Friday, January 16, 2015

Simple flavors

Or simply flavor. Fact is, the quality of our food nowadays is so high you don't have to mask it with a lot of spices or long cooking. It can be enough to enhance the flavor with just a little salt and pepper and butter and some basic cooking techniques.

Case in point was an easy weekday meal consisting of pan-roasted pork tenderloin and braised fennel. The single tenderloin got some salt and pepper and sat in the fridge for 4 hours uncovered. Then I seared it in the cast iron skillet for about 4 minutes and put it in a 350 oven for 20 minutes, until it reached an interior temperature of 140.

To accompany, I had cut three medium-sized fennel bulbs into five or six wedges each and sauteed those in butter and oil. Then I added 1/3 cup water, salt and pepper, and covered at a simmer for about half an hour.

I let the tenderloin rest and deglazed the skillet with some of the braising liquid from the fennel, sliced the pork and napped it with the deglazing juice, serving the braised fennel on the side.

The Niman Ranch pork from WF was tender and flavorful, cooked medium rare, with a wonderful saltiness from the early seasoning. The fennel was surprisingly sweet from the caramelizing during the initial sauteeing (I probably could have done this a little longer and gotten even more flavor). Both were exquisitely natural and unadorned, and perfectly paired.

The roasting technique was from the ever-reliable Molly Stevens and the braised fennel recipe from Susan Hermann Loomis's Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin. Fennel is not a Mediterranean vegetable so I though I'd have to go down and get Julia Child for a recipe until I spotted it in this French cookbook.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Beef short ribs with tomatoes, roasted poblanos and herbs

Celebrating New Year's Eve with friends we went to Mexico with another New Year's, we cooked a Mexican-themed dinner, courtesy of Rick Bayless.

Short ribs is one of our favorite dishes anyway, so this simple recipe, which braises the ribs in roasted and peeled poblanos, onion, garlic and tomato was an easy choice. It was also an easy dish to double and use our big Le Creuset Dutch oven. The ribs get browned and then braised in a slow oven for an hour and a half. The herb is either epazole or thyme (our choice). To accompany, we fixed the classic Mexican rice (arroz blanco), which fries the rice with onions and garlic before adding the broth to cook. Andrea baked up some of her famous corn sticks for bread.

For a starter, Andrea fixed salmon ceviche with orange, capers and roasted green chile from the same Bayless book, Mexico One Plate at a Time, and for dessert a Mexican chocolate pot de creme recipe she found online.

The short ribs were very flavorful and were a big hit, even with those who are not big red meat fans. The ceviche and dessert were also very popular. We had champagne beforehand with cute little cauliflower fritters topped with a salsa, as well as chips and guacamole.

Every time we use a Bayless recipe we resolve to do it more often; we have several of his cookbooks. Maybe this year we will!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Standing rib roast

This is not rocket science -- even the Washington Post had a short blurb about how to do it correctly -- but what I appreciate about Molly Stevens' All About Roasting is that she has all the details in one place that is easy to find and refer to.

The roast was stupendous, crispy brown on the outside, with tender, pink, full prime rib flavor on the inside. We had a three-rib roast weighing 8 lbs (they go up to 5 ribs and 12 pounds). Stevens suggests seasoning it at least a day and up to three days ahead with salt, dry mustard and chopped rosemary, and let it sit uncovered in the fridge. You take it out three hours before roasting, start at 425 for 20 minutes, then turn it down to 325 for one to two hours, until it gets to an internal temperature of 120 for medium rare. Then let it stand 20 to 40 minutes, as the temperature continues to rise and the juices spread back through the meat.

Stevens explains how to shop for standing rib, why you tie it between the ribs (so the slab of fat won't come loose and flip back), and two different ways to carve it. I took the easier way after presenting it to the dinner guests out of the oven, and carved it in the kitchen, cutting along the bone to remove the eye of the beef whole and then slicing it into half-inch slabs. It was gorgeous.

She also had a great recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with a sauce made of butter slowly browned with mustard seeds and with capers and lemon juice added. You toss the sprouts out of the oven in the sauce and it made for a really yummy accompaniment to the beef.

