Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GOURMET IN PARIS - AND THE NEW COQ AU VIN

I actually laughed -- several times -- while reading the Editor's letter in the September edition of Gourmet. The theme of the issue is exploring Paris on a budget, so I found it laughable that she considers a 40-euro lunch a real bargain. Apparently her version of poor and my version are not the same.  

Aside from Ruth's distorted version of living on the cheap, the issue is very good. I'm not sure there are too many people out there who have been to Paris and don't miss it, at least culinarily. 

Today we will be making a recipe from this issue of Gourmet Magazine

I'm the kind of cook that just sees something that looks good, then I make my own version. I rarely follow recipes and when I do, I admit I improvise way more than I should. But I'm changing. I read something once on a favorite blog of mine, French Laundry at Home, where the author addresses those who feel certain types of food, like that found at the French Laundry, is fussy. And to the uneducated, it does seem fussy ... but she explains very convincingly how in reality, fussy implies that there are unnecessary processes that are  being carried out by someone lacking expertise. And that simply isn't the case. 

And she should know, having now made almost every recipe in the French Laundry cookbook! She simply puts it "If the chef/owner of 2 of the best restaurants in the land is recommending a certain way to do something to yield the best result, then damn skippy I'm gonna try it. I've gotten an incredible education from cooking my way through it. It's cracked open so many "Oh, NOW I get it" moments that have changed the way I make a sandwich, pull together a last-minute salad dressing, or cook a steak. And, it's actually made me smarter, faster, and more creative in the kitchen. Now, I can pull together a really great dinner for 6 in 20-30 minutes, and truly blow my friends away. "   

I've never looked at recipes the same since. You're never too old to change, and never too old to learn something new. So today marks the beginning of a new blog. I will still do posts of my own concoctions, but I think I'm going to do away with the restaurant review posts, because no one really cares anyway since there are people from all over reading this, not just Orange County, and instead replace them with recipes I pull from popular magazines and out of my giant collection of cookbooks. And I will make them as close to the way they are written as possible. We'll see how these translate from book to real life. 

First up:  NEW COQ AU VIN, courtesy Gourmet, Sept/08
 

I spot this recipe in the new issue of Gourmet. The "New Coq Au Vin."  What makes it new? I wonder. Oh ... I see; It takes less than an hour from start to finish! Excellent. Let's do it! I'll go get a chicken from the freezer. 


First up, peel and chop the celery, 3 stalks. It didn't exactly say to peel it, but I like to take a few of the strings off. No big deal. I also peeled and cut in half 8 cloves of garlic. 
 

The recipe actually called for thighs only, but I didn't see that until after I had thawed my chicken, and besides, I wouldn't have had the time to run to the store to get a big package of chicken thighs anyway, especially when I had a perfectly good whole chicken ready to go. So. I cut the chicken into pieces that were all relatively the same size. Now we have a variety. No harm, right? It's still mostly in line with the original recipe. Hey, I'm trying. 


Brown the chicken in batches, skin side down (do not turn), and transfer to a plate. 



Saute the celery and garlic until it starts to soften. 

Add 1 cup of  wine, reduce by half. Then add 1 cup of water.


Put the chicken back into the pan. Now, in the recipe it suggests a stovetop method - to cover lightly and cook for about 30 minutes. I just put mine in the oven, at 350, for around 55 minutes. At my house, the oven is safer because I have a child who likes to turn knobs on the stove, and often will turn  your burners off and you don't realize it! 



The suggest side - Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. Easy enough. 


I decide to put in a dash of truffle oil with the potatoes. Not exactly called for in the recipe, but so what -- they're just mashed potatoes. 


Ever use a ricer? I've actually never had a ricer until just recently ... but I love it! And it makes mashed potatoes perfectly! You don't even need to peel them, you just cook the potatoes, then cut in half, and plop them in and squeeze. It all comes out like fluffy clouds, skins left behind. Now just add your warm milk/cream and whatever else. Like velvet - guaranteed, and no more chewy over-worked taters. 
 

Potatoes done - check. 
Chicken done - check. 
Throw together a quick spinach salad - check.  



Tender chicken, rich sauce, small bites of sweet garlic. Celery doesn't always make people jump for joy, but it offers such a wonderful and unique flavor, so don't leave it out! Along with the fluffy potatoes (with just a slight hint of truffle) this was a delicious dinner. And although I didn't make mine on the stovetop as the original recipe called for, I really think putting it the oven was a good decision because it came out fantastic.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

GERMAN KNOEDEL - IT WAS FRANCOIS' IDEA. GREAT IDEA.

