Monday, May 11, 2009

Rethinking some things...

I know.... you're telling me "don't think too hard, you might hurt something".... and usually you'd be right.

But this is a good rethinking...

I'm currently reading "
The Soul Of A Chef" by Michael Ruhlman, and must admit, it's a fascinating book. I'm only about halfway through it so far, but there's a section where Brian Polcyn is working through one of his CMC tests (that's 10 days of non-stop cooking), and Brian is explaining to his assistant how he intends to reuse ingredients through each course, doing it in such a way that you don't really realize he's doing it.

For whatever reason, that's been on my mind a lot the last few days. I'm guilty of overcooking, as I'm sure most of us are. I just can't seem to scale it down. I make Gumbo, I make enough to feed the Louisiana National Guard. I make Chicken Noodle Soup, I make enough to feed every dearhearted Grandma in town... I just don't know how to scale back.

Point in case... this weekend I made French Onion Soup (see earlier post). I ate a really good sized bowl, and put the rest in the fridge for later consumption.

Tonight, the menu was Ribeyes and baked spuds, with a side salad. I'm not a fan at all of bottled steak sauces, however I do realize that a well done sauce can make a meal 100% better. Usually, I try to whip up some reduced stock (chicken and beef to make a mock veal), add some chopped mushrooms and call it a sauce. But tonight... I got surprised. Mainly because I used all my ready at hand beef stock to make the blasted soup. So here I was with Ribeyes seasoned up and nothing to dress 'em up with.

Not to be deterred, I started nosing around the fridge, looking for something I could use... and lo and behold... I spy with my little eye the container of onion soup. For about 1/2 a second, my mind mentally ran down the list of ingredients in the soup and made a crash (I actually heard it) determination that this could work... Unlike the Bill Cosby 'Chocolate Cake For Breakfast" bit, these ingredients would actually work for me...

So... I blended up about a cup and a half of the soup and slid it into a warm saute pan to come up to temp.

While the steaks were cooking, I added about 1/3 cup of cream and a 1/2 tsp of butter to the sauce and whisked it in. About this time, the steaks were pulled and set under foil to rest for a few minutes.

Then I jacked up the heat under the sauce to medium/high and quickly thickened it up, stopping when it was actually thicker than I really wanted.

I had a plan.

Fear me....

Dropping the burner to low low, I tended to the plating of the steaks, spuds and salads. As the steaks came off the platter, I had about 1/4 cup of luscious, savory steak juice just sitting there...

Enter My Plan...

I drained all that liquid steak love into my sauce, and whisked it in to incorporate. The consistency thinned out just right, to a near nappe consistency. Drained the pan into a gravy bowl, and headed for the table.

How was it? (you notice I almost always ask this? I'm nothing if not consistent...)


The onion flavor accentuated the steak so well. And the sweetness from the caramelized onions offered up such an interesting counterpoint to the savory of the steak that it's kind of hard to describe. Just know that it was probably one of the best steak sauces I've ever had, let alone made. The addition of the cream gave it just the right amount of creaminess (duh) and richness to go along with the already richly marbled ribeye.

Truth be told, it made for a mighty rich sauce... almost too rich for this cut of beef... but I bet it would be downright poetic on a filet mignon, where you don't really have any fat in the meat to begin with.

So what's the point? Just that every now and then, something happens to make you pause and rethink, or maybe just pause and think. To take a different direction to get to the same endpoint. Whatever you want to call it, I liked this sauce enough that I felt like sharing...

And as Martha says.... "That's a good thing..."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another notch in the belt...

I made myself a New Year's resolution (well, actually, I made several, but this is the only one I seem to be having any luck with...) to learn how to cook at least one new dish a month this year. And not just any dish, but one that I really like and have, for whatever reason, been reluctant to try on my own.

So far this year, I've knocked out the following:

  • Chile Verde
  • Chile Roja
  • Tonnato Sauce
  • Italian Sausage (well, sausages in general)

That's about 1 a month, so I'm more or less on track.

For May I tackled French Onion Soup.

Last week my bud and I had lunch at someplace that makes you think of Apples and Bees, but I'm not naming names or nothin'... I wasn't just really hungry, so I opted for a half Caeser Salad and French Onion Soup.

The salad was... well, unmemorable.

The soup was... well, passable. The stock was pretty nice, but a little too salty. But that got me to thinking that this was one of those dishes on my hit list... So when Saturday rolled around, and I had a little time on my hands, I jumped in with both barrels.

Basic recipe was:

  • 3 pounds sliced onions
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Bread slices
  • Cheese of choice, just not Cheddar or something like that. I used a shredded mix of Parm and Moz.
There might have been a couple other ingredients, but they were inconsequential.

Sliced the onions... jeez, it looked like a TON of onions. Big saucepan on medium heat to melt the butter. I added a shot of extra virgin olive oil, just to temper the butter a bit.

Toss in the onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt, but no more than that. If you use canned stock, they have enough salt.

