Sunday, February 28, 2010

Braised Beef Short Ribs; Stroganoff; Catalan Beef Stew; Technology & Rage

These dishes were never meant to be. Either the ingredients were cursed or I was cursed from the beginning. Really, the dishes should be good, really good; hell, the beef braises in a "nest" for Pete's sake! But it was not meant to be - the beef was not as tender as I could have hoped after braising, the stove was hot-no-cold-no-hot when trying to brown the ribs for the stroganoff; my pasta rollers got all kinds of jacked up while making the noodles for the stroganoff. To top it off, the photos I took of the stroganoff and beef stew recipes are gone.




Even Time Machine couldn't save me! The best part, best, is that about three weeks ago I decided to reformat all of my memory cards for my camera - there were so may different ones floating around and I though to myself:

If I haven't backed these up - it's on me . . . reformat? . . . confirm . . . contents deleted . . .

So it's on me. I'm sorry. I would make the braised short ribs for the stroganoff again because braised meat + homemade noodles + cream + mushrooms = awesome in my book. The Catalan Beef Stew? An interesting flavor combination (the orange zest against the bitterness of the olives was great) but it will not be making the rotation in the foreseeable future.

What pictures I do have are of the braise itself. Check it:

The braise is a two step process; flavor is developed through reducing red wine and aromatics (seen above), once reduced fresh aromatics are added to the pot along with some beef stock.

The fresh aromatics

Meanwhile, the meat is patted dry, seasoned with salt and pepper and coated in flour. I'm pretty sure I was a little zealous with the flour but after such a long braise, it was inconsequential. The two cuts of meat below are both short rib cuts - the top was from Whole Foods - they offered the whole strips while the Wegmans (bottom) cuts were in pieces. I didn't really have a preference - the pre-cut Wegmans version were already in single serving sizes which was nice for presentation in the later dishes - but ultimately either would work.

Fresh aromatics added to the braise

Seasoned meat
(look it's not a mind-blowing picture but there's a shortage - so I thought I would overload while I can)

Seasoned, Floured Meat

The meat is seared - don't fear the oil - I know that it looks like a lot, but one thing this book has taught me for sure is that it is better to have too much than too little oil in a pan when sautéing. The "lightbulb moment" opposite the recipe for braised short ribs explains the rational in greater detail, but essentially, oil is present in the pan to help transfer heat into the protein (or vegetable). Having enough oil ensures quality searing and sautéing; more so than too little oil.

The vegetables are covered with cheesecloth to allow flavor to transfer freely without transferring vegetable matter. Does the meat turn out nice and clean? Sure. Was it completely and totally necessary? Hard to tell, but my instinct tells me no. For a rustic, no-fuss, family-style dish, it seems a bit, um, pretentious. But, Keller is no hack - so I obey.

The aforementioned "nest"

Beef stock added - ready to braise
(Last photo...savor it)

The meat is covered with a parchment lid (I am getting mighty good at making these little buggers) and braised for several hours. Once tender, the meat is removed, the braising liquid strained and the fat skimmed off, and the meat can rest overnight or up to three days. This is a great make-on-Sunday dish that can be reheated, added to other dishes, or transformed completely (as in Catalan beef stew) throughout the week. Additionally, there was enough braising liquid left over that I could reuse it at least once more with another batch of short ribs.

Tasting Notes:
Listen, the short ribs are good. They are versatile. They are time-consuming. In my case, they were cursed. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't give this a go. Hell, I'm getting back on the horse tomorrow (2.28.10) with a fresh batch of shorties (and a new pasta roller). Sure it's a little intense for a braised one-pot meal (okay two if you count the pan in which I sauteed the meat - but I could have done that in the braising pot) - but it is darn tasty and cooking is fun, so suck it up and take a few hours to braise.

Beef Stroganoff: I will make this again and post a shot photo piece. I gotta say, there are few things more satisfying than making one's own pasta, one's own sauce, and one's own protein - nothing jarred, processed or preserved. I love fresh pasta. I love beef. I love, love, love mushrooms so this dish is a winner.

Catalan Beef Stew: I'm pissed I don't have the pics from this one. So pissed. This dish has a different flavor profile than my palate is used to and so it was refreshing to have braised beef in a non-traditional way (to me). I really liked the bitterness of the olives against the sweetness of the fennel, leeks and orange zest. The sofritto gave the dish a certain richness and the potatoes made for a more filling serving. As I mentioned above, I won't be remaking this dish to recreate the photos - but I will say this is a flavorful, fresh look at braised short ribs that is worth giving a try if one needs a fresh look at stew/braised meat. Need a pic? Here is the real deal.

