Saturday, November 25, 2006

Of course I have to talk about Thanksgiving dinner

First, though, I apologize for not writing recently. (Some members of my family pointed that out yesterday.) It's not, of course, that I'm not cooking. I've just been kind of busy. Partly because I committed to do T-giving dinner for the family and I don't do much for that that isn't completely from scratch. So this entry will kind of fill you in on some of the cooking adventures over the past couple of weeks that led to the end result. Like: instead of using commercial bacon in my green beans and in the brussels sprouts, I made my own pancetta-style bacon. Cured and roasted to 150 degrees, not dried or smoked. This was my first adventure in curing. It was great. Only did three pounds of pork belly, and it really was on a whim. We were in an Asian market (99 Ranch) and they had great looking pork belly. I'd worked with it last summer in my Preserving class, so figured I'd give it a try. Like: for the dressing, I baked my own seasoned bread. Put extra salt, thyme, rosemary, minced parsley flower heads, and sage in it (does that make it "Scarborough Fair" dressing??). I also used some of the homemade sausage I made a few weeks ago. Like: I made "Le Bete Noire" (see previous post from September 13th). Like: I got a free turkey two weeks before thanksgiving and so I took off the breasts and cured them, too, and then hot smoked them. Boy is that good! I roasted the legs and the carcass and made a couple of gallons of very rich turkey stock, and then reduced it to 2 quarts so I could just take a quart when I needed it and make a gallon of stock for the gravy etc. That worked out great. Like: I tried the Cooks' Illustrated method for salting the turkey instead of brining it. But I combined that recipe with the spice rubbed turkey from the November Bon Appetit, sort of. So I loosened the skin from the entire turkey, and combined some of the spice rub (coriander, cinnamon, cumin, smoked pimenton) with the salt for the rub and put that under the skin for 36 hours. Then I washed it all out and rubbed the skin with more of the spice, refrigerated overnight and so the skin got nice and dry. Turned out very crispy with great juicy meat in all places. And it was beautiful. Like: I made an ahi tartare with minced preserved lemon and some tapenade as accompaniments to the salad, which was baby greens with shaved fennel and red onion dressed with lemon viniagrette. Garnished with supremes of orange. The overall combination tasted great together and the platter was gorgeous. I taught my brother how to make little quenelles of the ahi and he put it together very nicely.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lobster ravioli

We had an event that called for some over-the-top celebration, just the two of us. So first, we got some caviar. And some very good champagne. And some oysters. But Dave also wanted lobster -- who am I to argue? So I got two 2-1/2 pound lobsters (at only $10.99/lb, it wasn't that outrageous). With that much meat, we wanted to do more than just eat it with butter. So I decided on lobster ravioli. After doing my usual search online, I settled on a couple of starting points for ravioli and sauce. Made a lobster mousse and folded in fresh tarragon and the body meat (yes, these lobsters were big enough that picking the body meat was worthwhile). The lobster mousse was just leg and claw meat (mostly the rubbery stuff) processed to a paste, then cream drizzled in and seasoned. Used wonton skins for the pasta. Then the sauce was reduced wine, chicken stock, and cream enriched with butter and white truffle paste. Used a little lemon juice to balance the flavors. Garnish was caviar and chives. Boy, was that yummy! But filling, what with the oysters and some caviar service. So we saved the rest of the lobster for the next day :) Definitely over the top, but a lot less money to do it at home (and in many ways lots more fun) than going out to a restaurant!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Oxtail Project concludes

My encounter with oxtails is nearly over. My conclusion? They are a pain in the neck (literally!). Saturday of course I started the broth (has to be called broth since meat was included, stock is only bones as I understand it). Saturday night I pulled out the oxtails and cleaned off the meat, that was the pain in the neck. Tedious. Very tedious. Then I put all the bones and cartilage back in the pot and simmered it overnight. Sunday I did the first level of straining, put the meat back in and put the pot in the fridge so the fat could rise and harden (including off of the meat). Monday was consomme day. I skimmed the broth, strained it again, then reduced it until it was tasty. Then I strained it again, let it cool some, and tackled the "raft" to clarify it. We'd done that in class last week so I hoped that I could pull it off successfully (as I never had before). With Dave carefully documenting every step with photos, I got a real raft and -- perfectly crystal clear consomme! I also turned the oxtail meat into "sunday supper oxtail patties" that I would use in the soup I was planning. Tuesday, last night, we finally ate an oxtail-based dish. I blanched leaves of Savoy cabbage (nice and mild) and wrapped the oxtail patties in them. Put those in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes. Heated a few cups of the (now jellied) consomme. Cut some carrots into a few tablespoons of brunoise and nuked them for about a minute until tender. Cut some leek into fine julienne and fried it for frizzled leeks. Then the assembly: - wrapped oxtail bundle into the bottom of a white soup plate - ladle consomme around it, not covering it - sprinkle carrot on top of bundle and in consomme - pile frizzled leeks on top of bundle - serve What would I do differently if I were ever to do this again? Make the bundles bite-sized, as cutting up the 1x3" bundle in a bowl of soup was kind of awkward. But it tasted great -- not quite like the dish I had 15 years ago that I was trying to recreate, but good and visually impressive as well.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Soups, stock, and oxtails

Class this past week was on "sexy soups." I do happen to think that soups can be very sexy when they are full of flavor. I think Dave does, too, because he really pays attention when I make soup. This week I had roasted chicken frames so I made chicken stock. And, since I had kale in the fridge, and dried beans in the pantry, and homemade garlic sausage in the freezer, well, that means soup. Yummy soup, with lots of garlic since I cooked the cranberry beans first with lots of fresh sage, garlic, and parsley and then added the chicken stock, kale, and sausage. And of course some habanero chile sauce for a kick. Went over pretty well, and the leftovers will make Dave's lunches this next week far more interesting. One thing we learned this week was doing a raft to clarify consomme. So I am now trying to recreate one of the most memorable soups I've ever had, an oxtail consomme with an oxtail patty wrapped in savoy cabbage. So today we are making the basic oxtail stock -- interesting in that the recipe I am using also includes some fresh cranberries and orange peel. Tomorrow we will tackle making a raft to get a crystal clear consomme. Will let you know how that goes. Right now, it's time to go make shrimp dumplings for dinner :-)