Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Thon à la Provençal

Yes, I finally cracked open my own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Mom Cooks Everything bought me my own two-volume copy of the Julia Child classic last year and until last night I had yet to dive in.

Part of my issue is not one of laziness, ability, or volition, but rather something I've been reticent to speak about in public to strangers. Namely I keep kosher...mostly. Anyone reading out there who keeps kosher could probably point out several "violations" of kashrut in my kitchen (or even my lifestyle). Basically I just want to avoid drive-by comments about how I don't keep kosher.

Still for the past 16 years, even though I am not religious, I have kept what I consider a kosher eating regimen. No meat and dairy together (though I do eat poultry and dairy together), no shellfish, no locusts, and of course no pork. It's that last bit that threw a spanner in my making of any Julia Child recipe.

After all, mastering the art of French cooking involves the French love for bacon, bacon fat, and creamy sauces on many things. Even making dessert involves bacon. I have no qualms with any of that, but if you keep kosher it's fairly difficult to make many of Child's recipes. More on how I plan to find ways around that later. 

NOTE: This recipe requires an hour and a half to two hours of marinating and basting the fish.

To get started, you'll want to open your copy of Mastering the Art of French cooking to page 505. At least, you'll want to do that if you're unfamiliar with juicing a tomato. You'll notice the instructions include squeezing the seeds out over a strainer over a measuring cup. This may come in handy for reserving juices for later use in some recipes, but you can safely discard the seeds and juice for this one.

Blanch and shock yer maters. 

This will make them terribly easy to peel and you can wear the tomato skins on your fingers and pretend to be a tomato monster. When you're done playing with your food, cut out the tomato stem and cut the tomatoes in half across their width. 

This makes it easy to squeeze out those pesky pips

My Snufkin kitchen towel purchased in Finland last year. This comes from the Moomintroll series of books which I enjoyed as a child (and still do!). 

I chose a tuna steak for this recipe because I was concerned about the quality of swordfish I could get at the supermarket and couldn't make it over to the fish market yesterday. If you're following along from page 219, you'll see the first step is to mix the lemon and salt in your baking dish. Beating in the olive oil and pepper is as simple as whisking them in with your measuring spoon.

Add the fish to the baking tray, baste all over, and cover for an hour and a half to two hours, basting and turning every ten minutes or so. You'll notice I used a Pyrex pie shell for this. If you're as of yet uncomfortable with using glass directly over flame (like I was) this is a great recipe to get you comfortable. 

In the meantime, I chopped up the tomatoes, mashed my garlic cloves, and placed them both with the seasoning in a plastic container which waited patiently in the fridge. At this point I also took some time to chop up half my yellow onion. 

Magically we're an hour and a half later! The fish looked great and I dried its outsides thoroughly before placing it in a very hot skillet with oil, searing both sides for a couple of minutes.

You can see my reserved dry Riesling there on the trolley-top. For this I chose a wine from Alsace, the Joseph Cattin Riesling. Riesling is generally-known for being sweet, but it's possible to produce wine from these grapes of many types. This was a fantastic dry one.

Right about here you'll want to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Here was where I realized I forgot to purchase tomato paste, but it wasn't necessary as I had at least two more tomatoes than I needed. While in the end I didn't have the darkest red colour, there was no flavour missed.

Over medium heat, cook up the onions until they are tender. Then stir in the tomato and garlic mixture; cover and cook for five minutes.

There was no need to correct the seasoning here, so once I was done I put everything over the fish in the baking dish.  Cover that with tin foil and bring it to a simmer on the stove. Once it's bubbling, put it in the oven for fifteen minutes or so. Then pour in your wine and bake for another 30 minutes. The recipe calls for turning the oven down to 325 once the mixture is simmering. This will, I believe, prevent the fish from drying out.

When you're done with the oven, put the fish on your serving platter, scraping all the sauce into the baking dish.

It took me a bit longer to reduce the sauce than the recipe suggests, maybe 20 minutes instead of five.  

Still, having it over high heat directly on the stove was a fun experience, especially looking through the sauce to the blue flame below. Once it was reduced I stirred in the butter and flour mixture which thickens it up considerably. Brought it back to a simmer and then put on the fish. 

After eating this fine dish (served with boiled potatoes as Julia Child suggests), I stated that it had shaken my world to its foundations. That's no joke: I just made the best tuna I've ever had for myself. The flavours blend so well together and the tanginess mixes perfectly with the hearty fish. 

