Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Going Against the Grain

Photo: Braised Brisket with Panko Topped Penne with Cheese and braising vegetables. (The baked mac'n cheese was made with a bechamel and grated fontina.)

I've always been a little weird. In high school I used to make vests with matching scrunchies. So maybe I wasn't so much weird as I was a NERD, but I've changed??? I'm now a FOOD nerd. And why do I digress, you ask? Well, because I know now that it's acceptable to be different, and if that means going against the grain, then damn it, go against the grain and I promise you'll never go back. I just wish someone had told me this at a younger age. I could've saved money instead of spending it on all those therapy sessions...

It's how you slice it. Last night I made a beef brisket, which I slow braised in my trusty Le Creuset cobalt blue braiser for 6 hours at 275 degrees. It would have been great at 3 or 4 hours, but the house was cold so I went until dinner time. Cut along the grain, the meat can appear stringy and tough, but once you slice it AGAINST the grain, alles gut, ja. Of course, if you totally screw up and the meat is tough all around, cutting across the grain will help but not cure your culinary disaster.

Most meat should be cut across the grain. The resulting shorter fibers means less work for your jaw, and hence more tender feeling meat. Sometimes you'll want to shred meat, as in pork shoulder roast, but when it's steak or brisket, think again(st.)

So try braising a brisket. Revive the Jewish grandmother in you. Use stock or red wine until it reaches 3/4 of the way up the meat, add some tomatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and bay leaves, and forget it in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. Perfection, and at a cheap cost, too! Now YOU can use this extra money for your own therapy.

Buon Appetito,

Monday, December 18, 2006

Maximizing your Oven - Part III: Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic is so different from raw garlic. No worries about kissing anyone after slathering this onto crusty bread. It's also extremely easy to make.

Here goes:

Cut off the tops of the garlic head after peeling as much of the superficial skin as possible. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Wrap in foil. Place in the oven at whatever temperature you're roasting your vegetables for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature. It should turn a beautiful caramel color.

Remove from oven. It should squeeze out easily like toothpaste. Add some olive oil, s&p to taste and you're ready to dazzle everyone with your homemade roasted garlic oil. Add some chopped fresh herbs for additional freshness and color. Add to mashed potatoes, or slather on a whole chicken or cornish hen before roasting, or your favorite works like chocolate, except savory. What?

Maximize maximize maximize, especially now that it's "cold" here in California.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lesson Learned

Photo: I usually scrape out the gills of portobelli, especially when making a tomato sauce, as they tend to darken the mixture.

The other night I had a dinner party where I completely experimented with the entree and side dishes. Very bad idea. Usually I'm on time with dinner, but this time I served an hour and fifteen after guests had arrived. Yes, I am human, and no, I'm not perfect. However, complete disaster was averted thanks to the dishes turning out great and initially disgruntled guests leaving happy and drunk (but not too drunk to drive, mind you!)

Here's what was on the menu:

To start, a cheese and chartucerie platter consisting of parmeggiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyere, salame and soppresata, dried figs, crostini and homemade pesto. Thank goodness since dinner was taking so damn long!

Main course:
Roasted Cornish hens
Braised Kale
Soft Polenta with Portobello, Sage, and Pancetta

Pear Galette with Homemade French Vanilla Ice Cream

I was worried that the side dishes would overpower the hens, but they stood up to the challenge.

Something I've started doing lately is roasting birds with their necks and livers in the bottom of the roasting pan. I placed the hens atop onions, stuffed them with garlic, lemon, thyme, and slipped medallions of herb butter under their skins. I think next time I will sear the skins on the stove before placing them in the oven to roast, as their skins could've been browner. Even though I dried the skins best I could and rubbed them with oil, it was hard to get that dark tan without overcooking. The butter under the skin does help, however. Lesson learned.

So after removing the birds from the roasting pan, I placed the pan with the livers, onions, and necks, over the stovetop and deglazed with white wine. The roasted bits really add great flavor to the jus, as opposed to just the drippings. Try it!

I served the birds on a bed of braised kale and the soft polenta in small bowls. For dessert another disaster averted...barely. I went to my favorite store which was CLOSED, so I couldn't get my fresh berries for the galette. Instead, I had to go next door to an inferior produce mart and get some pears. I probably should've roasted the pears for the galette, but had no time, so they were a little al dente. However, the crust, a pasta frolla, was fantastic (it's made with corn meal so it can withstand juicy fillings and has that extra crunch) and of course you can't go wrong with ice cream!!!

Phew. Next time I will test recipes before serving them at a dinner party. Just another excuse to keep cooking, really.

Save those giblets!!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Scones: Rock hard = Bad (unless discussing abs)

Photo: Quyen's Blueberry Buttermilk Scones with Lemon Zest

This morning we had some friends visiting, so I decided to make some scones (plus I just bought some dried blueberries and wanted to use them.) Any excuse, really, to bake. Seriously, though, by the time your oven is fully preheated, your scones are ready to go in.

With quick breads, scones, biscuits, etc. it's more about technique than anything else, and that mainly entails NOT overmixing. Overmixing is for bread and pizza dough, where you actually want to develop the gluten in the flour. I know it's tantalizing handling that biscuit dough, but REFRAIN from TOUCHING. Make yourself some playdough and play with that, but RESIST the URGE to touch. You can look all you want, but don't touch. Just imagine me standing there with a wooden spoon smacking you...yeah, that's right, a little harder...what? No! Bad touch! Bad touch!

Moving on, whether you're making biscuits, scones, zucchini bread, pancakes, or other delicate treats, always stop mixing a couple beats before you think it's fully mixed. Make sure all your ingredients are COLD for scones and biscuits (room temperature for cakes, but that's another topic), and work with your fingertips quickly. And of course, your oven should be completely preheated.

Not to brag or anything, but I actually had to WAIT for my oven to preheat because I made the scones so damn fast.

Wish you could have a bite,

PS Scones shouldn't be rock hard. They should be flaky, delicate, and moist. It's all in the hands, baby. You haven't had a good scone unless you've made them yourself (or I've made them for you, and trust me, mine are gooooooood.)