You needed some fresh thyme. The supermarket is out.
You needed some fresh thyme. The supermarket is out.
I confess: I keep hearing the siren call of French recipes with those wonderful sauces.
I have found a French Chef who shares my love of sauces and is willing to share his secrets and techniques. A few weeks ago, I attended a cooking class at Plate It Up! taught by Chef Bernard Chirent. Chef Bernard is French, learned his trade from French masters, and had is own restaurant in Paris. After emigrating to the USA about 10 years ago, he was the Executive Chef at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. (The Fairmont is that beautiful grand old hotel at the top of Nob Hill.)
He lives here in Arizona now and is in the process of opening his own restaurant in Goodyear. Meanwhile, he is sharing his knowledge and passion with us amateurs.
A couple of weeks ago, Chef Bernard taught a French Cooking class in which he shared his technique for making Beurre Blanc. When I learned he would be teaching a class on the mother sauces I had to attend.
We started with Holandaise. Just egg yolks, clarified butter, salt, and white pepper. Served over a tower of asparagus spears with a little chopped tomato, it tasted as good as it looked.
With Hollandaise in hand, we used it to make Bearnaise. Just add a reduction of shallot, red wine vinegar, and tarragon to the Hollandaise to make Bearnaise.
And then to the Bearnaise, we added some diced tomato to create Chorron sauce. Here you can see the Bearnaise (top) and Chorron (bottom). While all these were great, for me the Bearnaise was seriously good. I could have licked the plate. I'll be in the new house in about six weeks and I'm going to try some over baked potato. (I'm told that Bearnaise turns French Fries into a heavenly treat.)
We're not done yet. Not by a long shot.
How about a mustard sauce over sear-roasted pork tenderloin? Sear-Roast the pork. De-glaze the pan with about 1/4 cip white wine and let it reduce to almost nothing. Add about a cup pf a 50-50 mixture of grainy (stone-ground) mustard and water. Add a little veal stock and some cream. Let it reduce just a bit.
I love pork tenderloin anyway but this was just heavenly.
Finally, how about some Bordelaise Sauce over beef skirt steak? Imagine startng with a couple chopped shallots and 3/4 bottle of red wine. Let it reduce down to about 1/2 a cup. (Oh man was this sauce rich!) Add about an equal amount of veal stock. Then add a stick of butter (cut into small pieces, added a little at a time).
I've had Bordelaise before but it was nothing like this. There was a richness and depth there that I've never before experienced.
Yesterday was the day of the class at my favorite kitchen tools store in Glendale AZ that I have been anticipating for two months: Chef Pat Smith's Cinnamon Rolls. Pat is the owner of Patty's Cakes, a small local caterer specializing in pastries and desserts. Pat's cinnamon rolls put Cinnabon's to shame.
While some most of the classes I have attended at Plate It Up! have been demonstrations, Pat's classes are always hands on. I am always amazed at how well she handles the pandemonium of twelve students in the kitchen working at the same time. It must have something to do with being a retired school teacher.
Pat's recipe is easy. I'd been told this baking stuff was supposed to be hard but everything I've done so far has been easy (Thank You Pat).
1/2 cup warm (110F - 115F) water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
4 - 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
softened butter to brush onto the pan
4-6 tablespoons soft butter
3/4 - 1 cup brown sugar
3-5 tablespoons cinnamon
optional: 3/4 - 1 cup coursely chopped nuts
optional: raisins, dried cranberries, finely chopped fresh apple, chocolate chips, etc
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4-8 tablespoons cream
Mix the water and the teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast into the water but don't mix. Set aside.
Heat the milk, butter, and salt until the butter is melted. Allow to cool.
In the bowl of the electric mixer combine the 1/4 cup sugar, egg, and egg yolks. Beat until combined. Add the yeast mixture and the cooled milk/butter mixture. Beat until well combined.
Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time to the mixer and beat to incorporate before adding more. Keep adding flour a little at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The exact amount of flour you will need will vary depending upon temperature and humidity. Don't over-beat. When you add the flour, add it in little incriments, waiting until it is fully combined before adding the next increment of flour.
