January 2011 Archives

tartiflette-stove.pngCold weather, high altitude, cheese

In the Alps of France, a Danish friend explained the term 'deftig,'which is German, by pointing to the heavy food we were eating. It was January and we were out in the weather most of the day and part of the night making snow sculpture. Deftig is what we craved; what we crave on a cold winter night. Deftig is beef stew, goulash, fondue - stuff with meat, potatoes, and in the alps, cheese. We experienced the ultimate in deftig after a cross-country ski in the town of Pralognan-la-Vanoise and its called tartiflette. Since then we've recreated this great dish at home, and found a pizzeria that serves a tartiflette pizza.

In Denver, our January tartiflette was served with a wintery spinach salad (with balsamic vinaigrette) and the remainder of the bottle (1/4 cup went into the casserole) of a crisp Argentinian Torrontes.

tartiflette.pngYou'll need to find reblochon, or a soft mountain-style (nutty, wildflower/herb aroma) cow-milk cheese if you must substitute.

1/2 lb. reblochon cheese
3/4 lb. potatoes
1 tbs. butter
1/4 onion
2 slices ham
4 tbs. cream
2 tbs. yogurt
1/4 cup white wine

Par-boil 3/4 lb. of fingerling potatoes whole for 10 minutes. Drain, pour over them 1/4 cup of white wine. Sauté about 1/4 of an onion in 1 tbs. butter in a stove- and oven-going casserole, cut 2 slices of ham - we used a really great ham bought from the butcher at Denver Urban Homesteadding - into bite size pieces. Use a slotted spoon to place remove the potatoes and slice them into the sauté.

Cut the cheese wheel into demi-circles, then in half through the thickness.  Cut the 1/2 circles again to fit your casserole. Place the cheese so the rind is up and soft cheese is touching the potatoes. Mix 4 tbs of cream and 2 tbs of yogurt in the bowl the potatoes came from, with what remains of  of the wine. Pour this mixture on top of everything in the casserole.

As you can see, we'd split everything between two serving size au gratin pans. These should be heated until everything is bubbling on the stove top, and then baked in the 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese is a deep golden brown.  

Tomorrow, remember to go out for a good, long ski.  

Salmon in a Pastry ... Celebrate

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Saumon en Croutesaumon.png seemed like a big project to take on for our annual New Year's Eve cook-athon. Before the event we practiced, worried that puff pastry was an impossible task for a home cook. Instead, choosing the correct type of salmon turned out to be what required advance knowledge.

The sockeye shown to the right, is dry, and so I sauteed the vegetables before assembling. When we made the dish with farm-raised Norwegian salmon, I chopped onion and mushrooms into slivers, but left them raw. This was a good call and the stuffing was great on both dishes. Timing, however, was more critical to the drier fish, and made the Norwegian a better choice for our big event.

At the Fine Cooking website, I found a great recipe for a quick puff pastry:
  • 12 oz. Fat (suet or butter)
  • Same gram weight flour; 12 oz.
  • 1/2 that weight of water. Water weights the same as it's volume, so 6 oz. is 3/4 of a cup.
Cut the butter and flour together on a cutting board then add the water slowly and pull it together.
puff-pastry-steps.jpgI rolled, folded, then put the pasty in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Just a half hour before putting the whole thing together, I rolled the pastry, again and folded it in thirds, rolled again, and fold in thirds, again. Returned it to the frig.
I  preheated the oven to 450 F.  I cut the onions and mushrooms as thin as I could, and took a look at the fillets before got ready to roll pastry. Straight from the frig, I divided the dough in half, then rolled 1/2  to a thickness between 1/4 to 1/8 inch. I wanted about 1-2 inches around the fillets.

saumon-pastry.pngHere, I've assembled the dish in an enameled pan, Next time was on a cookie sheet and the bottom crust was crisper. First layer: pastry, then place one fillet in the center, lay on the vegetables, second fillet, then the top crust.

It is crucial to the moistness of the finished fish that the two layers of pastry are sealed, so I wet the exposed part of the bottom sheet and then folded it over the edge of the top sheet and pressed it firmly together, letting my finger prints make a ridged border. The last step is to brush the pasty with a beaten egg yolk.

As soon as I shut the oven door on the salmon, I turned the temperature down to 350 F and set the timer for 30 minutes. It was still hard to pierce when the buzzer went off, so I gave it another 15 minutes. Out of the oven, it sat covered with a clean cloth at the back of the stove until it was cut and served. Five or ten minutes less would have resulted in a slightly better texture, but the taste was great, nonetheless.  

saumon-croute.pngBearnaise Sauce: Served over potatoes that accompanied the Salmon, this sauce was make perfect because of the vinegar used.
A friend brought us, for Christmas, the best pickled string beans I've ever had. She said 'save the pickling brine' more than once.

Steuart boiled this brine with minced shallots and the fennel, sweet, shallotty, salty vinegar was all things to all tastes, but strong on its own. He slowly added this to 3 egg yolks with 3 Tbs. of butter.  Voila. All flavors came together just like the sauce did, and was totally wonderfully Bearnaise.

Slice potatoes like coins, drop in boiling water for 15 minutes, cool (you can leave in frig until you're ready to cook). Layer then like a fan, or like fallen dominoes and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, add a few minutes of broiling if they aren't your desired color of golden brown and serve. With Bernaise if you have it.

Our Saumon en Croute was inspired by the chef from Nova Catering. Richard made this for a big Christmas party in December, there were a few leftover pieces for me to try, and it was so delicious we decided to recreate it. We came close.

persimmons.jpgSorbet making is simple, and the finished frozen assemblage is a very good palette cleanser for a complex, finely flavored meal.

