good reviews at the dinner table, but I did notice that not everyone finished the pumpkin custard, although everyone ate the cheese and walnuts. My fear that the cheese would be too strong for some people proved to be unfounded.
In a serving note, Dorie says that "the American" in her likes to eat these with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. I think that's just what they needed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lamb and Apricot Tagine--Gutsy Cooks

Last Christmas, I got a lovely Emile Henry tagine. I just had to have it. But, like so many things that at the moment appear to be necessities, this turned out not to be strictly so, and I hadn't even opened the box until this tagine assignment came around for the Gutsy Cooks, (or "the Gutsies," as Jackie calls us.)
I sort of knew vaguely what a tagine was--both a cooking utensil and a cooking dish, but I thought it might be complicated to use the utensil and to make the dish. Neither turned out to be true. The bottom part of the tagine is actually shaped quite nicely for browning meat and onions.
I cut the amount of meat in half, but kept the spices at the same amount, effectively doubling them, since I've found some of the dishes in this cookbook to be rather bland and underseasoned. For the same reason I decided to add a bit of harissa. Then I decided I might as well add another bit.
Some liquids are added--I used more chicken broth and less orange juice because I wanted the dish to have a hint of sweetness, but not to be overly sweet. Then the tagine goes into the oven for about an hour. It smelled heavenly. Jim noticed and said the same thing (although he didn't use the word "heavenly"); then he said, "Oh, wait--this is from the bad cookbook, isn't it?" He hasn't forgiven The Illustrated Kitchen Bible for the roulade and the empanadas.
But he loved the looks and the smell when I took the tagine out of the oven and added the dried apricots.
Another 20 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, I made some couscous and scrubbed and cooked the baby carrots from the last Farmers' Market of the season. (We got about 8 inches of snow that day, so I know it's really the last market).
I sprinkled a little parsley (inauthentic, I know, but it's what I had) over the tagine for color.
And served.

Wow--is this stuff good! I probably shouldn't have put that second dab of harissa into the mix because it was hot and spicy enough that some of the other flavors got lost. Still, even with the hotness, you could taste the spices and the sweetness of the apricots and orange juice. Jim loved it. He'll never be able to call it "the bad cookkbook" again.

Taste-O-Meter Ratings:
Jim: "I'll give it a 9.5. I might give it a 10, but I don't know what else is coming, and there might be something I like even better, but this is delicious. I know you don't like to make things over and over again, but I hope you'll make this again. I don't think the two spoons of harissa were too many."

Marie: "I'm pleased with it myself, but I'll give it a 9 because I think I had too heavy a hand with the harissa."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pommes Dauphinois - French Fridays with Dorie

I have an old, very easy, fall-back potato recipe that everyone loves. It's made with frozen shredded potatoes (AKA frozen hash browns), half and half, butter, and grated parmesan. The challenge for this week's recipe was to see if it could beat out the easy standby. It did. (And, by the way, it's so much better than your mother's or grandmother's floury, insipid scalloped potatoes that it's not even in the same universe).
Not that this is a difficult recipe. But there is all that potato slicing.

You could use a madeline if you had one, or you could use your food processor if you didn't think it was too much of a bother to find the slicing attachment and remember how to attach it. Or you could just slice them with a knife.

Once you've cut the potatoes and heated a lot of heavy cream with some minced garlic, all you have to do is layer. Potatoes; salt and pepper; garlic cream.

After the last layer, you can tuck some fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs in with the potatoes. Or not. Dorie seems to believe that there should not be very many rules about this dish.

On the other hand, not topping the dish with grated gruyere cheese should not be an option. Parmesan would be good too, as it is in my above-mentioned recipe, but the gruyere is quite a bit better--and the better the gruyere, the better the finished dish. I love shredding with my little Zyliss grater.