Remove the dough from the mixer. Place it on a lightly floured surface and knead slightly until it comes together and is smooth.
This actually is pretty easy. Grab the edge of the dough farthest from you. Pull it up and toward you about 2/3rds the way over the top of the dough and press it into the dough at that point. Now take the heal of your hand, place it about where the seam you just created is, and push down and away from you. Turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat. There, you are finished kneading the dough.
Lightly butter the inside of a bowl and place the ball of dough into the bowl. Lightly coat the top of the dough with butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, lay a towel on top of the bowl to help keep the dough warm. Allow the dough to rise for 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in size. An alternative way to let the doug rise is to heat the oven to 200F, turn it off, and then place the bowl in the oven. The dough should take only about 45-60 minutes to rise.
When the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a 16-inch by 12-inch rectangle with the long side toward you.
Spread the softened butter on the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon, brown sugar, and the optional ingedients of your choice.
Now you want to roll this sheet of dough into a long roll. Grab the dough by a long side and tightly roll it up. Pinch the final edge closed. Cut the roll into 12 equal pieces using a serrated knife and a sawing motion.
Place the rolls into a lightly buttered 9x13 baking pan. For best results this pan should be glass, ceramic, or stoneware to hold and distribute the heat better.
Brush the tops of the rolls lightly with melted butter. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and a towel. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. (again, an oven that has been brought up to 200F and then shut off is a great place to let the dough rise. Do not alow to over-rise.
Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes. until lightly browned. The rolls should spring back when pressed upon lightly with a finger.
Mix the icing ingredients together. Wait until the rolls have cooled, and apply the icing to the rolls.
As you can see here, The family was grabbing rolls even before I had a chance to photograph them.
With my new roasting pan sitting on the counter, I just had to initiate it. Thanksgiving is coming up, right? Let's give this thing a shakedown cruise by roasting a whole chicken. Ignore the little voice inside my head screaming, "WAIT WAIT! You've never roasted a whole chicken before!" Ignoring the little voice, I went to the grocery store and picked out a nice 4-pound organic chicken. Then I came home, put the fire department's number next to the phone, and set the smoke detector's sensitivity on low.
Fortunately, I did have one thing working in my favor: I have the March 2005 issue of Fine Cooking containing Pam Anderson's great article about roast chicken. To summarize her tips:
And low-and-behold, the same Fine Cooking issue also told be exactly how to carve it.
Well, I am here to report that the results came out beautiful (I am sure the fire department is breathing easier now). Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole meal was coming together at exactly the time the chicken came out of the oven so I completely forgot to take a photo. (I'll do this again in a couple of weeks so I'll be sure to post a photo then.)
Here you can see my son's plate. and you can see that the bird got nicely browned. I was very surprised at how moist and flavorful it came out. Plain chicken breast is pretty blah to me but this was really good.
The chicken cost me five bucks. Two people can each get two meals out of one chicken. Add another meal made with the little leftover bits of chicken. And then you can use the carcass to make a nice chicken soup or stock (Mine is boiling as we speak). Good eating for not much money.
Earlier this year, I took a class offered by my favorite gourmet kitchen tools store here in Glendale, AZ on making pie crusts. The teacher was Chef Pat Smith, owner of Patty's Cakes, a local catering firm specializing in pastries. (Pat's cinnamon rolls put Cinnabon's to shame and Pat and Heather have promised to hold a class in December and teach me how to make them.)
I have made Pat's pastry dough only once before when I made a quiche earlier this year. With the holidays coming up and my wife telling me that I will make a pie for Thanksgiving, I decided I needed a refresher.
Pat's Perfect Pie Crust
3 1/2 level cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon iodized table salt.
1 1/2 cups Crisco
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoons white vinegar
The sugar helps the crust brown. Be sure to use table salt, not kosher salt. Kosher salt is too course. The vinegar helps with flakiness and tenderness. Do not substitute butter for the Crisco.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the Crisco and cut it in with a pastry belnder as shown in the adjacent photo.