Your soundtrack for this entry: Amon Amarth - The Fate of Norns. That's right, Julia Child and Amon Amarth are together at last.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Chicken Tostadas

Never once have I gone farther in the field of Mexican cooking than tacos. Even though Mexican is my favourite ethnic food. Never made burritos. Never concocted my own flauta. Not once have I ventured a pollo a la mexicana. When our great blizzard of 2010 (I'm calling it Citystopalypse) hit, I was ready with some spicy greatness of my own.

One package of Guerrero tostadas later, I made what the Thrifty Sifter termed one of the "best meals" I've ever made. I have to agree and the leftovers were fantastic.

Unfortunately I forgot to document their creation, though these coriander chicken tostadas are not complex in their creation. Still, you get a photo of them on my new plates with my new Cuisinart 14 cup food processor in the background.


Your soundtrack for this entry: Bell Biv Devoe - Poison.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Steak and Hasselback Potatoes

...with a side of lime-jalapeno-spinach salad.

It's time for a new way to do taters and yea I hath found it: hasselback potatoes.

According to a user at AllRecipes (a top search result) this recipe originated in the Hasselbacken Restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden. I have no quibble with that assertion, though pass it on at your own peril. You may just run into a Steven Hasselback, a cyclopean giant of a man who lost his left eye inventing the dish in 1972.

Hasselback Potato Ingredients (for two)
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter or Smart Balance Organic Buttery Spread (I used the latter)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- two tablespoons cilantro (roughly chopped)
- salt
- two medium baker potatoes (peeled and kept in a bowl of cool water to prevent browning)

Some versions of this dish include cheese during the final stage. I do not.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a baking sheet or pie pan with parchment paper on the bottom.

Over low heat, slowly melt the butter. Once it starts giving you a bit of bubble, add the cilantro and cover. Cook another minute or two and remove from heat.

This is the part where you get to create the signature look of this dish. There are a couple of methods of creating this.

1. You can slice a bit off the bottom of the potato to ensure it sits flat, then create slices about 1/8 of an inch apart across the potato, taking care not to cut all the way through.

2. There's also a method where you sit the potato in a large spoon and make the same slices mentioned above. The rim of the spoon keeps your knife going all the way through.

I chose:

3. Take a thin slice off of the bottom as in 1 above. Then place a chop stick to either long side of the potato. Make 1/8 inch slices.

Spread the slices a bit with a paring knife. Then place the potatoes in the baking sheet or pie tin and brush with the cilantro butter mixture.

Make sure some gets in between the slices. Then bake for approximately 45 minutes.

Pull the potatoes out of the oven and pre-heat the broiler. Brush the potatoes with the remaining cilantro-butter mixture, then spread the panko over-top.

Place about 5 inches from broiler for 2 - 3 minutes.

Now, should you choose to make the same dishes as I did together, you should season the steak first and let it sit out a room temperature while you take care of the potatoes. While the steaks are actually cooking you should prepare the spinach salad (it's quick).

These were seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of coriander (I'm on a kick lately). Pass on the coriander here as it didn't add anything to the dish. I pre-heat my iron skillet and place the meat directly on.

As I've mentioned before that I like my steak rare, it should come as no surprise that I basically sear it for 2 - 3 minutes a side and that's it. And if you read that previous entry, yes, my skillet is finally properly seasoned. The Thrifty Sifter, for whom I created this wonderful meal, prefers hers medium rare, so she got the five minute treatment.

I forgot to take a good shot of the salad which accompanied dinner, but it's very easy.

Baby Spinach and Jalapeno Salad with Lime Vinagrette
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- the juice of 1 lime
- salt
- pepper
- baby spinach greens (use as much or as little as you want)
- 1 jalapeno (seeded, and roughly chopped)

Once you have all the above ingredients, mix them up in a bowl and enjoy.

This meal was Thrifty Sifter approved.

 Not even that spinach leaf was left.

 Served with a bottle of Carchelo red wine. It's a blend and Spanish.

Your soundtrack for this entry: Veruca Salt - 25

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Moroccan Beef Stew

Damn I love meat. It makes me happy when the Thrifty Sifter throws a recipe my way for dinner which includes some lovely stewed beef. This Moroccan beef stew recipe came from Epicurious and it's quite novel to my palate. Golden raisins, dates, and cinnamon are not ingredients I expected to taste with meat, but this stew is a complete winner. Leftovers didn't last long.

Prepping the various ingredients pre-cooking. 

Browning the beef. You'll notice we used stew meat instead of a beef tenderloin. Unfortunately Key Food never has beef tenderloin. 

Cooking up the onions, carrots, and garlic. Sort of reminds me of mirepoix

Bringing everything together for a nice simmer.

Simmer it!

Served with some Magic Hat #9

Your soundtrack for this entry: The Cure - A Short Term Effect

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Coriander Tuna with Cabbage Salad

As you probably noticed in my previous entry I've rearranged the kitchen once again. It does cramp the sink a tiny bit and make one of my undersink doors unusable. However, I never keep much under the sink, so we're good there.