And there you have it, all ready to go into the oven. Of course, melted, browned, glisteny cheese is considerably more attractive than the pre-oven cheese.
I can't say that I'll never turn to my old standby recipe again, but these potatoes were several cuts above the original. The garlic is mellowed by its cream bath, and the herbs add subtle flavor, but aren't intrusive. The potatoes soak up the delicious cream, and the cheese! To put it mildly, the cheese is good.
Jim took one bite of these potatoes and moaned in pleasure. Everyone else at the table looked at him, and he said, defensively, "Well, they're good. Hasn't anyone else tried them yet?"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux - French Fridays with Dorie

Why do things sound so much better in French? Roast chicken for les paresseux sounds romantic, whereas chicken for lazy bums...well, not at all romantic.
It's one of the great mysteries of life. I'm very satisified to go through life with this unsolved mystery, as long as it means I can continue eating chicken for lazy people. This recipe alone is worth the cost of the book.
I will add, however, that the French version of laziness is considerably more ambitious than the American version. When we're feeling lazy, we get takeout or Hamburger Helper--we don't peel vegetables, stuff fresh herbs in chicken, plop said chicken down on two slices of a baguette, and then make a pan sauce. In fact, doing all that might be considered a fairly ambitious dinner, but if makes the French feel better to call it "lazy," I'm all for it.

My chicken was only about half the recommended size--just a little over two pounds, and the two of us ate about half of it, so a four-pound chicken would serve four if appetites were quite hearty. I cut down on the oven time because of the size of the bird, and so my vegetables were a bit al dente. I just covered the dish with foil and put it back in the oven while I let the chicken rest and made the sauce.
Umm, that sauce. It was actually a little more than the promised "only ... a little"--plenty to bathe the chicken pieces and to drizzle over the vegetables if you were so inclined. It's very full of flavor and rich, so you don't want to ladle it on anyway.
And then there was that magnificent bread! Foolishly, I almost ignored the instruction about placing the raw chicken on two bread slices. It just seemed like a somewhat mannered extra step. But I am so happy that I did, so happy that I used two slices instead of one, and so sorry that I decided to share with Jim. Although it's a good thing I ran out; otherwise, I would have just kept eating.
Normally I'm a white meat person, but the legs looked so perky and attractive that I had to take one off and eat it as an appetizer before I sat down for dinner. Crusty, juicy, and completely delicious, it was enough to convert me.
I don't like to repeat meals--there are so many new recipes waiting to be tried--but I think I could happily eat this chicken once a week forever. Perhaps because I am one of Les Peresseux. Or, as I prefer to think, I am one with good taste.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cod with Tomato Sauce - a Gutsy Cooks choice

If you've read any of these prior Weekend Viands posts, you'll know that both Jim and I have developed a sort of "bleh" attitude toward the cookbook we're using, although we both loved the mushroom tarts. But I'm not about to give up so easily, and when we were assigned a Spanish Tortilla and Cod with Tomato Sauce, I knew that was too much food for one meal, so I stretched it out to two. So glad I did--the tomato sauce for the fish was delicious, and both the sauce and the saute-roast method of cooking are things I'll want to use again.
I started the recipe by sauteeing the rest of the big Spanish onion I had left from the tortilla. I'm so happy when I don't end up throwing out leftover ingredients.
I wanted to more or less cut the recipe in half, but I wanted to make sure I had enough tomato flavor, so I used 3 Roma tomatoes. I know that 3 is not half of 4, but it turned out that 3 was the perfect amount. The tomatoes are to be peeled, seeded, and juiced. Yes, I realize that you can still see seeds. I believe that seeding tomatoes is not a job that demands perfection. I removed a lot of them.

After the tomatoes have cooked down for about 10 minutes, you add fish stock and white wine. The store where I bought the fish didn't have fish stock, and I was too lazy to go hunting around for it. I substituted vegetable stock, and a smidgen of fish sauce. Maybe not orthodox, but it worked. I also added some dried chile pepper flakes, which are suggested for the halibut version but not for the cod. Seems like discriminatory treatment to me, and I used them with the cod. I almost bought halibut, but it was $20 a pound, and the cod was only $9. If I'd known how good the sauce would be, I might have splurged on the halibut.

