Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Dinner for my Valentine

Valentine's Day is pretty low-key around Chez Marshmallow. We buy each other a card, I make a nice dinner, and we enjoy each other's company. With our wedding anniversary just a few weeks after, it seems silly to celebrate a 'Hallmark holiday' to excess; we'd rather splurge for the real occasion that comes soon afterward. 
This year was a little different because Valentine's fell on a Saturday. Because we got to spend the whole day together instead of just the evening, we split duties: Hubband made me a lovely breakfast, and I made him a nice dinner. (Hubband made homemade pecan waffles with a banana-pecan-maple topping! If he continues this amazing cookery learning curve, I shall have to give up my spoon!) 
Dinner started with a classic French Onion soup, courtesy of CI. While tasty, it was very classic, and I wished it had a little punch or twist to it. The typical crouton topping was made of a very good whole-wheat pain levain (toasted on both sides, please) and cave-aged Gruyere. 

The main course was a NY Strip, seasoned generously with salt and pepper and seared in bacon fat. I paired it with sauteed green beans and a new side: dried mango braised with onion and a chile. 
The new side dish was adapted from Jean Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman's Simple to Spectacular. Their recipe called for dried pears, which I couldn't find to save my life. I used mango instead, as Hubband and I are fans. The side was different and very tasty, but I think it could use more tinkering. Why, for example, should I soak the dried fruit, and then braise it with chicken stock? Why not just braise it directly from dried? Yes, it would take longer, but the fruit would take in more flavor from the onions, bacon, thyme, chile and stock instead of already being engorged with plain water. This is definitely worth revisiting, so if I come up with a technique I really like I'll post it in the future. 
Dessert was caramel cake, this time with added coconut on top which was a delicious addition suggested by Hubband. (See? I'm going to have to retire.) 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thanks for the Idea!

While perusing my blogroll a week or two ago, I checked in on Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy. I was very sorry to read that she'd had an accident, but happy to read the recipe she'd posted from her most recent issue of Gourmet magazine. January's issue was all about Italian, and included a recipe for Roast Chicken with Pancetta and Olives from Tony Oltranti. The recipe incorporated oil-cured olives, which I had on hand and needed to use up, and seemed simple, so I marked it down to try. I'm so happy I did! The chicken was wonderfully flavorful and moist, with crisp skin, the garlic became soft and sweet and perfect to spread on bread and sop up the light but intensely flavored juices. I replaced the pancetta that was called for with some of my bacon, and the smokiness added a nice dimension without overpowering any of the other flavors. 
Roast Chicken with Bacon and Olives 
Adapted from Tony Oltranti, Gourmet Magazine Jan 2009 via Susan Filson

6-8 Bone-in skin-on chicken breasts, cut in half width-wise
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tb fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tb fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tb fine sea salt
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes, adjust to your taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
10 garlic cloves, peeled
4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
24 oil-cured black olives

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. 
Place chicken pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Combine thyme, rosemary, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Rub the spice mixture into the chicken and arrange all of the pieces skin-side up in a single layer. Scatter garlic and bacon around the chicken and roast until the chicken begins to brown, 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, drizzle the wine over the chicken and roast for 8 minutes more. After the 8 minutes, scatter the olives over the chicken and continue roasting until the skin is golden brown and the meat is cooked through, 15-20 minutes more. Rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Get well soon, Susan!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My First 'First Thursday'

Well, the first one that worked, anyway. Well, sort of. I'm getting ahead of myself here. Remember the cheese post? It had a whole explanation of this blogging event, First Thursdays
To recap, First Thursdays occurs the first week of every month (hence the name) and is an event which forces the participants to utilize their cookbook collections. No improvisation allowed! February's theme is "Romantic Cliches". To start my challenge, I asked Hubband to select a recipe, making things reminiscent of the ooshy-gooshy romantic telephone cliche: 'No, you hang up first! No, you!' (No, you pick the recipe. I WANT you to!) He thought chocolate was about as romantic cliche as you can get, and headed for a cookbook I have entitled, appropriately enough, 'I Want Chocolate!' by Trish Deseine. After flipping through for awhile, he selected the Triple Chocolate Brownie Crunch, depicted as a luscious, thick, fudgy brownie studded with nuts, topped with white chocolate mousse, and a warm milk chocolate sauce, sprinkled with some sort of chocolate crunchy candy. 
I dutifully made out my grocery list and started the recipe. The brownie batter came together easily enough, but seemed sparse, and as it contained no leavening agent I wasn't confident that it was going to plump up anytime soon, but the point of First Thursdays is not to question, so I went ahead and put it in the oven. 
The white chocolate mousse was actually a whipped ganache: white chocolate and cream, whipped after it cooled for one hour. It was spread over the cooled brownie, and put into the fridge to chill for 2-3 hours, per instructions. After 2 hours, I made the milk chocolate sauce, which the cookbook said could be served hot or at room temperature. I poured it over the brownie, topped it with a little crushed Heath bar, and came out with this:

It doesn't look particularly appetizing, does it? Appearances can be deceiving, but this one wasn't. There was far too much white chocolate 'mousse', the milk chocolate sauce was more like hot chocolate milk, and the brownie itself was thin and unremarkable in flavor. 
When I have used this book previously, for cookies, I found that the flavor needed bumping up. I added salt and instant coffee granules to those, and if I hadn't been making this for First Thursday, I would absolutely have done so again. I believe this brownie could be easily salvaged. The 'mousse', however, could not. I am not a big white chocolate fan in the first place, but don't call a whipped ganache a mousse, and don't ask me to chill it for 2 hours after whipping! Any subtle flavor was submerged by the chill, the texture was almost as far from mousse as possible, and it ended up just tasting like a thick layer of sugar. (For the record, this was high-quality white chocolate, so that wasn't the problem.) Blecch. The milk chocolate sauce was weak, and should have been chilled (which wasn't suggested in the recipe) for any chance at thickness. 
The book has good ideas and potential, but I don't think that a book by a professional pastry chef should just have potential. It should produce real, quality results! It's enough to make me wonder if Ms. Deseine had any recipe testers. I also take offense to the fact that the beautiful food photography is obviously not a product of the recipe it purports to showcase. From the photo in the book, it is obvious that the 'mousse' was not refrigerated, the milk chocolate sauce was, and the brownie batter was at least doubled. I understand that food stylists are hired to make everything look divine, but this seems like out and out false advertising, and I dislike it. 
Overall, I won't be using this book without improvisation again. It can be used as a good jumping-off point, but provides no real depth of flavor. The instructions also leave something to be desired. I vow, someday I will have a perfectly successful 'First Thursday'!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Worth The Wait, Pt. 2

Whew! Now that we've all had a bit of a breather and some time to digest, let's continue with this amazing meal, shall we? (To recap, this is a recent meal at the Chef's Table of Victoria & Albert's, Disney World.)

Gentleman's Third Course: Roasted Poussin (Young Chicken) with Caramelized Cauliflower and Celery Gelee. Accompanied with a delicious jus, it was well-seasoned, tender, and moist. My brother-in-law E, who dislikes chicken, finished every last bite. Is there much higher praise?

Everyone's Fourth Course: Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin with Hedgehog Mushrooms, English Peas, and Ricotta Gnocchi. The crispy bit balanced on top of the tenderloin is a lovely veal sweetbread. Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, mild and not a bit gamey, the sweetbread was an absolutely luxurious pleasure. I much prefer it to foie gras. As for the entire dish, this was ultimate comfort food to me. It warmed the soul. Rich, unctuous, flavorful but never heavy, I thought it was perfection on a plate. 

Everyone's Fifth Course: Kurobota Pork Tenderloin and Belly with Baby Beets, Sherry-Bacon Vinaigrette, and 100-Year-Old Balsamic. 
Pork tenderloin? Delicious. Pork Belly? Ridiculous. It was so tender, so buttery and delicious, I would eat it every day if it wouldn't guarantee complete rotundity and an early death. The sherry vinaigrette was a perfect counterpoint. 

Everyone's Sixth Course: The ultimate for beef lovers. A comparison of Australian "Kobe" Beef Tenderloin (near) and true Japanese Wagyu strip loin (far). Accompanied with braised Kobe shortribs on mashed potatoes and a rich oxtail jus. Are there words? I'm not sure. Rich, (does that seem to be a recurring theme?) tender, juicy, and sublime. The Australian is great, but next to the true Waygu, it pales in comparison. The oxtail jus is good enough to drink. 

The next course was cheeses: Colton Bassett Stilton, Comte Fort de Rousses, Double Gloucester, and Fouchra. Mmm. 

First Dessert Course: From left, Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Miniature Banana Gateau with caramelized bananas, and Strawberry Dumpling with Fresh Strawberry Coulis. 

Final Course: From left, Peruvian Chocolate ice cream and puff pastry with chocolate "lashes", Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle, and Tanzanian Chocolate Pyramid. 

Throughout the meal, various breads with butters were served, and all were delicious, but one truly stood out. It was so good, we all asked for seconds. It was so amazing, I had no time to take a picture. It was Perigord truffle brioche, with truffle butter. I've never seen an item to heavily and thoroughly truffled. Served warm, for the ultimate fragrance, this bread was absolutely, completely out of this world. If the entire meal consisted of this bread and butter, I don't think I would have complained. I dream of this bread. 

That was our meal at Victoria & Albert's. I highly recommend the restaurant itself, and especially the Chef's Table. If you get reservations, recall that it seats 8, or even possibly 10, and that I live nearby!