Short Ribs - Wegmans and Whole Foods
Various Veggies - Wegmans
Cabernet Sauvignon - Yellow Tail via PLCB

I'm slowly digging out - up soon: Oxtail Tartine, Scallion Potato Cake, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Pan Seared Duck Breast, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ice Cream Sandwiches, Sliced Iceburg Salad, Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing, Brioche Croutons, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe... Stay Tuned.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Without Further Delay... Sauteed Chicken with Tarragon, Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I hate excuses, so I won't bother offering any for the delay in posting. I'm trying to be better, but I can't make any guarantees over the next two months or so. I am behind in posting at least two others dishes - they are completed (oxtail and short ribs - they were good and great, in that order) but I have not found the time to post. Maybe I can make headway this weekend.

Let's get back on task - I made the sauteed chicken breasts with tarragon sauce last night - check it out:

The breasts are rubbed with a half curry/half paprika mixture you see on the left in the photo below and they are placed in the refrigerator to marinate for two hours.

Keller suggests a number of side dishes with the chicken, I wanted something hearty to go along with the two feet of snow that just fell outside, so I selected the garlic mashed potatoes.

A quick aside - I have to spell check every time I spell the word potatoes thanks to Dan Quayle. This one incident singlehandedly makes me anxious every time I spell it.

The recipe calls for potatoes (anxiety) that are two inches in diameter - mine were about four inches in diameter, so I had to cut them in half to cook in a reasonable amount of time. Keller says to boil them gently as to disintegrate the outer layer - since I exposed the flesh by cutting them int eh fist place, I tried to monitor the boil a little more closely to keep the starch from getting too beat up. The potatoes were simmered for about 20 minutes before they were drained and allowed to dry - then peeled and pureed. Keller notes that the potatoes, once cooked and pureed, can sit at room temperature for a number of hours; thus, I was able to have the potatoes nearly complete while waiting for the chicken to finish marinating.

Included in the puree is butter and garlic confit. The garlic confit is slowly simmered in oil for 40 or so minutes until the garlic is meltingly tender. You can see that in action (inaction?) here.

I pureed the potatoes in three batches through my food mill. You will notice that the peeled potatoes are in smaller pieces - my food mill sometimes goes on strike from working so I had to make them nice and small so my mill wouldn't complain and revolt. THe butter and garlic confit are passed through the mill as well.

The resulting texture is uniform and quite smooth but not gluey. The mill does not overwork the potatoes and the medium-sized blade still leaves just enough texture.

Two Hours Later...

Here is the mise for the pan sauce - from the top: white wine (sauvignon blanc), chicken stock (homemade using the Ruhlman method), tarragon, minced shallot.

Chicken is taken out of the fridge, pounded to a uniform thickness (about 1/4") and salted.

Once browned, the chicken is flipped for a kiss of heat on the other side then held in a 200 deg. oven. Look at the beautiful color the spices give the chicken - and the smell at this point? Oh my.

Excess oil now drained from the pan, it's sauce time. The shallots are softened with a little butter, then the wine is added and allowed to reduce followed by the stock. The fresh herbs are added at the end as are a few tablespoons of butter to enrich the sauce.

The final result:

The potatoes were finished by whipping in warm cream over a low flame to heat everything thoroughly. I didn't have chives (probably would have been a bit better) but I did have green onion to finish the dish:

Tasting Notes:
At first thought I anticipated the curry would overpower the dish but I was wrong. The curry offers a nice aromatic spice note to the chicken that is complemented by the paprika. I was particularly impressed by the way the flavors all work so well together; I thought the curry and tarragon would be competing flavors but they were rather complementary. This is most certainly a dish that will be added to the rotation - the preparation was very, very simple; the flavors were complex and interesting and the dish was not heavy or overpowering. This dish is also versatile - depending on the side dish, this could be a great meal for any season. I might grow some tarragon in the garden this year to motivate me to make this dish again and again.

I also think this dish is a nice introduction to the flavor of curry. I happen to love curry in almost any form but I have a number of friends that steer clear of the stuff. My guess is that they don't really know whether or not they like curry - they just think they won't like it and thus avoid it. The curry in this dish is a bit of a secret or surprise ingredient. The tarragon sits first chair, but the aroma and flavor of the chicken adds an additional component to the taste. I also think the spices give the dish a beautiful presentation. The chicken is strikingly beautiful against the fresh green tarragon in the sauce.

Beyond all the flavorful reasons to make this, it is quick and easy. The chicken takes less than five minutes to cook, the sauce about five minutes and the potatoes can be pureed in advance. This may have been the easiest dish that I have made thus far and it is certainly not short on taste.

