It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.
~Groucho Marx

Had to share last evening’s carnivore carnevale.

Bleu d’Auvergne is an appellation d’origine contrôlée or “controlled term of origin” (AOC) blue cheese from the fairly isolated, craggy Auvergne region in south-central France. The cheese is crafted in a traditional manner from cow’s milk, in both pasteurized and raw versions, and features an even spread of blue veins. Bleu d’Auvergne is produced in the Massif Central between Puy-de-Dôme and Cantal and then is aged for 4 weeks in cool, humid caves. There, an often revered cave man, an affineur (cheese ager), stores newly made cheeses in the caves, carefully monitoring and nuturing the growth of flavor producing molds.

Bleu d’Auvergne’s moist, sticky rind conceals a soft paste possessing a grassy, herbaceous, and heady, pungent tartness. Yet, this bleu remains milder, creamier, less salty and more approachable than many Roqueforts. Gentler on the wallet too.

Multi-aliased Kansas City strip steaks (a/k/a KC strips, strip loins, boneless loins, shell steaks, New York strip steaks, or NY strips) are purloined from the short loin of the bovine. The name emerged during the heyday of the now defunct Kansas City Stockyards located in the downtown “West Bottoms” when that beef cut achieved some notoriety. Some have even asserted that New York regionally pilfered, or perhaps rechristened, the name of the already invented Kansas City strip steak. A gastronomic who cares.

The short loin is a portion of the hindquarter of beef immediately behind the ribs and before the flank—containing part of the spine which includes the top loin and the tenderloin and yields the porterhouse, t-bone and strip steaks. Think of this flavor ridden, well marbled morsel as a porterhouse or t-bone where both savory bone and succulent tenderloin triangle have been, how do we say genteely…castrated?

STRIP STEAK WITH PORT, HERBS & BLEU D’AUVERGNE

2 boneless KC strip steaks, cut 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 rosemary sprigs

1/4 C cognac or brandy

3/4 C port
4 rosemary sprigs
1 C chicken broth
1/4 C bleu d’auvergne
1/2 C heavy whipping cream

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F

Generously salt and pepper the steaks on both sides, then lightly sprinkle with herbes de Provence (crumbled between fingers and thumb).

In a large, heavy oven proof skillet, heat the olive oil and butter with rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking or burned. Stir the rosemary sprigs and garlic around a couple of times as it heats, to infuse the butter and oil with their fragrance. Then, remove and discard the garlics and rosemary.

Place the steaks in the pan and cook until nicely browned, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Depending on thickness, they should be nice browned and rare at this stage. Remove the steaks to an oven proof dish and place in the heated oven until they reach your desired doneness, again dependent on meat thickness. Let rest, tented, while preparing sauce. Douse with cognac or brandy and carefully ignite with a match to flambé very briefly—until the flame extinguishes.

Meanwhile, turn the heat up and deglaze the pan with a generous splash of port, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add rosemary sprigs and broth, and cook down for several minutes. Whisk in bleu d’auvergne and following that, add the whipping cream and cook down using a flat wooden spatula to combine well. Add remaining port to fortify the sauce, allowing to cook down until the sauce is velvety and coats the spatula well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Carve meat across the grain on a bias into 1/2″ slices and spoon sauce over each serving as well as serve a sauceboat on the table.

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Gaul is subdued.
~Julius Caesar writing the Roman Senate on his victory over Vercingetorix

A sumptuous stick-to-the-ribs speciality of the Auvergne region in south central France, a bucolic land of abrupt volcanic plateaus, plunging cascades, verdant meadows (and carbo-loading potato dishes). Audrey Tautou, who played the winsome and waifish Amélie Poulain in the acclaimed film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie), was born and raised in Auvergne. In France, many consider her as the typical Occitan Auvergnate.

