Steak Mirabeau

27 08 2008

Our recipe this week is Steak Mirabeau, or steak with anchovy butter.  The focus is the butter, a compound butter; a butter blended with…let your imagination carry you, but this week, our focus is anchovy butter.  It was simple enough to make; mash drained anchovies and mix with softened butter.  I mashed about 2 anchovy fillets to two tablespoons of butter.  I could see a lot of little bones, and I just don’t like little bones, so I smooshed the mashed fillets through a sieve.  There was plenty enough flavor for the amount of butter.  We served it on grilled T-bones.  We decided it was ok…but we both prefer a butter compound of butter and gorgonzola on steaks.  A little research revealed that this is a tasty butter for any dinner steak, swordfish or salmon, or deep green vegetables.  That makes sense.  It’s more robust that unadorned butter.  Would I make it again?  That depends.  It lurks in the back of my mind now…that means it could pop up sometime!

School started this week.  I’ve worked 3-10 hour days in a row, and I’m tuckered out.  I’m a school secretary, and while I still have all my hair, I’ve decided it’s time for a name change.  I’ve heard mine so many times this week…I’d so like to hear something else!  In some regards, it’s been really good!  I didn’t have any lost children until today…we didn’t lose any today either, but 4 of them went the wrong way at the wrong time.  Not that there’s a right time to misplace someone else’s child, but…  Two got onto a bus they shouldn’t have…and 2 more didn’t get onto the bus they should have.  Anyway, after days like these, cooking is one of the last things I’m thinking of.  Our Steak Mirabeau was a team effort.  Hubster was wonderful.  He did the cooking, and I supplied the butter.  How can you beat that deal?  I can…he also did the dishes.  And no, there are no more at home like him.  Sorry about that.

Next week….Brochet au beurre blanc.  According to the book, this is a whole poached pike with a butter sauce.  Pike.  Hmmm…about as easy to find as langostines.  I wonder what’s available around here…got to call a specialty shop…I love this adventure!





Egg Poaching 101

16 08 2008

I’ve been cooking, to a greater and lesser degree, for over 40 years now, and never have I heard any egg poaching recipes that explain the process the way Smitten Kitchen does.  I’m sure it’s not the 100% recommended-pass-your-CIA-academy method, but this one WORKS, and that’s enough for me for now. Click on her blog title to go to her tutorial.

After reading through the instructions twice and pouring over her photographs, I discovered I really wanted to give this  try.  Really.  Badly.  Enough to make eggs benedict bad.  Well…at least my version du jour.  I started with whole sprouted grain english muffins, sliced ham, fake hollandaise (had to appreciate my limitations at that moment) and a carton of eggs.

I’ve poached eggs, and faux poached eggs, and given up on poached eggs for ages.  No matter what I do, the eggs have always become webby in the water and I end up with a bunch of white webs and froth and a lonely little yolk with a bit of white on the edges.  Why bother??  Back to the sauté pan.  Deb’s method keeps the white nicely attached to the yolk so you end with all the egg in the center of your pan.  That’s the give-away that this isn’t a major chef technique…surely they don’t poach each egg singly in a pan…or do they??  Gordon Ramsey…please stand up!

The upshot is I didn’t take pictures…the card was still in the computer from my last photo editing session, but the eggs came out fabulously: tender, white orbs full of runny yellow goodness.  Don’t worry.  I’m sure I’ll be poaching again soon.  Hubster loves eggs benedict.  That’s one reason I keep faux hollandaise available.  Once in awhile there are just enough eggs for the plate, but too few for hollandaise!  I held the first 2 eggs in a buttered bowl while I cooked the 2nd plate of eggs.  I dropped the first two back into the water just before the 2nd batch came out so they’d reheat.  And the pan isn’t a huge mess from the egg dispersing into the water.  Deb…I owe you one for this!!





Onion Soup

13 08 2008

I wonder why it works out that we’re doing soups in the heat of summer…it’s 103º outside. Ish. Fortunately, I did my soup over the weekend when it wasn’t quite so hot!!

We love French Onion soup. I make it fairly often. I was very pleased to see the recipe was almost exactly the way I make my soup already. The only exception was the roux. I don’t usually thicken my onion soup. And we prefer the richness that beef broth adds rather than chicken stock or water. I guess that’s getting pretty different now…well…thickener and different liquid…. I thought the amount of wine was kind of much, until I realized that I use that much sherry for my soup…

And so…we suffered through the enticing aromas of sweating onions…seemingly forever. I cooked them very low and slow while I was doing other things to get supper ready all at the same time. My salmon smoked gently while the onions were getting limp and golden. I cut a sourdough roll into slices and toasted the slices just until they were crusty, but not brown to top the soup with when the time came, and since I had sliced swiss cheese, we used that. Darn…it overlapped a wee bit and anchored the cheesy bread raft in the center of our little soup pond…swimming with tender onion strands.