For this reason, and because I bought two persimmons at Thanksgiving that were horridly unripe until the end of the year, I made a persimmon sorbet as the 'amuse bouche' for a 2010 New Year's Eve meal.

I mashed and pressed very ripe persimmons through a fine sieve.  This took some time, but it gave me the opportunity to use a cool whisk/dough hook I got for Christmas.

I pressed the mash with a spoon as well to make sure I got all of the strained pulp. The actual minutes spent sieving was minor -- 5 minutes total -- although that is a long time doing any one thing, so I would press, let it sit and do other things for the meal I was preparing for New Year's Eve 2010.

sorbet-syrup.jpgTo make a sorbet, simply add 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water (with the husk of a vanilla bean, if you'd like the final product to have a vanilla flavor. Otherwise, add the flavor you're looking for) and boil for 10 minutes. The syrup will thicken slightly, and then remove the vanilla bean, add the persimmon and 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 1 Tbs. vodka and combined in a stainless steel bowl. Covered with a plastic lid and put it in the freezer.

Every now and then, for the next 3 hours, I stirred the sorbet so the texture would be fine rather than jagged like ice cubes. My total stirring was once or twice every hour.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma aphrodisiacal.

We served a golf-ball sized portion of this sorbet in wine glasses on a little drizzle of a dry red cherry liquor and placed a fried sage leaf or two on top. (Take sage leaves from the garden, wash and pat dry. Fry in a small amount of olive oil for less than a minute, and just until they shrivel. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with great salt.)

This course was served with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger and more acerbic than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The salty fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was soon to come.
MenuCard2010.pngTo enjoy making and eating a multi-course meal as an alternating gift for each other. My husband and I made that our goal  when we started -- 10-years ago -- our current New Year's Eve dinner tradition. I'd make a little 'amuse bouche' or something to start and pick a drink to go with it. Then my husband would make a small first course and put it with another wine, and vice-versa until we'd had soup, a little main course, maybe a salad - some course to make it even - and dessert. Variety - and pleasure - was what we were after, and each of these courses was very small. Hopefully, wine was left in each bottle.

Then one New Year's Eve, friends who were stranded by snowy-road closures came to dinner. Each of us took a turn in the kitchen making a course to go with a wine, which is more easily finished with 5 to 10 friends than by just the two of us.

Since then we haven't really cared if it was just us, or anyone else that wanted to join it. This year, the menu was basically our doing -- great friends did join in --  so I can be brutally critical of how it turned out, starting with the Persimmon Sorbet.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma.

We served this in wine glasses with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry, which is something unique to persimmons. These understatements worked to set the scene for the next courses and settle everyone to the table after tasting stand-around food. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The little fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was to come.

We had offered a very short martini of vodka infused with olives to start and it was okay, but probably too much. We also opened a sparking Syrah that someone said was like grape juice. This should have been saved for dessert. A dry champagne would have been the best choice with hors d'oevres. But the sorbet erased all that.

And the next course was the star. Steuart made the stock for the lobster bisque with shrimp shells and vegetable peels that we save in the freezer, and with the skin from the salmon. When the lobster was cooked and added it was the smell of the sea. He thickened the bisque, not with heavy cream, but with pureed canned pumpkin. This was garden pumpkin so no salt or sugar was added and it's flavor was lighter than cream's. We'd just bought some Tasmanian Pepperberries at Savory and this taste was the sparkle in this star. A few whole pepperberries were placed on a dollop of Creme Fraise on the top of the soup. It looked great, but when you actually eat the pepperberry, which is strong but sweet, your mouth goes a little numb. The white wine was overpowered by all this and our best choice pairing with this course would have been a completely dry champagne or San Pellegrino. Except for the dwarfing of the wine this was the gift of the night.

For the main course, the fish monger at Whole Foods had cut up two very similar fillets of farm-raised Norwegian salmon. He removed the skin and we took it home for the stock of the bisque. We're leery of farm fish, but he said this fish ate better than most Americans, so we gave it a try. The wild Sockeye we'd used in our last en croute was very lean and a little too dry surrounded by the pastry. Perfect timing would make the sockeye work fine, but I knew I'd be busy on New Years eve, so this was a great choice. I made the pastry with butter instead of the ground suet I'd used last time and the dough was much easier to work, but maybe not as puffy if that's how one judges puff pastry. Between the two fillets of salmon I put thinly sliced onion and mushroom -- raw. With the sockeye I'd sauteed them in advance. The farm salmon, no saute, entry into a hot 450 degree oven, turned down to 350 degrees, and 45 minutes made it hassle free. We let it rest somewhere warm until we served it. Depending on this rest time and how warm it will be you could cut down the cooking time, but this salmon was pretty forgiving.

Steuart's Bearnaise sauce was great on the potatoes and any bits left on the plate were great with the salmon. Two kinds of crispy at once -- the pastry outside the salmon and the Parmesan cheese on the potatoes gave your brain something to play back and forth with as this course was eaten. And inside each was the strong salmon flavor contrasting the homey blandness of great potatoes. Green beans weighted the green side of the color pallet and Steuart had sprinkled on out favorite pepper from Savory -- Aleppo -- but it was just too much. Savory's beautiful white pepper was already on the potatoes. Live and learn. Another reason it was too much was that the light red Valpolicella (Madonna di Como) was already a strong addition to this complex course, pulling everything together nicely.

Next, we just ripped open a clam of mixed greens and dressed it with a reduction of Balsamic vinegar mixed with a little olive oil. Less is more.

The cheese and crackers gave us a moment to finish up the wines open on the table. And the fresh bread Steuart had made (Bittman's No-Knead).

Pat brought an unfrosted chocolate cake that was perfectly light in texture, dark in color, rich in chocolate flavor and delicately dusted with powdered sugar. It invited in coffee, more champagne and the New Year.