The objective is to get it to look like course meal like this:
Whisk the egg, water, and vinegar together in a small bowl and add it all at once to the flour/Crisco mixture. Toss with a fork until just combined. It is very important not to over mix the dough.
Pour the dough onto some wax paper or parchment paper and press the mixture into into a ball. Divide the ball in half. Shape each half into a thick round disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap.
If you are going to use the dough right away, chill it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough at this point. (or you could go ahead and shape the crust then freeze it without baking.)
Flour your worksurface and lay the dough disc on it. Using your roller, and starting in the center of the disc each time roll the dough towards the edges. Start in the center and roll vertically away from you. Reposition the roller to the center of the disc and roll vertically toward yourself.
Turn the dough 90 degrees. Here you can see I'm using a scoop to get under the dough and help me rotate it.
Keep rolling and turning. Don't press hard, a light pressure is all that is necessary. For pies, quiches, and tarts the dough should be 1/8th inch thick. Pat showed us a great trick to help you accomplish this. Lay two 1/8th inch diameter wooden dowels on the worksurface, one on each side of the dough. When you've rolled the dough out until the roller is resting on the dowels, your done and the thickness of the crust is uniform.
Fold the dough in half and carefully place it into the pie pan.
Carefully press the dough down into the pie pan. It helps to lift up on the edge of the dough with one hand and as you let it back down, press it into the corner with the other. By 'press', I don't mean use a lot of force. All you are trying to do is to get the dough to lay nicely in the pan.
Trim the crust until there is about a finger-width of dough overhanging the edge of the pie pan.
Fold the overhanging dough underneath so that the edge is about even with the edge of the pie pan. Now it is time to get fancy. Here you can see me using three fingers to give the crust nice little flutes.
|What you do now depends upon how you are going to use the crust. If you are going to make a fruit pie, mix a small batch of apricot or red current jam and a little water. Warm the mixture in the microwave and then use it to lightly paint the interior of the crust. Add your fruit filling.|
If you are using it for a quiche like I did, you need to partially bake the crust now. Cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the crust. Poke some holes in it with a fork, and place it into the crust, and pour in a couple pounds of beans. (Actually, as a tool junkie I should have a pie crust weight for this but oh well.) The purpose if the parchment paper and beans is to keep the interior of the crust from rising up from expanding moisture as it bakes.
I forgot to take a picture before I put it in the oven, but here you can see the beans and the parchment paper.
Bake the crust at 375F until it is just brown around the edges. And here we go: One very nice flaky crust, ready for tonight's Quiche Lorraine.
So just how did I get that thick pork chop so juicy? The answer is sear-roasting.
Sear-roasting is a two-step technique. First you sear or brown the meat in a saute pan on the stovetop, not worrying about how done it is in the middle. The objective of this step is to get the surface of the meat or fish nicely browned. This also seals the juices inside. Then you put the whole pan into the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking the interior of the meat.
Frankly this is my favorite technique for thick cuts of meat. For example, last weekend I made prociutto-wrapped pork chops. I found some very nice one-inch-thick boneless chops at the supermarket.
While the recipe called for cooking the prosciutto-wrapped chops in a skillet, it is likely that by the time the interior of the chop was cooked, the surface of it would be far too done and the prosciutto would be inedible. Sear-roasting on the other hand allows you to control the doneness of both the exterior and the interior of the meat.
Sear-roasting does require two pieces of equipment:
I have a Viking 3.5qt saute pan with steel handles on both sides. This allows me to to easily heft the heavy pan in and out of the oven securely.
My thermometer is the pyrex model shown here. I prefer the remote thermometer because it eliminates repeatedly opening the oven to check the temperature, heating the house as well as losing some heat in the oven.