Roasting is a great way to cook and this book is so useful even for these very simple recipes and techniques because our generation simply doesn't have the savoir-faire that comes from doing all these things regularly and often.

Earlier in the week we used her recipes for pan-seared salmon fillets, finished in a hot oven, and roasted potatoes, with just salt and oil, but very good.

Like her earlier book on braising, this book won James Beard and IACP awards for single subject cookbooks.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sausages and lentils in the style of Umbria

Another winner from Domenica Marchetti, this was the ideal comfort food for a winter weekday. The lentils get cooked separately in water with a little end of celery, garlic and a bay leaf. The sausages -- I got the sweet Italian sausage from Broad Branch -- is sauteed, and then the chopped onion and more garlic is sauteed in that fat. For the finish, the sausage is added back into the pot, along with the cooked lentils, tomato sauce and beef broth and everything simmers for half an hour before you ladle it into a dish and enjoy. It is a soupy stew that has absorbed all the sausage flavor and developed a rich sauce.

Photo by Ankara via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier in the week, we tried another recipe from Morisson, equally simple. This was just boneless, skin-on chicken breasts seared in a skillet and then finished in the oven with green onions that have been sauteed in the chicken fat. The recipe calls for deglazing the skillet with Vin Jura, or as a substitute, dry sherry. Since I had some fino left over from a recent dinner, that's what I used and it was yummy. Served with brown rice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Parisian sole

Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen in France was listed in Saveur as one of the 10 cookbooks to make a good gift and they must have been thinking of the photography. It is one of those books with very few recipes, most of them with ingredients (e.g. quail) that you're not going to find or cook very often. But I thought I'd squeeze what I could out of it, and this proved to be a quick, simple and very tasty recipe that sadly has appeal for only one of us.

I used flounder fillets after consulting Mark Bittman, who says we don't really have sole, even though the Fishery claimed to have a real Dover sole from Britain. They had only one, it was a whole fish and very small, so they didn't even want to fillet it. The fish gets dusted in flour, sauteed, and then sliced shallots get sauteed in the same skillet, simmered briefly in wine and finished with heavy cream. The sauce gets poured over the fish. Following the photo, I served with boiled potatoes and also added steamed broccoli. It had -- from the butter, oil, wine and cream -- a very rich flavor. Leftovers made a great hash for lunch.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lamb and green bean stew with farro

This autumn recipe from Domenica Marchetti (Soups and Stews, p. 56) is another winner and just right for a gray fall day. WF actually had some boneless lamb shoulder in just the right amount so it went in with the onions, green beans, farro, chicken stock, and crushed tomato to simmer for 2 hours and turn into a lovely, fragrant one-pot dish. A chiffonade of basil, a glass of cabernet, and life is good.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

La Piquette

This offshoot of Bistro Lepic was a pleasant surprise not because we didn't expect it to be good but we didn't expect to have such a nice package of pleasant dining experiences. The food is French-inspired but a fresh, lighter take that is more like New French than nouvelle cuisine. The atmosphere is buoyant in a very French way, with a warm decor that is pleasant in the summer and must be cozy in the colder months.

Photo by La Piquette
There was a breezy professionalism to the whole operation -- from the warm welcome, rapid seating, good service to one attentive detail that is too often forgotten -- the food was served piping hot on heated plates. I started with a cream of cauliflower soup that was not too heavy and delicately suggesting the vegetable rather than overpowering with it. Andrea had a salad composee that was a work of art, fresh tomatoes and orange slices arranged around ovals of lentil, quinoa and beet -- all again with delicate flavor and a slight healthy crunch.

My main course was braised rabbit in a cream and basil sauce that had a slight yellow piquance -- saffron or turmeric -- ladled over perfectly cooked and very hot linguini. Andrea ordered the roast chicken, which came with (hot) roasted vegetables and crispy hot fries. The chicken had a tangy Dijon mustard rub set off well with the fries. I had a fresh draft beer and Andrea had a Cote de Provence rose to drink.

We skipped drinks and dessert on a quick week night meal, but they looked good, too. And there's a lot of great choices on the menu to try next time!