Butter Bleu

November 29, 2010

Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live ’til a hundred years be past.
~Dutch proverb

The average intake for Thanksgiving Day in this svelte land is a mere 4,500 calories…followed by a sedate evening of potatoing. Here is some buddah to slather on your meat should you may have fallen short of conspicuous consumption goals this past weekend. Huah!

BLEU COMPOUND BUTTER

8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 C Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne cheese

1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/2 T plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
Multi-colored freshly ground peppers (red, green, white)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor or standing mixer, whip butter and cheese together until well combined. Add thyme, rosemary, and garlic. Season to your liking with salt and peppers and mix further by pulsing until smooth.

Place butter mixture down the center of plastic wrap enveloped by parchment paper and roll the butter forming a 1 1/2″ diameter log. Discard paper and chill plastic wrapped butter log overnight in refrigerator. Remove compound butter from refrigerator, slice into 3/4″ discs, and allow to rest about 20-30 minutes before use. Place one or two slices of compound butter on each slab of hot grilled, roast or sautéed meat and allow to melt.

Pourboire: Compound butters can also be readily frozen for up to a couple of months.

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The pig is an encyclopedic animal, a meal on legs.
~Grimod de La Reynière

Yes, it is Thanksgiving Eve with turkey on the collective culinary mind. Here though, duck and goose ever reign on this day saluting poultry. This is not meant as a matter of protest or cultural divergence; but blasphemous as it may sound, standing roast turkeys are often bland and really better relegated to sandwiches.

Now, to thwart any cavil or retort about gobblers (presidential pardon or not) let’s talk “Pork, The Other White Meat.” This iconic-laconic advertising slogan was developed to change public perception of a meat viewed as too fatty to serve guests. A 1987 marketing brainchild of the firm Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt crafted for the National Pork Board, the ubiquitous phrase pitched pork as a white meat alternative to turkey or chicken. It permeated visual and print media nationwide, successfully touting pork’s nutritional value and versatility, and causing America’s cooks to rethink meals.

Industry insiders, showing that ever increasing impatience with anything status quo, have now decided that a new branding strategy and taglines are in order. In the recent past, pork sales have hovered at steady levels, but have not seen the meteoric rise in consumption as has chicken. So, the porkers will adopt a new marketing focus with a yet undisclosed spring 2011 campaign launch date.

While we await the new branding scheme and slogan with bated breath, pork loin will continue to grace our table. I mean the stately, succulent almost bodacious bone-ins.

ROAST PORK LOIN WITH PORT, APPLES & PRUNES

Pork
5 lb. bone in pork loin, bones frenched and trimmed of excess fat
Freshly ground pepper
Fennel seeds, roughly crushed or slightly ground
3 T extra virgin olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and roughly sliced in chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly sliced in chunks
1 turnip, peeled and quartered
1 beet, peeled and quartered
1 whole, plump garlic head, cut transversely
2 fennel bulbs, quartered

Sauce
1 C port
1/2 C chicken stock
1 peeled apple, cut into eighths
8 prunes
1-2 T honey
1 C heavy whipping cream

Brine
8 C cold water
1 C sea salt
1 C raw sugar
1 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider vinegar

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 T black peppercorns
1 T multi-hued peppercorns (red, white, green)
1 T mustard seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 T fennel seeds
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

Combine all brine ingredients in a large deep pot. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the salt, sugar and liquids are thoroughly mixed. Pour into a large bowl or deep pan and allow to cool completely. Once the brine is fully cooled, drop the trimmed pork into a container which will keep the meat fully submerged. Should the pork tend to rise to the surface, weight down with a heavy plate or lid. Allow to brine several hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and fennel. Heat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil over medium high and sear pork on all sides until nicely browned. Place pork in a roasting pan, fat side up, and surround with carrots, parsnips, turnip, beet, garlic, and fennel. Basting from time to time, roast for approximately 1 hour, until the internal temperature reads 140 F. The thermometer should be placed into the meat alone and not right next to the bone. Remove to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Also, spoon the now roasted vegetables from the pan and place in a bowl. Again loosely tent with foil.

Heat roasting pan over stove top to high and then deglaze with some of the port. Reduce heat to medium high and add the apple and the prunes and cook some, stirring fairly constantly. Then pour in some chicken stock, cooking further. Drizzle in honey, then cream and cook down until the sauce begins to thicken. Then fortify with port and cook, reducing until sauce has thickened to your liking. Season to taste.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange on plates and drizzle with sauce. Place the remainder of the sauce in a boat and pass.