The plusses are numerous, including making it easier to transfer from work surface to stove to sink in any combination. I've also freed up space on the other side of the kitchen for my bicycle, my two spare dinner chairs, and the trash and recycling are closer to the work station.

Chronologically this meal took place before the chicken in my previous entry, but that Dragon's-wort chicken was too much on my mind to avoid writing about first.

Tuna's been absent from the menu for a while and I wanted to bring it back to the table with a bit of something different. Usually I sear it on either side and season with pepper and salt. For this version I also added a nice coating of ground coriander.

I also created a very easy cabbage salad by shredding the cabbage, adding fresh ground pepper and salt, and mixing in some spicy rice vinegar. Let that sit in the fridge for a half hour or so.

Firing up the mandolin here. I've not yet used it to simply slice things and I'll have to wait until I do that before trashing this piece of equipment. It's definitely not good for shredding or julienne. 

Add the rice vinegar. 


Fire up the pan! I like my tuna on the well-done side sometimes and that's the case here.

 This piece was thick and cooked approximately five minutes a side. 

Served with a sprig of cilantro. 

Your soundtrack for this entry: Parry Gripp - Do You Like Waffles.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Dragon's-wort Chicken with Baby Spinach Salad

Tonight I decided to try my hand at making a couple of dishes introduced to me by my friend Lauren. It's been a lazy weekend and, apart from hitting the gymnasium, the Thrifty Sifter and I only had one plan: dinner with Lauren and her husband Bill.

That I once said she could throw down in the kitchen is completely true. Practically everything of hers I've tasted has been fantastic and last night was no exception. Sipping beer (after being told my help wasn't needed, of course!) I watched dinner preparations. The resultant dinner was so good I wanted to try it myself today.

My version's a bit different in that I only used tarragon (sometimes called dragon's wort) and dried sage while eschewing the use of garlic. Okay, I didn't choose not to use the garlic so much as forget to put it in.

Dragon's-wort Chicken
- 4 chicken breasts (with skin)
- half a stick of unsalted butter cut into 6 - 8 slices
- three sprigs of fresh tarragon
- dried ground sage
- salt
- fresh ground pepper

Place the chicken breasts in a glass casserole dish or iron skillet. Place a pat or two of butter on each one (two for the larger ones). Next coat lightly with sage, salt, and ground pepper. Last strip the leaves from the fresh tarragon and place on each breast.

Pop that puppy into an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees. Cook for 40 - 50 minutes or until skin is a golden brown.

Damn, I need to clean my oven. 

Lauren's chicken was good, but her baby spinach salad was fantastic. Made with sliced almonds, gorgonzola, and a poppy seed vinaigrette, I woke up thinking about it today (along with a horrid hangover).

My version includes:
- 2 ounces of almonds toasted and chopped (about 12 almonds)
- 3 cups of baby spinach
- 2 ounces of gorgonzola cheese
- 1/2 cup of dried cranberries

For the dressing I used the following ingredients and kinda eyeballed the portions.
- 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- dried ground sage
- fresh ground pepper
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp hot paprika

While I was making the dressing it was time to pull the chicken out of the oven. Don't they look delicious? I wasn't going to forget them like I forgot about going to bed last night. 

Shake, shake, shake!

Chopping the toasted almonds. 

I think the Bel Gioso Lauren used last night was actually a better gorgonzola, but this was tasty. 

Dinner is served. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I intended to use garlic with the chicken and will remember to do so next time I make this. Still, the chicken was quite good. My dressing was a little too heavy on the vinegar, so I'll avoid that much in the future. I actually intended to use balsamic, but for some reason I couldn't get the bottle open.

Your soundtrack for this entry is Men at Work's "Who Can it Be Now." I'd like to dedicate this to Harlan and Jen, who I didn't get to say goodnight to last night due to drunken passing out. Seriously, someone take the beer away from me next time!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Radicchio and Arugula Salad

For this recipe I made a variation of a recipe for radicchio and arugula salad I found on Epicurious. Instead of hazelnuts I opted for mixed nuts and instead of balsamic and red wine vinegars I went for cider and white wine vinegars.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Place the mixed nuts on a roasting pan (or in this case a pie tin) and bake for 20 minutes or so. 

Chop roughly. 

Mix the dressing. 

Give the arugula a nice slicing after you give the radicchio a rough chopping. 

Quarter the dates. 

Add some feta and you're done!

I have to add that in November I took a course on knife skills. I'll write about that soon. 

Your soundtrack for this entry: Agalloch - Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires