Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hachis Parmentier

Hachis Parmentier
Hachis Parmentier is basically just the French version of Shepard's Pie. It's not something you'd probably see at a French restaurant though, as it's really a dish for using up leftovers at home. However this Dorie Greenspan recipe is for those of us who want to try it without first making pot-au-feu (though I do in fact want to do that). Not a lot to say about this one... did it over two days... first made the bouillon and beef and then the next day brought it together with the mashed potatoes. I used the pressure cooker for the potatoes and continue to be amazed at how much easier it makes them. If you like Shepard's Pie you'll like this, but if you don't you won't. The only really interesting addition here was sausage (I used garlic sausage), which is decidedly not French, but was a nice flavor element.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thomas Keller's Poached Eggs

Poached Egg on Toast
So hey: this weekend I poached eggs for the first time. It probably seems weird for a food blogger to have never done it before, but you have to realize I am a reformed picky eater as well... and poached eggs were definitely not in my diet as a youngin'. Realizing the awesomeness of breaking into a poached egg and having "yellow gold" saturate everything is something that is relatively new to me... so it's hard for me to say whether or not they've become more trendy lately. However it certainly seems like there has been a school of thought developing which says "everything is better with a poached egg on top." As I'm not even entirely sure I could come up with a serious argument against that proposition, it seemed like a good thing to learn how to do. However, everybody always says they're super hard to make and acts like you need to be some sort of Iron Chef to not screw it up... so I was pretty intimidated by the whole concept. Thus it remained on my cooking bucket list until the April 2012 Bon Appétit arrived in my mailbox.

Poached Egg on Toast with Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce
Within those pages was a recipe from Thomas Keller for "the Perfect Poach". The basic concept here is to a) use vinegar to tighten up the whites, and b) stir the water so it's like a whirlpool when you dump the egg in. The vinegar will be no surprise to veteran egg poachers, but what I think is fairly novel here is using an entire 1/2 cup per egg... and having the egg sit in it for 5 minutes before poaching. You can actually see the whites visibly tighten up over this period of time which is kind of cool. The whirlpool part is also unusual as these recipes go but it's not hard to manage. I did accidentally whack my first egg with the whisk, leading to a broken yolk and overcooked egg... but it didn't take long to learn how to stir the water without endangering the egg. I'd advise using a fairly big pot for this... not a medium saucepan as suggested by the recipe... to make sure you have room to stir the water. In addition, I'm not sure the instruction "as soon as water returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium and gently simmer egg, frequently swirling water, for 2 minutes" is exactly accurate. If you wait until the water returns to a boil and then go for 2 minutes I think you'll have an overcooked egg... you kind of have to know what a poached egg looks like and turn down the heat and start the timer once the whites are tight and starting to set.

Anyway, I really recommend trying this recipe if you've always wanted to poach an egg but have been intimidated by its presumed difficulty. It's not as hard as you think!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Candle 79 Cookbook - Vegan Fine Dining

Vegan Tortilla Soup and Stuffed Poblano
Pictured above is the vegan dinner I made for Anna earlier this week out of the Candle 79 cookbook. It consists of a tortilla soup and stuffed poblano peppers with a roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. This was part of a Valentine's Day agreement to cook each other a semi fancy dinner... at some point... and it only took me a month, so I'm pretty proud of myself. In addition, one of the things I am still not very good at is multitasking in the kitchen, so getting two distinct dishes on the table simultaneously is a bit of a challenge for me... and required some planning. I made pieces of it Saturday and Sunday and pulled it all together Monday night.

Candle 79 is an ambitious and well regarded New York City vegan restaurant, and their cookbook seems to reflect said ambition. What is particularly nice is that they recommend pairings, so for the tortilla soup they said the main could be stuffed poblano peppers or chile-grilled tofu, which makes assembling a dinner menu easy. Now I can only comment from the recipes I've made so far, but while I didn't find the recipes particularly hard from a skill standpoint, they did seem fairly involved with lots of parts... for instance, the stuffed poblanos required two separate recipes on different pages (a grilled marinated tempeh for the filling, and the sauce to finish)... so I doubt this is going to be a everyday cookbook for most. However it does seem pretty great for entertaining and impressing any vegan or vegetarian friends... though you'll likely have to do it on a Saturday or Sunday as a cooking project or figure out parts you can do ahead of time without compromising the final dish.

I'm not entirely sure I need to own it yet, but hopefully we'll get it out from the library again and I can try a few more recipes for a final decision. Certainly worth checking out for any vegans/vegetarians out there.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pressure Cooker Beef Daube and Mashed Potatoes

Pressure Cooked Beef Daube and Mashed Potatoes
I guess formally this would be Daube de Boeuf Provençale, but I think we can just call it beef daube since we're all friends here. What makes it a "daube" is that it's beef braised in wine... but isn't that what Beef Bourguignon is? Well yes... that's exactly what it is... but Beef Bourguignon is all fancy with it's red Burgundy wine (though most would just use a California or Oregon Pinot Noir since it's the same grape) and pretty little mushrooms. Our more humble boy here is just beef, carrots, and any full bodied red wine you can get your hands on for $10 or less.

Apropos of my desire for a personal pressure cooker revival, both the daube and the mashed potatoes pictured above were prepared in a pressure cooker. When we bought our pressure cooker a couple of years ago, Amazon had the 5 piece Fagor Duo Combo on sale for about $116, which was only a a few bucks more that the 8 quart Fagor Duo by itself... so why not get all those extra pieces, right? Certainly the glass lid is great, since it allows you to use the pressure cookers as regular pots... and the steamer insert is handy... but what about the 4 quart pressure cooker? To be honest I hadn't really used it. While it would obviously come to pressure much quicker than the 8 quart one, I was always worried that I would fill it too high or something. Though I think the real culprit here is the fact that, while you have two pressure cookers, you only have one pressure cooker lid. If there were some way to obtain a second lid independently, it'd be quite useful to have that second pressure cooker even if it was relatively small... but as it is? Not so much.