Mmmm…oops. I guess I got a little anxious. I totally neglected to photograph this soup session. I sliced the onions on my mandoline. It made short work of the onion halves, and seemed to help avoid onion-tears. That was a good thing…onions get me BAD! Here’s a shot of hubby’s soup…patient man that he is. All he did was add pepper, but he always does that.

Doesn’t that look yummy? The cheese was perfectly gooey! The soup came out of the broiler just as it was time to plate our pan smoked salmon and sautéed zucchini. That’s why I was so anxious…I just couldn’t wait to dip my spoon in. Mmmm….

Now…since it’s 103º outside, I think it’s time to do the consommé!





Further Adventures in Mt. Shasta ~

10 08 2008

Yes, I’m going to torment us with another trip to Mt. Shasta…the scenery and energy are fabulous, even though they’re a foodie’s nightmare.  The good news?  Black Bear Diner was open…so we at least had a little good food! LOL!

We left late on a Sunday afternoon…not the best of times to dine anywhere.  Sunday and Monday evenings are loss leaders, and many places close their doors for one day or the other just for that reason.  We weren’t quite hungry enough to warrant stopping off in Chico; plus we’d just gotten on the road.   Chico is the last reasonably exciting source for food until one gets another 60 miles north to Redding, which doesn’t wave any culinary banners either.  For some reason, Chico accepts inventive dining fare…maybe it’s the college. Farther north, you’re talking farmers. Meat. Potatoes. Don’t mess with it.  So, being even slightly hungry and leaving town on Sunday afternoon was moderately foolish.

Traveling north, we pass through Chico, outlying farm lands and communities, eventually the town of Corning, followed by Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Anderson up to Redding.  Corning is home of The Olive Pit – can you guess a lot of olives are grown and processed here?  However…olives as an entrée item…thank you, no.  Red Bluff is home to the chain-gang.  I think every restaurant I’ve seen there (so far) is part of a chain.  We pulled off there, but there was no parking which wasn’t in direct sun, and we had Jasmine with us.  Can’t cook the doggie.  I’m not sure what’s in Cottonwood, other than that’s where the CHP has a truck scale, so I know to watch my speed through there.  Sorry folks…  Anderson is home to the only Outlet mall in the far north of California.  It is not, however, a food mecca.  And yet…we pulled off.  I don’t know why…one of those “whispers” I suppose.  I cruised a block and we found an A & W Root Beer stand…truly a vanishing breed, and I love root beer.  Don’t get too worried.  I also prefer one major cola product over the other, and won’t drink the other.  I can taste the difference, and I have a preference. But root beer…mmmmm~  As we were trying to find our way around to get back to the freeway, we stumbled across a Northern Calif. Mexican food chain…Casa Ramos.  We’d attempted to eat at the Corning version, but there was NO shade.  Here, there was plenty of shade, and we could put Jasmine far enough away from the front door so as not to feel nervous about her rather HIGH-pitched yapping.   She only yips and yaps a few minutes.  Once she knows it isn’t going to help.

Casa Ramos is like any chain.  There are good and not so good restaurants.  Their first restaurant was built in Yreka, CA in 2005.  We’ve been dining at their original Chico location since about 2006.  So far, we’ve found we like this chain pretty reliably.  They serve authentic food that (usually) tastes very good, and their portions are immense.  We’re both fond of the Borrego (braised lamb shanks), and they always have a special that’s more food than we can both eat!  Sold.  Dinner on Sunday night was a reasonable success!!

Monday, we awoke incredibly late.  I won’t even say.  Just to get coffee without someone looking strangely at us, we went to Black Bear Diner…where they serve breakfast all day, every day. LOL!!  Another chain…This one originated in Mt. Shasta, CA.  We haven’t frequented many of their restaurants, but we know they’re out there.  At their home restaurant in Mt. Shasta, I’ve never had a complaint…well…not much of one!  We did need to serve ourselves coffee on Tuesday…but we were back in the “dining room” so we could get to it!  Back to Monday…  After fortifying ourselves for the better part of the day, we were off exploring!  We came home tired and hungry in the evening, and at 7-something, every place in town was packed.  We by-passed several places we’ve already been; took a look at Mike & Tony’s…an Italian menu, but it felt like a bit more of a dinner house than we were ready for.  We were in tourist-wear.  After taking about 45 minutes off dinner-hunting to let the restaurants breathe out, we drove through again.  By this time, we had a couple of ideas.  We headed to the Burger Express for the obvious and broasted chicken.  They were already closed. Oops.  Ok…on to Mike & Tony’s…a little fancy for shorts and T’s.  Remember…we’d been headed out for burgers.  We drove the length of town and saw everything that was there….and back.  We pulled into Billy Goat’s Tavern, just to see if the kitchen was still open…YES!  With 5 minutes to spare.  We promptly ordered 2 softshelled crab BLT’s and garlic fries, and called it good.  Yes…whole soft-shell crabs, breaded, deep fried, BLT’d and WOW.  That’s some serious YUM!  This was a great place for us.  They have 2 open air decks. We chose the back, Jasmine was welcome (leashed) to hang out with us, so the whole family was together.  Not bad for a Monday!

Tuesday was hustle day. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover this day. We were planning to drive almost to the border through the interior, up to Lava Beds National Monument. We picked up groceries to stash in our chill-pack, and we were off.  Breakfast was once again at Black Bear….hey, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  I had a small order of biscuits and gravy, and purred. The country gravy was perfect in consistency and flavor, and the biscuits were feather-light. Yes, we had to help ourselves to coffee, but we had plenty of cream and sugar, so what the heck.  Lunch this day was meat, cheese, crackers and fruit at Valentine Cave in Lava Beds.  There was a small area of shade (not much of that up there) where we could park the car, walk Jas and stretch some. We took advantage of that and took time to nosh between driving. We covered a load of territory that day. We visited Medicine Lake and the campgrounds and Lava Beds.  We still haven’t done any exploration of caves…yet another trip!  Dinner on Tuesday was planned at Piemont.  Piemont has a reputation for exceedingly large servings, and good Italian food.  The serving size was probably what turned us away in the end.  We were tired…and hungry, but the time was getting short on the dinner hour in this little town.  Neither of us felt like huge portions or being hovered over.  We drove.  There aren’t a lot of choices…we checked out the Burger Express…mostly a take out place.  There are a few little tables, cramped and crowded or outside, still crowded, and right on the maid drag through town.  Maybe for lunch…  There was room at Billy Goat’s Tavern, but we wanted to broaden our horizons if possible.  There’s a Casa Ramos there, but we’d done that on Sunday.  Lily’s has a good reputation, but…it’s rather on the nice side, and it was also full.  Lai Lai’s…been there…  I can’t say I recommend any Chinese food in Mt. Shasta at all…  Hubster was still leaning toward a burger, so we opted for the Dugout.

The Dugout is a little sports cafe in the shopping center parking lot behind the Black Bear Diner.  If you can find Round Table Pizza (incidentally-a very good RT!), look far to the other side of the lot, and the little place on the side is The Dugout.  It faces out on the frontage of the street that the Best Western hotel is on.  We’ve had breakfast there in the past…decent food, decent value.  Dinner was another experience!

The Dugout is incongruous.  They have SO much going on with their menu and cuisines that they can’t be making a profit.  Seriously.  Think Cuban-style Mexican.  Think Sports-Bar.  Think Dinner house.  Juggle that together and mix it up….you’ve got The Dugout.  Seriously…  Burgers every way you can imagine, including with a hot dog on it.  General sports bar grub – chili, hot wings, fries, onion rings.  Now, toss in a few enchiladas and tacos, and Cuban version specialties as well.  Don’t forget the dinner house fare…fish & shellfish.  Shrimp or fish fillets done in about 6 different way. Steaks…rib eye, sirloin, fillet.  Paella.  Yeah.  Paella.  Hubster had a burger, which was vastly overdone, but he’s learning to accept that now and then.  E coli don’t you know.  I had bacon wrapped shrimp on rice.  We both had items to offer Jasmine to appease her for waiting in the car.  The one thing that totally floored me here was that my accompanying salad was served on my heated dinner plate.  I got a few cold bites, and then it was all hot.  Ick.  I’d eat here again, but I’d watch the time of day and my appetite.  You don’t want to be too hungry going in here.  And don’t expect service if the owner is running the show.  He wants (maybe needs?) to get each table set to go, so he can do other things.  Like schmooze with local law enforcement.  I can see how this spot would be a favorite with the local guys…it reeks of testosterone.