Auvergne was also home to Vercingetorix, the renowned chieftain of the Arverni who united otherwise diverse Gallic tribes in a relentless revolt against Roman armies during the last phase of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. An astute warrior, he defeated Caesar in several skirmishes including the battle of Gergovia and adopted a scorched earth policy—retreating to heavy, natural fortifications while burning hamlets behind to prevent Roman soldiers from using their abandonded lands and shelter. Vastly outnumbered though, Vercingetorix finally relented and surrendered to Caesar after being defeated at the famed, lengthy siege of Alesia (near present day Dijon) in 51 B.C. He was imprisoned and tortured in the Tullianum for five miserable years, was paraded through the streets of Rome and then summarily executed.

Millennia later, shamefully brutal rituals still perservere in some self proclaimed noble and civilized societies. Profoundly sad to say.

Vercingetorix is often hailed as a notable progenitor of French pride, passion, resilience and resolve.

Suit your mood…the first aligote version is a touch more rustic and textural, the second elegant and smooth. Yet both have that celestial courtship of earthy potatoes and nutty, buttery cheese with a salaciously molten finish.

SMASHED POTATOES ALIGOTE

3 lbs russet potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered
Sea salt, for water

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature

3/4 C heavy cream
1/2 C milk

12 ozs Tomme, Gruyère, Cantal or Comté cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Chives, minced (optional)

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages, add cream and milk, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding more milk and cream if necessary to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will become like glue or paste.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir until it melts (if the cheese is not especially ripe, you might have to return the pan to the stove over very low heat). Season to taste and serve.

Top with minced chives, should you so please.

PUREED POTATOES ALIGOTE

3 lbs Russet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
1 1/2 to 2 C whole milk
3 to 4 (24-32 T) sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads
Sea salt
Freshly ground white and black peppers

12 ozs Tomme, Gruyère, Cantal or Compté cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Place the potatoes in a large heavy pot of salted water. Simmer over medium high heat until a fork easily pierces them, around 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.

In a heavy saucepan, heat milk until just about to boil. Remove from stove.

Peel the potatoes, then pass them through a finely gridded food mill. Place the potatoes in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir the potatoes thoroughly in order to dry them some. Add the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, still stirring vigorously, until butter is entirely incorporated. Slowly add most of the milk while stirring, reserving some for later if needed.

Again pass through the finest grid of the food mill into another large, heavy saucepan. Stir vigorously throughout, adjust the amounts of milk and butter to your preferrence. The texture should be smooth and creamy.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir until it melts (if the cheese is not especially ripe, you might have to return the pan to the stove over very low heat). Season to taste and serve.

Lentils

February 12, 2009

Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
~Laurie Colwin

Lentils are those pungently earthy members of the legume family—which are plants in the pea family that split open naturally along a seam revealing a row of seeds. Some archealogical digs have suggested that legumes may be the oldest crop known to humanity. Lentils are commonly found in dried form and possess superior nutritional qualities with high levels of protein.

The green lentilles from Puy, in the rocky Auvergne region in France, are considered the caviar of lentils. The arid climate, abundant sunshine and volcanic soil conditions offer a flinty, nutty flavor which has garnered the beans an Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)…a quality label recognized by the French government bestowed upon products meeting specified standards.

LENTIL SOUP

1 C dried lentils
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 14 oz can san marzano tomatoes, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 t freshly toasted coriander, ground
1 t freshly toasted cumin seeds, ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar

In a bowl, first drain and rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve.

Toast and grind coriander and cumin seeds.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; then add the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.

Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste. Kindly drizzle some fine red wine vinegar over each bowl.

LENTIL SALAD

1 1/2 C lentils
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 oz Virginia ham
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
Water to cover

1 qt chicken stock
1 bay leaf
a few springs of fresh thyme
Sea salt
2 oz Virginia ham, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
Freshly ground pepper

2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2/3 C walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and remove any foreign matter.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and and cook the onion and ham over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Transfer the lentils to the same heavy Dutch oven, then cover with cold water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Return the lentils to the pan, add the stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a gentle boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Skim off the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.

Combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend. Add the walnut oil and shallots, and continue to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and cook over moderate heat until done. Set aside on paper towels.

When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss with the vinaigrette. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Let stand until the lentils have absorbed the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with diced bacon. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.