Twice Baked Potatoes

November 24, 2010

Twice baked, double stuffed, loaded, filled or jacket potatoes can be both rustic and elegant fare depending on the finish. Only imagination limits the outcome. For other cheeses, consider cheddars, goats, emmenthal, manchego, brie, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleus. Toppings are likewise endless, including lardons, varied herbs, hams, mushrooms, curries, even caviar.

Baking an extra spud will ensure that each finished potato is stuffed to the brim.

TWICE BAKED POTATOES

2 medium to large russet potatoes, rinsed, scrubbed and dried

1 1/2 C gruyère cheese, grated and divided
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
4 T unsalted butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of white pepper

3 T chopped fresh chives

Preheat to 400 F

Pierce potatoes in several spots with fork. Place directly on oven rack and bake until tender but not dried out, about 45-55 minutes. Set aside and cool about 10 minutes, but handle the potatoes with oven mitts as they will still be hot. Using a serrated knife, cut potatoes in two, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp, carefully leaving the skin intact as a shell. Transfer potato flesh to large bowl and mash well until smooth. Mix in half of the gruyère cheese, cream, butter, and half of the chives. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and white pepper.

Evenly divide potato mixture among the shells. Strew the remaining cheese on top of each potato. Place potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until filling is heated through and tops have browned, about 20 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with fresh chives and then serve.

Pourboire: Should you desire some flair, only fill the potato shells two thirds of the the way. Then, using a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, pipe in the remainder of the potato mixture.

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
~George Herbert, English poet

You might guess that I purr at the layers of egg in this dish. Audibly so. Egg bread, egg custard, and poached eggs mated with a medley of mushrooms and cheese.

Brioche is a soft enriched bread, whose high egg and butter content make it lusciously rich and tender. It shows a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied just after proofing.

First appearing in print in the early 15th century, this bread is believed to have evolved from a traditional Norman recipe, pain brié. Some even posit that brioche has Roman origins, as a similar sweet bread is made in Romania (sărălie).

In his autobiography entitled Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau notes that an unnamed “great princess” is said to have commented about starving peasants: S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche (“If they have no bread, let them eat cake”).

Although there is no record of her having uttered these words, this callous aside is often mistakenly attributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. No doubt her frivolity and extravagances in a time of dire financial straits and xenophobia played a role. But, the comely teenage Austrian Archduchess (soon to named Madame Déficit) had yet to even arrive in Versailles when Rousseau’s book was published. To cast further doubt, Rousseau had even mentioned the same phrase in a letter in 1737 — a full eighteen years before Marie Antoinette had even been born. Most historians suggest that either Rousseau was actually referring to Marie Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, or that he altogether invented an anecdote which has little source support.

Sound familiar? Seems strikingly similar to a recently published memoir, Decision Points, which is rife with mistruths and spins. Ironically, GW was just down the street peddling signed copies of his Alice in Wonderland remembrances of things past. While the mollycoddled man — who eerily admitted “I miss being pampered” during his days at the White House — was jovially exalting his exploits in a cozy, warm chapel, others were huddling and shivering in the cold nearby at the somber funeral of another fallen member of the 101st Airborne.

Befitting a bread, the etymology of the word brioche is hotly contested. It is believed to be derived from the Norman verb brier (an old form of broyer, “to grind, pound”) used in the sense of “to knead dough.” The root word, bhreg or brehhan (“to break”), is thought to be of Germanic origin

BREAD PUDDING WITH MUSHROOMS, GRUYERE & POACHED EGGS

1 lb. loaf brioche bread, cut into 1″ cubes
2 C whole milk
2 C heavy whipping cream
6 fresh eggs
Slight drizzle of white truffle oil
4 thyme sprigs, stemmed and leaves chopped

1 shallot, peeled and minced
2 C morel mushrooms, sliced
2 C crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 C shittake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 pinches of dried herbes de provence

4 C gruyère or comté cheese, freshly grated, divided
Sea salt and freshly grated black pepper

6 fresh eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Parmigiano-reggianno, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350 F

Bread Pudding
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the cubed brioche, truffle oil, and chopped thyme leaves. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté the shallots for a minute or so. Then add the morels, shittakes, criminis, and herbes de provence. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Place in a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Add half of the gruyère cheese to the brioche mixture, then stir in the mushrooms and shallots.

Pour the bread pudding mixture into a deep sided baking dish or casserole. Strew with the remaining gruyère cheese. Season with salt and pepper and bake until puffy and golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Allow to rest, tented with foil, while poaching the eggs.

Poached Eggs
Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

On each plate, top a serving of bread pudding with a poached egg and then a fresh scant grating of parmigiano-reggianno.

My father was grounded, a very meat and potatoes man. He was a baker.
~Anthony Hopkins

From obscure origins, but no less comforting fare. One hypothesis? For generations, these potatoes were prepped at home and then treated to the even heat of a local baker’s oven. This theory loses water, though, when you consider that this same dish is often created stove top by first simmmering the potatoes in broth and then finishing them with caramelized onions in a skillet.

A recipe not capable of a baker’s precision, the key to pommes de terre boulangère is maintaining that proper ratio between the stock and potato/onion filling—not too soupy, not too dry. The aim is some browned crust on the surface with silky, succulence below deck.

BAKER’S WIFE POTATOES (POMMES DE TERRE BOULANGERE)

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 t herbes de provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs waxy potatoes (e.g., Yukon Gold), peeled and thinly sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs, stems removed

1 C chicken stock
1 C beef stock

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and cut

Preheat oven to 400 F

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent but not browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Mix the stocks. Rub the cut garlic clove and then butter on the surface of a casserole. Then, spread half of the onions in the bottom of the dish. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Strew another layer of onions on top and then a final layer of potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper. Gently pour the combined stocks over the mixture until it covers the potatoes.

Transfer dish to oven and bake until a knife inserts easily and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour. If needed, cover with foil to avoid excess browning. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Beef Rib Eye Roast(s)

November 17, 2010

Beware vegans who enter. Rib eye roast is a carnivore’s rapture—almost as if a slab should be firmly grasped between hairy paws while gnawing away, all the while fending off famished guests. A beef rib roast where the 6th through the 12th rib bones are removed leaving just the rib eye muscle, this marbled cut can stand alone. A roast that indulges without much embellishment.

And please take no offense vegetarian friends. Hopefully, there should be no bones to pick. I simply remain an ardent, steadfast omnimvore who savors species from both plant and animal kingdoms.

Two cardinal rules: (1) have the butcher freshly carve the roast to your specs and liking; and (2) take care not to overcook as the roast can quickly turn from carnal nirvana into bland leather. Just keep a keen eye on the internal temperatures.

As noted below, my preference is for a bone-in version. However, you will need adequate table numbers for that.

BEEF RIB EYE ROAST WITH SHALLOTS & PORT

3 C chicken broth
2 C beef broth
2 C port

3 T butter, softened
3 T all-purpose flour

12 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil, to coat
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 lb. boneless rib eye roast, freshly cut and patted dry
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, stems discarded and minced
3 T dijon mustard
1 T prepared hot horseradish cream
Sea salt and coarsely ground fresh pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F

In a large, heavy sauce pan, boil port and stock until mixture is reduced to about half (3 1/2 cups). Once cooled some, pour into a bowl and set aside.

With your fingers knead butter and flour together in a small bowl to form a smooth paste (beurre manié). Set aside.

In a large bowl, season shallots with salt and pepper and toss in olive oil. Set aside

In a medium bowl, mix together the garlic, thyme, dijon mustard and horseradish.

Season meat with salt and pepper and slather with mustard mixture. In a large roasting pan, cook rib eye, fat side up, for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and continue roasting until done, about 1 hour. After 20 minutes, add the shallots in the roasting pan. While cooking, stir shallots around occasionally and baste. You may even want to add a little stock and port during the roasting process.

Cook until roast is done and remove shallots to a bowl with a slotted spoon. From an internal read thermometer, the temperature of the roast should be 125 F when removed. Remove meat and allow to rest on a cutting board, loosely tented in foil, for 20 minutes. It will continue to cook while resting and should reach a temperature of about 130 F for medium rare before carving.