Chicken from Wegmans
Spices from The Spice House
Potatoes, shallot, green onion from Wegmans

Monday, January 18, 2010

Duck Confit

I love duck confit. I don't really know the origin of my affinity, but I do know that duck confit is one of the rare dishes that gets a pardon from the no-eating-stuff-you-make-at-home rule when I am eating out at a restaurant. How come? Because it is damn good, that's why. But it's also damn easy to make at home, so you should give it a try.

Two things about this post:
1. All of the photos were taken in my iPhone - sorry if they stink
2. I'm going to leave the confit in the fridge for a while, so this post is simply about cooking the confit, I'll post on how I served it and any tasting notes another time.

Here are two gorgeous Moulard duck leg/thigh pieces that I picked up from Hudson Valley Duck Farm a while back at the NA Market. The guys that run the farm are really interesting folks and while I do have local suppliers for duck in my area (Dr. Joe is less than an hour away), I am planning a trip up to the Hudson Valley this spring to check out their operation...

If you've never made duck confit before, the process is relatively simple. The raw duck is rubbed with a salt/herb/spice mixture and is left to cure in the refrigerator for a period of time. How much time? Keller suggests 24 hours, others say no more than 12 hours - since Keller's curing mixture contains a number of herbs and sugar to balance the salt the longer cure time is ideal. The curing mixture for this recipe includes brown sugar, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. It also include fresh parsley which I was certain I had in the refrigerator.

I didn't.

The fresh parsley would have added a certain moisture to the mix making it more of a paste rather than a damp salt; it also would have added an additional herbaceous quality but, as Donald Rumsfeld said, "You go to war with the army you have -- not the army you might want..." so, I continued on without the parsley.

I put the ingredients into the mini-prep (I love that thing) and processed until the mixture was a uniform consistency:

I did deviate from the recipe slightly; whenever I make duck confit, I always score the top of the duck leg as close to the knobby end as I can safely manage. I have made confit with and without doing this and I find the final result and final presentation to be more appealing by taking the six seconds. You'll see. By the way, I learned to do this as I was flipping channels one Saturday morning last year and I just happened to see a TV chef suggest doing so (I think it was Jacques Pepin - but I don't fully recall). You can see the score marks here:

The green salt is applied to the duck at a rate of one tablespoon of salt per pound of duck - these guys weighed in at right at a pound each:

24 hours later:

The green salt is washed off, the duck legs are dried, then the magic happens. Look at this beautiful sight:
Is that a bucket of duck fat? Why yes, yes it is.

The fat is melted, the duck submerged, the lid applied and the pot placed in the oven (how's that for passive voice?!).

The duck is baked, no, braised, no, bathed at a comfortable 190 for several hours. The result? See for yourself:

See what those cuts did for the meat sliding down the leg bone? Nice and clean, just as I wanted. For a more French approach and presentation, the knobs are cut off so just some of the leg bone is showing. I was able to sneak a little taste and this stuff is good - not substantially different than many of the duck confit I have had in the past, but very good. The main difference I notice with this recipe as compared to others I have read and tried in the past is the addition of brown sugar and the lack of more aromatic spices (e.g. star anise and clove) to the curing mix. I only tried a small piece, maybe the difference with this mixture will be more apparent in a larger quantity. The serving options for confit are endless - as part of a salad, as an appetizer with some of the red onion and cranberry marmalade, the base for duck rillettes, and so on and so on...

So let's look at active cooking time:
Making green salt: 4 minutes (to measure, take picture, process in mini prep)
Scoring duck leg and rubbing duck with green salt: 1 minute
Rinsing and drying duck: 3 minutes
Melting duck fat and putting legs in the fatbath: 3 minutes

So with 11 TOTAL minutes of active cooking time you can have a classic French bistro dish that is versatile and delicious. Stop reading and make some. Right now.

Possible additional time commitment:
Putting duck in long-term storage vessel and covering with fat: 5 minutes (which gets you six months of storage time - six months!)

Duck Legs and Duck Fat from Hudson Valley Duck Farm via NA Market

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Sausage and Peppers

Sausage and peppers - that's a gimme - I'm not sure that I have ever disliked any sausage and pepper dish. But, I can honestly say that I've only had sausage and peppers slapped on a bun watching some sporting event, wishing I had extra napkins as the sausage and pepper juice is causing structural failure of the bun and I am paralyzed because I have sausage and pepper juice running down my face, hands and arms.

