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Daube_ProvencalDSC_6810.JPGBeef Bourguignon is Steuart's all-time best, never-fail crowd pleaser, but he makes it all the time. Poor me.

For a Sunday night dinner with a couple of friends, he wanted to try something different. But thwarting him was a big piece of beef- the last of our cow from Pure Wyoming Beef -- waiting, thawed in the refrigerator.

Daube de Boeuf a la Provencial.
Marinate 3 lbs of beef cubes in 1.5 cups of dry white wine, or a light red, 2 T olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, mashed garlic, 2 cups of thin-sliced onions, 2 cups of thin sliced carrots.  At least 3 hours (refrigerate if you're going to leave them longer).

Noon on Sunday: Preheat oven 300 F.
If your bacon is salty, boil it for a few minutes to remove salt. Chop 1lb of mushrooms and 1lb of tomatoes. Drain the meat in a sieve. Line bottom of casserole or LeCruset with bacon, add a layer of marinade and newly chopped vegetable  in the casserole, roll the beef cubes in flour and layer them on, add another layer of bacon and repeat until casserole is full or ingredients are exhausted. Pour the marinade and some beef stock over it all until liquid nearly comes to the top of the casserole.

Cook for about 4 hours.daube-provencal.jpg

Skim the fat of the top with a baster.

Using a fork mash ten anchovies and 2 T. capers to a paste. See first photo. Then add to  3 t. wine vinegar, 2 closes of garlic mashed, 1/4 cup minced parsley.

Add this to the casserole and put back in your low temp oven until ready to serve.

It's amazingly different from the rich beef stew from Burgundy.

We served it with roast potatoes, peas and a green salad. Plenty for everyone and left overs, too.

Wine to go with:  an Argentinian Malbec was incredible. We also tried a durif from South Africa -- not so good. Hearty was surprisingly better. The third bottle, a Zinfandel, went down just fine too.

For dessert -- a gluten free coconut cake. Now that's another story.

Well-made cheese is exceptional - shouldn't become usual. It's expensive, high in fat, but pleasantly high in calcium and protein, so it's not junk food. I like to think of it as a special treat, and serve it as the French do, after the main meal. If it's served as hors d'oevres, I can devour cheese like a bag of chips and neither one is very good for me.

Think of each cheese as one of the tiny items on the Tasting Menu at a swank and trendy restaurant. Select three cheeses that are similar but have subtle differences. The smallness of these difference will hone your attention to the unique qualities of each cheese. An ordinary cracker can carry the cheese to your mouth, but these crackers reformat your palette between bites.

Tasmanian Pepper Black Cocoa Crackers:
2 cups flour (spelt is good if you don't want wheat)
1/2 tsp. baking powder (very little is needed at high altitude)
2 Tbs. black onyx cocoa (Savory Spice)
1 cup water
2 tsps. Tasmanian Black Pepper, crushed. Reserve for the rolling
1 tsps. good salt. Reserve for the application just before baking.

Mix dry ingredients (reserve the salt and pepper) together with a wooden spoon and then add water until the mixture forms a dry ball. Some bits might not join in, and some flour may still not be absorbed, so sprinkle a few more drops of water on those and pull everything together with floured hands. You may not need all the water or you may need a touch more. The dough should be moist but not sticky. If it's too sticky add a little flour to the bowl and roll your ball in it. It's okay to move the dough firmly to pull it together and work it a little to even out the texture, but you won't do your crackers any good by kneading them. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. The cracker dough is happy to have a rest while it heats.

cracker-rolling.pngcrackers-uncut.pngI remember when someone first told me they were making crackers. The whole process felt burdensome, and I sometimes have that feeling, again, when I'm asked to make them. My crackers are so incredible that I am asked this often. But really the whole mixing process takes less than 5 minutes.

Rolling the dough is fun, and I divide this quantity of dough into four parts and roll the dough very thin, tossing on the pepper when I'm almost at the final thinness and rolling it in. Then I put the slab of dough on a cookie sheet. It you can't handle the dough - if it's really thin or delicate - just slide it onto the back of the sheet with a big spatula. The thinner the better the cracker, I think.

I spray the surface with a mister and sprinkle on the salt, then cut the dough in pieces with a pizza cutter.

Into the hot oven it goes, set timer and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Roll out the next ball of dough. You can make several flavor by changing the topping at this point if you want. The cracker has backed long enough, if they will break apart easily. You will come up with a thickness and a doneness that you prefer as you make these and other crackers. After you've served them once, you'll want to make more.

crackers.pngServe warm, if you can, but they will last for days, just like any other cracker.

The cocoa is unsweetened but works to grab your attention with a subtle, lovable chocolate flavor. The special quality of the Tazmanian pepper is that it numbs the mouth. So, Taz pepper works as the perfect palette cleanser, but also forces you to slow down to enjoy all the other subtle tastes offered by the cheese, the wine that accompanies it and the starchy cracker. So, isolate the bits. Instead of trying to get a sample of each thing in one mouthful. This is a course to be enjoyed with small bites in separate parts. A drink of wine after finishing the end of a cracker. Eating the cheese off the top. There is satisfaction with getting the combos right, and each bite is a new experience.

Super Bowl Special

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football-fries.pngFrench Football Fries:
These fries are so French. They're exactly like the wonderful fries we first appreciated at a French ski resort. Out in the cold, you come in for a steak and frites, and it's heaven. Then you find out these heavenly potatoes have been fried in beef fat. We decided they'd be perfect for the Super Bowl when every dish suggested seems to be filled with fat and other stuff not so good for anyone.  