Piemont is still on the “got to” try it list.  We checked out the natural food store, and they’ve got a cafe next door…love to check that out sometime.  Mike & Tony’s has promise.  A shower and change of clothes between adventures for that!  Casa Ramos is on the “try” list.  We haven’t tried this one, and we know the Mexican place, Lalo’s, at the other end of town isn’t Mexican, or very good.  We haven’t tried The Skillet for anything other than breakfast.  And there’s another place down by Hwy. 89 that looked interesting.  And…since I left my pillow in Mt. Shasta, we’ll be headed back soon!





Toasted cheese revisited~

2 08 2008

Late Saturday afternoon…the chores have been calling …and calling…and calling.  Ever have  those times where you get so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you forget about eating?  This was one of those days.  I go back to work next week (that went FAST!!) and I want all the odds and ends tied off before I start back.  The Good Lord above knows I get really sloppy for a few weeks when I first go back to work!

Anyway, between kitchen and back bedroom projects, and getting laundry etc. all caught up, both of us totally forgot about stopping to eat this afternoon.  As I perused the kitchen…where someone STILL needs to do grocery shopping…I thought a grilled cheese would be quick and easy, and not undo too much of my cleaning.  Hmm…no bread.  Rolls, yes.  Burger buns…yes.  Bread?  In the freezer?  SCORE!  Yes, there are 2 mega-healthy loves of whole grain bread in there.  I threw 4 slices in to toast, very lightly.  What’s in the fridge, cheese-wise?  Sliced swiss…great, but not necessarily my first choice for stand-alone grilled cheese.  It’s not often you find processed American cheese here….unless I’m craving it.  Cheddar??  No…piffle.  No muenster (my first choice!), no flavored jack…but there is Monterey Jack, and…wait…what’s that…FRESH water-packed mozzarella….oh yes!  And…is that…could it really be??  Prosciutto…oh, I’m in heaven now.  There’s fresh basil growing in the living room…and yes, there’s still 1 tomato left from the Farmer’s Market.

I layered the lightly toasted bread with slices of the mozzarella (thought about an olive oil brush a little late…would have been fabulous toasted that way!) , added a bit of sliced prosciutto, a dash of chopped basil, and a thick slice of fresh tomato.  The little Caprese rafts were popped into the toaster oven to broil, just until the cheese started melting around the edges.  To serve, sprinkle with a coarse salt – you want a little salty crunch  – and chopped or chiffonade of basil. 

Now isn’t that just the nicest little snack?





Bisque…

1 08 2008

This week our task was Langostine Bisque. Langostine are basically crayfish, and unless you happen to be in Louisiana, they’re not going to be in the seafood display. Shrimp was offered as a recommended alternative, and for once, I went with the recommendation. From there, I started hearing a different drummer…

When I think of shrimp bisque, I’m magically transported to a little dinner house on Galveston Island…Gaido’s. The shrimp bisque was smooth as velvet, slightly smoky, deep in color, and the flavors swept through the palate as the Gulf of Mexico gently swept the beach beyond the seawall. That’s the flavor I want to recreate. This recipe isn’t going to achieve that. I can tell by reading the ingredients. There will be layers of flavor, but they’ll be delicate. I want a little more gusto.

3 cookbooks

I started with our agreed upon cookbook, Le Cordon Bleu at Home, researched a little in another LCB cookbook, and compared with CIA’s recipe. They were mostly the same…the same basic mirepoix and treatments of the shells, so I followed most of the LCB@H recipe exactly with 1 major departure- I added tomato paste and a bit of paprika as did one of the other recipes. I also substituted brandy for the cognac. I doubt many would notice the difference.

Mirepoix

Mirepoix

Once again, we have a tiny dice, small chop, etc. for our veggies. Our recipe called for shallot, carrot, and leek. I also added a comparable amount of celery. Our recipe didn’t call for a bouquet garni, but I used one anyway. My broth wasn’t going to have the intense flavors that having whole-body shrimp would have provided. As it was, I just had the tail shells, and it took some hunting to get those! I ran the shells through a small food processor to chop them roughly. and I pureed my shrimp meat, and we were on our way!

saute

Since I knew we’d be having flames before this stage was over, I used a flameproof saute pan for this phase. This is the butter, shrimp shells, vegetables, tomato and paprika. If I do this again, I’ll wait to add the paprika at a different time. We both detected a very slight bitterness in the soup and it may be the paprika. It’s all a question of when to add which to get the flavors to layer. After a bit of sauteeing, we add a large quantity of cognac (I used brandy here…but not a cheap brand) and set it aflame. That’s actually kind of fun if you’re prepared for how it will behave. I love the complexity flaming adds to dishes.