To sear-roast, preheat the oven to 425F and put your saute pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Check the temperature of the pan by dribbling a few water droplets into it. If they sizzle away in 1-2 seconds the pan is hot enough. Add a couple of tablespoons of a high smoke point oil like tea oil, grapeseed oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter. Swirl the oil around in the pan and then add the meat or fish.
The important thing now is to let the meat or fish cook for 2-3 minutes without touching it. The meat will stick to the pan at first. After 2-3 minutes use a spatula to gently lift a corner of the meat. It should be nicely browned and release easily from the pan (If you are to impatient you will ruin that nice browned crust). Flip the meat or fish over and cook it for another 1-2 minutes, then move the whole thing to the oven, insert the thermometer probe, and close the door.
Patience. Wait until the thermometer reaches the approriate temperature:
Beef: 130F=medium rare, 140F=medium, 150F=medium well, 160F=well done
When the approriate temperature is reached, remove from the oven and serve.
Of course, the next logical step would be to make a pan sauce from those brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. After removing the meat, put the pan over high heat and add 1/2 cup white wine. The brown bits will release easily (making the pan a cinch to clean later).
A Hint About Prosciutto
While the supermarket usually stocks pre-sliced prosciutto in vacuum-sealed containers, I have found that the slices are too small and too thin to be workable. I go to my local Italian deli where he slices off nice big slices while I wait. Supermarket procsiutto is usually too thin to work with. If you are going to use it to roll up for an appetizer or to wrap another piece of meat, you want the slices to be about 1/16 inch thick. The paper-thin slices are too fragile and will break.
Adam at Men in Aprons invited me to participate in the Carnival of the Grill. As if to send me a sign, the September 2006 issue of Fine Cooking arrived featuring an article entitled A Taste of Tuscany in Your Own Back Yard. The Tuscan Grilled Chicken, Sausage, and Sage skewers looked irresistable.
The recipe calls for Rosemary Garlic Oil, and it just so happens that Plate It Up! now carries Robert Rothschild Farms' Rosemary Garlic Oil. The stuff smells so good that I need to get creative and figure out other uses for it. I marinated the chicken thighs in the Rosemary Garlic Oil, along with some additional rosemary, salt, and pepper for about six hours and I was amazed at how flavorful the result was.
As a side dish, I prepared Fregola with Grill-Marinated Red Peppers and Zucchini from the same issue of Fine Cooking, and unfortunately it was difficult to skin the red peppers after grilling. Which brings me to the first piece of useful information in this post:
How to Roast Red Bell Peppers So That They Can Be Easily Skinned
Rather than cut the pepper up and roast the pieces over the grill, put the whole pepper on the grill and char it over the open flame until the skin is blackened. Remove the pepper from the grill, enclose it in a paper bag, seal the bag tightly, and let it stand for ten minutes. This skin will then be very easy to remove.
|Today I filleted a fish for the first time. Up to now I have always purchased fillets, but my local supermarket has been receiving daily shipments of fresh Rainbow Trout. Filleting is a skill I need to learn, and no better time than the present.|
|Mark Bittman's How to Cook everything contains an excellent description of how to fillet a fish and I read it several times. Next, in proper tool junkie fashion, I needed to arm myself with the right tool. Off to my favorite gourmet cooking tools store here in Glendale, AZ. I returned with a Messermeister Meridian Elite 6-inch flexible Boning Knife. Oh My. This baby has a nice feel and balance to it.|
|Approaching the task with all the seriousness of a test pilot on the first flight of an aircraft, or a soldier preparing for battle, I collected my wares. You can see the fresh whole trout here. It has been gutted, cleaned, and the gills removed.|
|I made an incision down the length of the trout's spine just to one side of the top fin. I expected to find the backbone very near the skin surface but instead found there was almost 3/4 inch of flesh between the top of the backbone and the trout's skin.|
|Next I made a deep cut vertically just behind where the gils would be, from the top of the fish to the bottom.|
Finally, I deepened the original cut, carefully slicing through the flesh and just clearing the rib cage. At the same time I used my left hand to lift the fillet free (That's why there is no photo of this step).