Meanwhile, place roasting pan over high heat on stove on two burners. Add port/broth mixture and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Strain and transfer pan sauce to a medium, heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove saucepan from heat, and vigorously whisk in the beurre manié a spoonful at a time into the port/broth mixture for a few minutes until sauce thickens. If the sauce should thicken before using all of the beurre manié, simply stop adding more. Stir in roasted shallots and season to taste.

Carve roast to your liking and serve with shallot and port sauce. Consider gratin dauphinois, puréed potatoes and turnips, artisanal noodles and a cooked or fresh green of your calling. Pairing with a luscious, full bodied red goes without saying.

Pourboire: should you do the right thing and opt for a bone-in roast, it will likely be four ribs across and weigh in at about 9-10 lbs. In a large roasting pan, cook rib eye 20 minutes at 450. Reduce heat to 350 F and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center (not touching bone) registers 110 F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours after the original high temperature roasting. Transfer to platter and let rest, slightly tented, at least 20 minutes when temperature will again rise to about 130 F for medium rare.

An icon born of error.

Filial fare. Word has it that two sisters, Caroline (b. 1847) and Stéphanie Tatin (b. 1838), created this simple, to die for, Belle Époque tarte. They lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley where they managed l’Hôtel Tatin. Lamotte-Beuvron is located in the forested hunting region known as the Sologne, about 100 miles from Paris.

The elder sister, Stéphanie a/k/a Fanny, manned the hotel kitchen…an exquisite cook but not the brightest bulb in the room. Locals, such as Claude Monet, made a point to spend Sunday afternoons savoring long, leisurely lunches there.

Stéphanie’s specialty was a luscious apple tarte, served ever so crusty and caramelized. One midday, while mired in the weeds during the hectic hunting season, Stéphanie started to make her usual apple tarte but in haste left the apples cooking in butter and sugar, forgetting to line the pan with crust. Time not being her ally, she decided not to begin the tarte anew. So, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry on top of the apples, and finished the tarte in the oven with the pastry and apples reversed. She then inverted the pan and served up the new fangled tarte renversée to guests who, to her surprise, purred nothing but formidables. Soon, it became a signature house dish and was later dubbed la tarte des demoiselles Tatin.

The tarte did not rise to gastronomic prominence until the epicure Curnonsky included it in a volume of La France Gastronomique dedicated to l’Orléannais, the region around Orléans that encompasses Lamotte-Beuvron. In the late 1930s, the rustic tarte’s celebrity rose to new heights when it appeared on the menu of Maxim’s, the famed Parisian restaurant.

Now, a global culinary darling: The tarte of two unmarried women named Tatin, or Tarte Tatin.

LA TARTE TATIN

Pastry Dough (Pâte Brisée Fine)
1 C all purpose flour
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 t granulated sugar
1/3 C+ ice water

Briefly mix the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl with your fingers. The pieces of butter should still be visible. Add the water, roll the mixture into a ball and knead for a minute or so. Do not overknead—the dough should have body and be pliable, but not too elastic and dry. Wrap well in plastic and let dough rest in refrigerator for one hour before rolling.

Tarte
5 to 6 Golden Delicious apples, quartered, cored and peeled
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice on 1 lemon
1 1/2 C sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Pastry dough

Preheat oven to 425 F

Cut the apple quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar. Allow to steep until they exude their juices, about 20 minutes. Drain.

Melt the butter in a 10″ heavy-high-rimmed-non-stick-oven-proof pan over moderately high heat. Blend in the vanilla bean and remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a caramel hue. It will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan. Flare the apples slices in closely packed circles around the circumference of the pan, filling in the middle. Add enough apples to heap up 1″ higher than the rim of the pan. They sink down as they cook.

Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down with a wooden spatula as they soften. Draw the accumulated juices over the apples with a bulb baster. When the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10-15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat.

Roll the chilled dough to 1/8″ thick and a circle with a diameter 1″ larger than the top of the pan. Fold the dough in half, then in quarters and center over the apples. Then, unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan. Cut a few steam escape holes from around the center of the dough.

Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and tilt the pan. If the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove, but not to the point that the apples stick to the pan.

Place a serving platter upside down on top of the pastry and carefully flip the platter and the pan over, allowing the tart to fall gently out of the pan.

Serve warm, with whipped cream, ice cream or sweetened mascarpone.

Pourboire: Tarte Tatin can be made with other fruits, such as pears or quince. As you may imagine, savory versions exist too. A medley of wild mushrooms and herbs?