Fries-For-Football.pngWe've been making beef stock, so happen to have beef fat around -- organic beef fat -- and we brush it on our organic Colorado potatoes. They're baked not deep fried. (Is this like shaving pennies from the national debt?)

It's Super Bowl Sunday, so we've cut the potatoes and shaped them into little footballs. Brushed them with beef fat and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until they were golden brown.

We played around with variations on the onion lacing theme. And, of course, added the best French sea salt.

Great on their own or served with the Boeuf Bourguignon made yesterday for a hassle-free, après ski, Super Bowl dinner.

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.

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.

Champagne and Popcorn

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Celebrating something special: Roederer & Redenbacker.

Roederer.jpgThe perfect August celebration -- meeting friends at 5 p.m. on their fifth floor balcony at the Magnolia, a boutique, downtown Denver hotel -- started with champagne and popcorn.

August in Denver is very hot for people used to living in the mountains, so I crave cold bubbly wine. I wouldn't have guessed to pair it with popcorn until the wine rep at Argonaut suggested it.  The simple white kernels, popped and tossed with our great French sea salt came to the hotel room in a paper sack where the champagne and friends greeted us coldly and warmly, respectively.

Leo, the wine rep, had made a good call. He surprised us, too, by being such a fan of French champagne. He suggested the Roederer Brut Premier. The price had just come down a little, and so it now landed in my price range.

I love how champagne bubbles make you breathe and smell the wine. The Roederer's dry sweetness reminds me of a day in an open meadow by a stream at about 11,000 Colorado feet above sea level. When I think of this place in my mind there is nothing wrong with the setting, no sticks scratching my legs, no rain forcing me to cover up, and that's exactly what I like about nice champagne -- there's nothing wrong. And popcorn, the way my husband makes it, also comes with nothing not to like.

btw -- The bottle we were drinking really was champagne -- meaning it comes from the Champagne region of France, near Reims, which unbelievably rhymes with France.

Watermelon Hard Lemonade

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Watermelon, Vodka and Lemon/Lime Juice.

watermelon-vodka.JPGLet the watermelon be the sweetness. Watermelon's best quality. I don't love the texture or the the thick bitter skin, or it's plethora of seed. Like lavender is to herb, watermelon is to fruit. Its a smell of summer.

Watermelon's second best quality is wetness: a desirable summer taste.

We were sitting outside on a very hot, very dry summer day in Santa Fe, with a watermelon in the frig. How about a watermelon lemonade? Scott asked, like it was an ordinary think. Pretty soon he returned with tall glasses with watermelon chunks like ice cubes in a glass of lemonade, and challenged us to make this wonderful taste more wonderful.

I instantly thought of vodka, and Steuart suggested we smash and strain the watermelon to get more of its fragile distinct flavor into the glass. We discussed how much sugar it might need, and I think fresh juice is always better, and since this is an adult drink, there's no need to candy it up with too much sugar.

watermelon-lemonade.JPG1/3 Watermelon, cut in pieces and seeded
5 lemons, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 tbs. sugar
1 cup of cold water
Garnish: mint, lime or lemon wedge, watermelon cubes

Press the watermelon through a strainer and add to citrus juice. Mix with water, pour over ice in a tall glass and add one shot to each of vodka from a bottle kept in the freezer. If watermelon is not sweet enough you may need to add a little more sugar, but go slow or you'll lose the taste of watermelon. These quantities should make about six tall lemonades, but the mixed fruit juice can be saved if there is extra.  Serve with a fresh sprig of mint or a slice of lime.  

Tarragon Martinis

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martini-tarragon.jpgcrush-tarragon-vodka.jpgvodka-tarragon.jpgpour-martini-tarragon.jpgHeaven in a smell; vodka in the glass.
By mid May our tarragon was two feet tall and so thick it feels like we planted a magic tarragon stalk three summers ago.   Sure, it's great with fish, great in a chicken soup, and I even use a few sprigs in a vase of flowers, but there's so much and it's so tender it's almost sweet this time of year. Dried tarragon is such a bitter relative and what we could harvest now and eat fresh.

Martinis. Tarragon martinis.

I topped about four stalks, washed them, twisted them in my hands to release their flavor and put them in a big bowl and covered them with vodka I'd kept in the freezer. We used both Idol, a French vodka made from grapes, and a local Colorado vodka called Goat, made from grains and sweet Corn from Olathe, Colorado.

For our first attempt we only let the tarragon sit in the vodka for about 20 minutes, poured it over ice and a big twist of lime. The martini experience was one big whiff of tarragon and the taste of the delicate Idol vodka with a hint of lime and the faint licorice note of the tarragon. 

For the second attempt, the tarragon sat in the vodka for about two hours. Ice was added just before serving, stirred and poured into cold glasses with a twist and slice of cucumber. For some non-tarragon lovers the flavor was too strong, so we cut it down to a nice balance with a heavy squeeze of lime.

Black & Tans --

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What's the correct way to make a Black and Tan?
So here pictured, you'll see two ways of making a black and tan. One, on the right, started with black, the Guiness Stout, and then, the tan was poured in afterward.

The one on the left was made with the lighter beer filling the glass, a Beck's lager in this case, and the black (Guiness) being poured slowly into it.

If I had a video camera, you could watch the cloud-like foam rising in the glass, the one on the left just sitting there. If there was such a thing as a smellora, you could also smell the Guiness rising to the top. Black first, then tan. That's the way to go.
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