flaming mirepoix

Yes…my cooking space is cluttered. My world is cluttered. I’ve been canning and I’m not hefting that kettle any more than I have to. I’ll shove it to the side, but I’m not lifting it in between canner loads. It has to wait. And, my stove top is burned at battered. My stove COOKS. It’s not a show place, it’s a work horse. I’ll burn a stove around the burners the first time I heat up my canner, so being prissy about the appearance isn’t going to work. When I get a chance to have the stove of my dreams, it will NOT be a closed top! And it will have some kick-butt BTUs! Back to the subject at hand though…see the flames? Those were darn hard to photograph!! Someone tell me the trick!!

soup stock

After the flambe, we add a quantity of wine to our veggies and simmer, simmer, simmer. I took a good look at the amount of shrimp meat I had for the quenelles, and decided some of the meat could go into the soup to help flavor it some. I dropped little shrimp “dumplings” into the simmering broth and let it all simmer together. After 45 minutes of simmering, everything was pureed and strained through a damp towel. I found a new use for a silicone oven mitt… It’s very useful to squeeze the broth off the solids in the towel. The broth mixture is boiling hot, but the silicone mitt made it possible to handle squeezing the towel to extract broth.

broth

Once the broth was strained, it was time to thicken it a little more.  All the recipes I researched agreed…rice flour and butter for the roux.  Here’s where I really felt the need for another departure. The bisque I want to recreate had a deep color and another layer of flavor developed by cooking the roux until it was caramel colored.  No…I didn’t see it, but there’s a flavor that goes with the deeply colored roux that’s unforgettable. And so we cooked the rice flour in butter very, very gently for a period of time to achieve some color.  15 minutes later, I still had no color.  I yielded and stirred the broth into the roux and let it simmer to thicken slightly.

Next was forming the quenelles (keh-nells)… I’ve done something similar in Chinese cooking. So, I had a feel for what I was trying to get in the way of texture and consistency. I think following the directions about working over ice is a big help. I alternated a drizzle of foamy egg white with a drizzle of cream and beat the dickens out of the mix until it was smooth and silky again.  We were headed for something the consistency of thick oatmeal.  The mixture needs to be able to hold it’s shape once formed.

raw quenelles

raw quenelles

It took a little doing to get the hang of forming the little critters…when I finally quit trying to use my spoons side by side and started using them end to end, things went much better. I could scoop up a dollop of shrimp mixture and almost get the 3 sided thing going on. Hubster really liked the quenelles, so I can see doing them again in other applications. I think I’ve made something similar for a Chinese soup… Incidentally, I stirred dry chervil into the shrimp meat as I started mixing the ingredients together. I wanted the herbs to have a little chance to rehydrate in the egg white and cream.

poaching

poaching

When the quenelles were all formed and ready to poach, I poured the simmering soup from the sauce pan into the quenelle pan, covered the pan with buttered parchment.  There was some broth remaining in the saucepan that would need to be worked up with yet another thickening step.  I beat my egg yolk with the cream I had remaining from making the quenelles in a small bowl, then stirred the remaining hot broth into the egg a little at a time.  When the quenelles were cooked, I stirred the hot broth from the poaching pan back into the egg-enriched broth and brought that to a boil.  At this point, I have added NO significant quantity of cream.  I’ve held that off until the end.  The directions said to add the cream, and bring the soup to a boil. That curdled the soup we made last week, so I held the cream until the very end.  Once the soup had come to a boil, and was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, I removed it from the heat and let it sit while I plated the quenelles.  Then I whisked the cream into the soup and returned it to the fire for a few moments, then ladled the hot soup over the still warm quenelles, sprinkled the whole with chervil leaves, and we were done!

Shrimp Bisque

Shrimp Bisque

We both liked this soup a great deal!  The quenelles were the star of the soup…very flavorful, tender and downright yummy.  The soup itself…like I said, we both detected a bit of bitterness.  I’d have to make it again to see where that flavor came from.  It could be the chervil, though not likely; it could be the paprika-perhaps added at the wrong time; it could be that not having tarragon set up an imbalance of flavors…it’s hard to know.  Either way, Hubster would love to have quenelles in something else, but would also like to see this soup come around again.  Even with the whole mess in the kitchen. And, my gosh, is there ever a mess.  Even though I tried to keep after it…

Now…next week I go back to work, and this weekend we’re getting the heck out of here for a quick trip.  If I can squeeze in consomme before I go, I will.  Otherwise…sorry.  I need this trip.  Happy eating!