What I'm saying is sausage and peppers with a fork and knife is not exactly part of my food vernacular.

This recipe combines the pan-roasted chicken and sausage with the recipe for peperonata rustica. Let's get going with the chicken:

I started with breaking down a small chicken into the eight piece cut that is very well illustrated in the book and placing the pieces in a brine. This is the famous Keller lemon chicken brine that has made many a foodie swoon over his fried chicken dish. The brine contains salt, honey, garlic, lemon, bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley and made far more than I needed for this recipe so I put the extra brine (non-chicken-y) in a freezer bag and into the chest freezer for use at a later date.

While that was brining, I got to work on the peperonata rustica - a cooked pepper dish that contains several fresh peppers and some dried peppers as well. The peppers cook in a chicken stock base and since I was running low on chicken stock I made the recipe from the book.

Chicken stock, for the longest time, was an ingredient that I used to never make at home (I was a Swanson low sodium box broth guy) but after discovering Michael Ruhlman's technique for making stock, I now exclusively use homemade. I keep a bag of chicken bones in the freezer and once the bag gets full, I make stock. The AHaH version is a very light (in color and flavor) stock that I would probably not replicate for my everyday stock uses. I like to make darker stock from roasted bones rather than a lighter stock like this one. Keller concedes that this is a light stock by design and he offers suggestions for making the stock stronger, but this technique is much more complicated than the Ruhlman way to which I have become accustomed.

Maybe complicated is the wrong word, perhaps intricate or labor intensive would be more accurate. The Keller way has one rinse the bones, simmer the stock slightly off the burner (to create a convection that naturally gathers the impurities - a great tip), pour ice into the stock to congeal the fat and make it easier to remove, add the veggies (carrots, leeks, onions), simmer, skim, skim, skim, ladle gently through a conical strainer, and chill rapidly. That's a lot different and a lot more attention than roast bones, cover with water, put in low oven for howeverlong add veggies in the last hour, strain, chill.

Now, all the steps in Keller's version will result in a clean, clear stock, trust me - but I'm just not that picky in general. I would use such a technique for a special recipe or occasion (or if I was having a all-you-can-cook kind of weekend) but not on a consistent basis.

Onto the peppers. They are tossed with oil, salt and pepper and roasted in a 375 oven. They are removed, peeled and torn into strips.

After the red and yellow peppers are roasted, peeled and torn they are combined with piquillo peppers (if you haven't had these little guys, you are missing out; they are like a jacked-up steroid injected roasted red pepper in a tiny little package), soffritto, the chicken stock from above and piment d'Espelette.

The piquillo peppers

Onions for soffritto

Frying the tomato for the soffritto

The mixture is combined and simmered for thirty minutes to soften the peppers and also to allow the flavors to meld. Back to the chicken. The chicken is patted dry and sauteed. The book suggests a saute time of between thirteen and fifteen minutes - I found this to be way too long based on the sugar content of the brine. As you can see from the picture below, I was getting some deep color on the chicken and these were turned after about seven minutes. Clearly all cook tops vary - so one can't strictly adhere to the recipe; had I done that, I would have had what looked like Kingsford briquettes for dinner. However, if a nice representative from Wolf or Viking would like to contact me about trying out their product for the next thirty years or so because I have a glass top range that I hate, hate, hate - drop me an email and we'll chat because I loathe my range.

Whoooo. I feel better. Back to the chicken... Dry it:

Saute it and add the sausages (I got some great sweet sausages without fennel seeds from Giacomo's):

Mix in the peppers and put in the oven to finish cooking the chicken:

Plate and eat:

The verdict? Damn good. The porky richness goes great with the juicy, briny chicken and the peperonata rustica had it's own sweet, tart note that rounded out the dish perfectly. It was a very satisfying, almost light dish. There is no heavy sauce, nothing that sits heavy in the stomach. I would say that I was surprised that this combination worked so well - I didn't know that the chicken would work with the sausage and pepper classic combination. Hell, I didn't know if I would be able to eat sausage and peppers with a fork and knife. But I did, and it was good. I mean, look at these plates! It looks like a pack of wolves ate dinner at my house:

The other nice part about this dish? Left over peperonata rustica to make Eggs Flamenco (in the book at the end of the peperonata rustic recipe).

Cook the eggs in the peperonata with a little extra stock to moisten the mixture and re-warm the sausages:
And serve (and eat with same pack-of-wolves voracity):

Air-chilled chicken from Wegmans
Sweet Sausage from Giacomo's (Easton, PA)
Piment d'Espelette from Savory Spice (although it is available again from Market Hall)
Eggs from Happy Farm