After the sauce is cooked down for a while, it, and the fish, go into a preheated very hot oven. I didn't want to overcook the fish, so I left the pan in the oven for just 5 minutes.
Do you know how hot the handle of a metal pan is after it's been in a 400-degree oven? Very, very hot. Do you know that it doesn't cool off significantly after being out of the oven for 2 minutes--just long enough for someone who should remain nameless to forget it had been in the oven? Do you know it hurts like hell to grab this very hot handle? Yes, I knew that too, but apparently I forgot.
But after dousing my hand in cold water and applying some burn ointment, I soldiered on. The sauce goes under the cod, which is sprinkled with more parsley. I served it with Israeli couscous and a side green salad. What a great dinner! Thank you, Monica and Jenn, for making me buy this cookbook!

Jim: "I'll give it a 9.5 because the tomato sauce is so delicious. The cod is well cooked, but I'm not sure it stands up to the tomato sauce. It might be even better with shrimp."
Marie: "I think it's a 9. The cod is a little too flaky, and I would have preferred halibut. I don't have a problem with the cod being too bland, because I don't think you'd want a fish with an assertive flavor served with this sauce."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't-Exactly-Follow-the-Recipe Spanish Vegetable Tortilla

I love the Spanish tortilla de patatas, which I first learned about in a tapas cooking course I took years ago before anyone knew what tapas were, and assumed you were talking about topless bars if you said something about tapas bars. My second encounter with these tortillas was in Spain, where I found Spanish food to be of wildly uneven quality, except for the tortillas de patatas, which were uniformly excellent.
So I was happy to have this Gutsy Cooks assignment. Except when I noticed that the recipe called for broccoli and peas. Broccoli is Jim's least favorite vegetable--it's the only trait he shares with George Bush the elder. He tolerates it as a vegetable, in its own place on the plate, but if it's mixed in with other ingredients, it pretty much contaminates the whole dish. So I omitted the broccoli. I love fresh peas, but frozen peas....not so much. I gave up on the green vegetables and substituted red peppers, which I sauteed in olive oil instead of boiling.

My stand-by recipe for a Spanish omelet requires you to gently poach sliced potatoes in olive oil. In a LOT of olive oil--like two cups. I didn't do that here, and the omelet suffered for it, in my opinion (although my supply of olive oil wasn't seriously depleted).

And I sliced the potatoes instead of dicing them because I've never eaten a Spanish omelet in Spain that didn't use sliced potatoes. (I've never eaten one with broccoli, either, but I'd already rejected the broccoli for other reasons).
I also didn't have a 9-inch nonstick pan, so I used a 10-inch, which made the omelet too thin. (The traditional Spanish omelet is usually between an inch and a half and two inches tall). My omelet was too thin--more like a frittata than a tortilla.

Here's what I'd do differently next time. I'd just forget about adding vegetables. The red peppers were fine, but really just detracted from the classic potato taste. I'd slice the onions rather than cut them in a fine dice. It's both easier and the onion taste comes through better. I'd use Yukon Gold potatoes, which don't crumble as easily as baking potatoes. I'd use a cup and a half of olive oil to cook the potatoes. (It's not as crazy as it sounds--you end up draining most of the olive oil off, and you can save it for another time). And I'd use my 8-inch nonstick pan, in order to get more height.
Umm, I guess in other words I'd use my original recipe.
This, along with a green salad, was a whole meal for us, so I didn't make the cod in tomato sauce, but I'm hoping to make that later this week.

TASTE-O-METER RATINGS (0 to 10 scale)
Jim: "A 7. I don't dislike it, but I'm not crazy about it either."
Marie: "8. I'd give a different recipe at least a 9, but nothing with potatoes and eggs can be bad."