|As you can see, the first fillet (the upper fillet) turned out better than the second. Not knowing what to look for, I could not see the rib cage clearly and I thought that perhaps I was leaving some meat on the rib cage and so I was doing more poking and jabbing with my knife than I was slicing. Later examination of the carcass showed that I was in fact neatly clearing the trout's rib cage and I should not have worried. Both fillets came out with very few pin bones, which I removed with needle-nose pliers.|
This trout cost me all of about $7.50 and from it, I got two nice meal-sized fillets - one for me and one for my wife. And since filleting it turned out to be a no-brainer, I'll have no fear of buying whole fish from now on.
Now, you may ask, "Why not just prepare and serve it whole?" Very simple: SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) long ago said, "Just don't serve me anything that is looking at me!" Enough said?
Tags: Filleting a Fish
Adam over on Men In Aprons has a great post about learning from our mistakes. For example, it took only one grease fire in my oven for me to learn to put greasy/fatty stuff on a cookie sheet with a rim instead of a flat cookie sheet.
Except for that, I've been able to avoid any MAJOR screwups. At least everything I have prepared has been edible. And I've poisoned no one.
I have however had a lot of meals that turned out to be, shall we say, less than a raving success. I make lots of notes in the margins of my cookbooks about what went wrong and how to modify the recipe to make it better the next time.
I also never serve anything to guests that I have not already been successful with at least once before. It's like that rule about demos and presentations: Don't demo anything you have not already done before.
I am also one of those Type-A personalities that if something did not go well, I tend to work on it until I am satisfied. Tonight's crab-stuffed mushroom caps were a perfect example. Just not 'crabby' enough. Gotta work on that...
Yesterday was Father's Day and I wanted to prepare something special for my 83-year old Dad. Not only was everything very tasty, in terms of presentation this was probably my best effort ever. Unfortunately the battery in the camera died so I could not get a picture.
I have poached fish in champagne before and it has always turned out great, even with the cheapest bottle I can find. The sauteed Cucumber Julienne was a big hit. For julienning the cucumbers, I found that one of those Kyocera Adjustable Mandolin Slicers works great. All three receipes were adapted from an old Time-Life Great Meals In Minutes: French Regional Menus cookbook.
Poached Trout in Tarragon-Cream Sauce
4 Trout fillets with skins
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon
1 medium shallot, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
1 bottle Dry Champagne
1 Bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
The oven is used as a warming device, so preheat the oven to 200 degrees and put a large platter (large enough to hold the fillets) and four dinner plates into the oven.
Season fillets with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Pour a flute of Champagne for yourself and one for your bride, then pour the rest into the saute pan. Add the bay leave and bring the mixture to a boil.
Carefully place trout in the pan, reduce to a medium-low heat, cover and let simmer until firm (about 5 minutes). Remove the platter from the oven WITH MITTS! and place the trout on it. Cover loosly with foil and put it back in the oven to keep it warm. (And leave it there until everything else is done.)
Remove the bay leave from the poaching liquid and pour the liquid into a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to 1/4 cup or less. Add the cream, let the liquid come back to a boil. Add the tarragon and let it simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened.
Put a trout fillet on each warmed plate, spoon over some sauce, and serve.
1 pound peeled baby (fingerling) carrots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
Bring 2 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the carrots and cook until barely tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Transfer the carrots to a bowl of cold water to stop their cooking and set them aside.
Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Drain carrots and add them to the pan along with the dill, salt, and pepper. Toss to evenly coat. heat for 3-5 minutes until the carrots are warm.
Sauteed Cucumber Julienne
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Peal cucumbers and cut off the ends. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise and then again crosswise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Julienne the cucumbers into 1/4-inch thick strips.
Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the cucumbers and season to tase with salt and pepper. Cook until just warm, tossing accassionally to coat with butter.
One thing I have to say about this old cookbook: All three of these items were designed to be prepared together as a meal and the cookbook is pretty good about when and where to move from receipe-to-recipe so that everything is finished at the same time.