This is a German kn√∂del. [knuh-dayl]  

It's like a dumpling. Sort-of. Imagine thanksgiving stuffing, without the poultry seasoning, and then you ball it up, poach it, then coat it with melted butter. Oh yeah. It's yummy. I made this from Francois @ FX's recipe. It's quite simple, and you can add other ingredients he said, such as liver, for variety. Personally, I'm going to try the liver next. We love liver here. I think I'll melt some liver pate into the mixture. I have leftover pate in the freezer because last time I made way too much.


So, if you would like the exact recipe, visit FX Cuisine. Basically, you chop hard stale bread into small cubes. And he said his were too big, so I took care to dice very small. 

I sauteed chopped shallots in butter until tender ... then added spinach. 

After the spinach was tender, I took it out and chopped it up real good (but it could have even been chopped smaller. I suggest you just pulverize it).  After chopped, put it back into the pan and add the milk.


Pour the spinach/milk/shallot mixture over the bread and mix well. It'll be pretty dry. Let this sit for 30 minutes. 

After the wait, add the eggs, salt and pepper and if you like, shredded cheese. I added a little grating of a sharp Gouda Vincent. 
 
This was the dough. Not too wet, but when you make the balls out of it, it held together quite well.  I have no idea what it's supposed to look like. Honestly, I've never had knoedel before, so I don't know what the dough is supposed to look like, and after it's cooked, I have no idea what a bad knoedel tastes like or a great knoedel. 

Boil for 20 minutes. 

They stayed together well, did not fall apart even one little bit. I was surprised. They gained a little bit of size, obviously they will soak up some water. I guess you can also steam them. 

After they are done, carefully remove with slotted spoon (do not pour into strainer). In a separate pan, melt some butter. Put the knoedels in the melted butter and carefully coat on all sides. Plate them and add a little shaving of cheese if you like. And, I like. 

We had our knoedels as a main course, as opposed to a first course, and we had it with some of those delicious sweet shrimp, simply sauteed in a pan with a little butter and salt. 

The finished product is fluffy, tender and rich. This was a very simple recipe, and it really took no time to make. It was a total hit and I'll be making it again for sure. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SOFT SHELL CRAB

Fried Soft Shell Crab. This is not something I typically make at home. Some things I just prefer to order out.  I don't really deep fry (or even shallow fry) anything at home -- so things like soft shell crabs are best for me to just order off a Japanese menu. 

But I saw these beautiful little guys at the Santa Monica Seafood Market the other day and, well, I bought some. Fried food is totally not my thing, but I gave it a whirl. I simply dredged them in seasoned flour and sauteed them in about 1/4" of oil. They came out great.  One of the best things I've ever had was a salad at a favorite place of ours in San Diego ~~ it had soft shell crab, some sort of fruity vinaigrette and a mess of other ingredients, like olives and walnuts ... just a total hodgepodge of ingredients, but it was so good. I'm thinking I might grab a few more of these to keep in the freezer for the times  when I have one of those salad cravings! I guess it never hurts to venture out of the usual cooking comfort zone. You never know, you might just make something good.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

MONDAY SHOPPING - SEAFOOD & FRESH VEGGIES

Is it just me -- or are the good tomatoes missing in your area too? We had that whole tomato fiasco a couple weeks back, so I know that is hurting the industry, but this time of year there is usually a large variety of local-grown heirlooms, but not in my neighborhood. Where are they?? 

Since making the decision to eat healthier during the week (meaning less red meat and fatty meats, such as PORK BUTT) I've started going to the fish and produce markets Monday to stock up for the week. 

My biggest challenge is to not overbuy. I love the fresh markets because the ingredients are so fantastic - farm fresh picked local produce ... varieties you don't see at the large grocery chains. And freshness that's obviously far superior as well.  It's worth the special trip to go a little out of the way.



Local citrus. Something not available in the large grocery stores either. 

Example, these large and very juicy limes - .89/lb.  I bought several pounds and just juiced them all to have the fresh juice on hand for margaritas! 



This little guy was actually from New Zealand. I shouldn't call him little though, he weighed 2.5 lbs! At 9.99/lb. the price wasn't bad for a very fresh, whole fish, but then at 2.5 lbs., that's a $27 Sea Bass! It was delicious though. And plenty for our family of 3 to stuff ourselves to the gills and still have leftovers.