Sweat/reduce the onions for a WHILE.... how long? A long time. Keep in mind, the brown-ness of the onions is what gives this soup it's characteristic color and sweetness. As long as you don't burn 'em, the slow caramelization of the onions is what gives you the sweetness. This is like smokin' meat... low and slow does the trick.

I actually split the stock into 1/2 cups, and deglazed the pan about 3 times before adding the rest of the stock and wine for the final push.

Simmer the stock about 30 minutes or so, and when it looks right, fire up the broiler.

Ladle soup into an ovenproof bowl, and top with a slice of bread of your choice. I had some buttermilk bread handy, so that's what I used. I would've liked some dark rye, but that might've been too rich. Top with cheese, and slide under the broiler.
I hate cleanup, so I placed a piece of foil on a baking sheet, and put the soup bowl on that.

When cheese is melted and bubbly, remove from the broiler. When it cools off a mite, serve it up.

How was this first run?
Pretty damn good.
As it turned out, I started this while I was cooking dinner (Fried Chicken and trimmings, thank you very much), and the entire process ran almost three hours long.
Again, low and slow on the onions. So, by the time the soup was done, it was essentially a dessert course for me. Which was fine... it was sweet enough to actually be a dessert course.
The soup was smooth, oniony, sweet and savory. The onions literally dissolved on the palate. The bread was just right as a topping, and the melted Parm/Moz was smooth, creamy and slightly nutty. The dish was slightly rich, and very satisfying.

After this attempt, I can make this version with my eyes closed now. Which means if there's anyone out there reading this who might still be where I was last night... get off yer duff and get cooking... because if I can do it, you bet your aspic you can too..........

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Long weekend, but oh so worth it...

Recently, I finally got around to taking a stab at homemade sausage. What took so long was the fact that none of the meat markets in my immediate vicinity sell fatback or even pork fat over the counter, or even to the weird dude that walks up to the counter and asks for it.

So... I had to wait until I was ready for another round of bacon (which is worth a post all it's own... the best I've done to date BY FAR). As it happens, the fellow I buy my pork bellies from had no problem selling pork fat. In fact, he had no problem giving it away. So along with 25 pounds of pork belly, I came home with 10 pounds of nice, clean, lily white pork fat to do with as I pleased.

And what pleased me was sausage. So I cubed up the fat, weighed it into 1.5 pound packages, and vacuum sealed it and chucked it into the freezer. Some of it got left out and went into Italian Sausage and Chicken, Basil and Tomato Sausage (both recipes from Charcuterie, and I HIGHLY recommend both). Only problem was the piece of crap sausage stuffer attachment for my KA mixer. I should've known that for $7.95 it would be a piece of crap, but I was banking on that KA reputation.

Won't make that mistake again.

To cut to the chase on THAT exercise, it was a disaster. I managed to get about 9 pounds of sausage made (5 ital and 4 chicken), but it took me HOURS to get it into the casings. And it was incredibly frustrating. So if you're thinking about getting one of those KA sausage stuffer attachments for your KA meat grinder... stop... just stop... turn away...

So now I had to get a new tool to stuff with. (If you grinned when you read that, you're a perve...).... so I did some looking. Found the really nice 5# model at Northern Industrial, but it was backordered over 30 days, and I'm not a patient sort. So I looked and found a really nice one on Amazon
. Cost a sight more than $7.95. but it also stuffed like a dream.

So, yesterday morning I started in... had two 6+ pound pork butts all ready for some lovin' attention by means of cuttin' and cubin'.

I decided to make a couple of variations, so I started with Boudain, using a recipe from Emeril Lagasse. I figured odds were it'd be at least edible, right? So I got the pork and veggies to simmerin on the stove, where they had to do their thing for a least a couple of hours.
Then I moved on to Bratwurst, ala Ruhlman.

Mix.... grind... stuff....

Once that was done, I slid in a little Shrimp Sausage. I found this recipe on the web, and while it called for 1/4 pound of salmon, I opted to just use shrimp and cod (1 pound, 1/4 pound, respectively) to keep it a light texture and color. I sorta winged it with the recipe, and threw in some lemon zest, dill, and a touch of cayenne. I also threw in a handful of the pork fat, just to toughen the meat up a little bit, since the fish flesh was very soft. I also thought the fat would help with the binding.
Grind it all up....
Fried up a little piece to test...
And stuffed....
Finally came the Boudain... not much to show... ground it all up, added cooked rice and some extra seasonings, and stuffed as well.
Here's the day's haul...

That's 6 pounds of Bratwurst (the pink stuff), 9 pounds of Boudain (upper left), and about 2 pounds of Shrimp (upper right).

Oh... and a sore back from standing at the counter for about 5 hours... but it was all worth it... trust me.
I'd thought about putting in all the details and tricks, etc... but heck... I didn't do anything that's not in Ruhlman's book... so why rehash what you probably already know.
This is the second batch of sausage under my belt, and I'm starting to really enjoy it... so look forward to more posts in the future.