Well, I decided I would try to get some utility out of the smaller cooker, and thus used it to make mashed potatoes to go with the daube. Turns out it fairly perfectly holds 2 pounds of potatoes in a single layer, which is exactly what I needed. Yeah, I had to finish cooking the daube before I could start the potatoes, but you want your mashed potatoes finished at the last possible moment anyway, so it didn't seem like a huge problem. It only takes 10 minutes at high pressure to get your potatoes mashable, and the fact that you only have water half way up the potatoes means getting it to high pressure is pretty quick. Normally I only ever make mashed potatoes on a holiday dinner or other special occasion since a) my usual recipe has an entire stick of butter and a cup of half and half, and b) bringing a giant pot of water to a boil and then boiling potatoes for 20-30 minutes is a lot of time for a side dish. The pressure cooker makes things a lot quicker, so I'm either going to have to be very very disciplined or find a lower calorie recipe... but for the occasional indulgence the Cook's Illustrated recipe below is my favorite. I mean, how can it not taste awesome with a stick of butter and cup of half and half?

Returning to the daube, the cut of beef should be chuck or round (with chuck being my preference) and you've got a couple of optional additions in anchovies and olives. I'm not an olive person, so I nixed that but did go with the anchovies for umami based reasons. The sauce does need to be thickened with corn starch, but it is quite flavorful for something that's at high pressure for only 16 minutes. I like it quite a bit for something you can get on the table (ignoring the marinade) in 40 minutes or less.

Pressure Cooker Daube de Boeuf Provençale
adapted from Cooking Under Pressure from Lorna Sass

  • 2 cups drinking-quality red wine
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 to 5 anchovy fillet, packed in olive oil, drained, and mashed (optional)
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless chuck or round, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large carrots, peeled (leave whole)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  1. Combine the wine, thyme, bay tomato paste, and mashed anchovies (if using) in a nonreactive bowl/storage container. Add the beef, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (if you are in a hurry you can skip this step).
  2. Heat the oil in the cooker over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until lightly browned (4 minutes). Holding the beef cubes to one side, pour the wine marinade into the cooker and boil it over high heat about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the beef and stir in the olives (if using) plus salt (you are likely to need more if you haven't used the olives and anchovies) and pepper to taste. Set the carrots on top.
  4. Lock the lid in place and over high heat bring to high pressure. Adjust the heat to maintain high pressure and cook for 16 minutes. Let the pressure drop naturally, about 10-15 minutes. Do not use the quick-release method (it will toughen the meat). Remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow steam to release.
  5. Test the beef for doneness. If it is not sufficiently tender, lock the lid back into place and return to high pressure for a few more minutes. Again, let the pressure drop naturally.
  6. Slash the carrots into chunks, Stir in the parsley. To thicken the sauce, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon of water and stir it in. Boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Pressure Cooker Mashed Potatoes
adapted from The New Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated

  • 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 tablespoon coarse/kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • Ground black pepper

  1. Place scrubbed potatoes into 4 quart or larger pressure cooker and fill with water to halfway up the potatoes. Lock lid in place, set to high pressure, and turn heat to high.
  2. When the cooker reaches pressure turn the heat down to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the cooker from the heat and use the quick release to lower the pressure.
  3. Set food mill or ricer over an empty bowl. If you are using a food mill you will need to peel the potatoes, so spear a potato with dinner fork, then peel back skin with paring knife. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled (or unpeeled if using a ricer) potatoes into rough chunks and drop into hopper of food mill or ricer. Process or rice potatoes into the bowl.
  4. Stir in butter with wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in half-and-half, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Scrambled Eggs for One

Breakfast For One
I guess the idea of "scrambled eggs for one" might sound kind of depressing to some, but I don't really think it's all that unusual for somebody to want to have a nice breakfast but not want to call up friends and wait an hour to get a table at the hot brunch spot. For myself, being that Anna is a vegetarian who doesn't dig on eggs outside of baked goods... and, regardless, she is someone who usually prefers sweet to my savory in her breakfast... any breakfast I prepare at home only needs to feed me. This is fairly easy in the case of an omelet, as you can only make those one at a time anyway... but what about scrambled eggs? Popular recipes serve four, and who really wants leftover scrambled eggs? Maybe you, but certainly not me. Luckily, in July of 2011 Cooks Illustrated published the "perfect" recipe (sub required). Now, they use a "dual heat method" (i.e. start medium high and turn down to low to finish) which I will detail here, but I think the key is the proportions... you could do it their way, go quickly over medium-high heat, or go low and slow like Bittman and Ruth Reichl. Though maybe taking 40 minutes to cook a single serving of eggs is a little bit excessive... your call there.

Scrambled Eggs for One
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 tablespoon half-and-half
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/4 tablespoon unsalted butter
  1. Beat eggs+yolk, half and half, and a pinch of salt and pepper until it's a uniform yellow.
  2. Heat butter in a small non-stick skillet (10") over medium high heat until foaming subsides, but do not let it brown. Swirl to coat pan then add the eggs.
  3. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, until curds begin to form (i.e. eggs look clumpy) anywhere from 30-60 seconds. Turn heat down to low and keep folding those curds until just slightly wet (another 30-60 seconds). Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.

I just like to put a dash of fancy soy sauce on mine, but a tablespoon of chopped herbs added when you turn down the heat would dress it up nicely... and Boiled Bacon works as the perfect accompaniment.