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Not-So-Whole-Fish Basquaise

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Whole Fish Basquaise (but not so whole fish)

Dear Chef Bourdain;

My lovely wife headed out to the hallowed halls of Super King, way up in Pasadena-ish territory. They are a purveyor of many fine and strange meats at very reasonable prices, so it was worth the trip to lay in the supplies for the Carmageddon Bourdain-A-Thon. This was the same place I got the offal for Tripes Les Halles on Guts Night. She had a big list, because it’s a pretty big menu, and I didn’t do the greatest job of being especially specific. So when I said “red snapper” in my head was this big ol’ gorgeous fish. But she got fillets instead, because she is not telepathic, no matter how often I expect her to be.

But ya know, fish is only going to keep so long, so I figured I’d just do it anyway – I know that your exhortations about fish being better on the bone are sincere. In fact I’ve cooked whole red snapper before anyway – just not in the Basquaise style. So I’mna say this counts, anyway, even though it’s not a real whole fish. If you disagree, let me know and I’ll do it over again. After telling you to go fuck yourself, ‘cuz what were you thinking with so many goddamn veal recipes?

Step one - don't fuck up the meez.

Bearing in the mind the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far – don’t fuck  up the meez – I proceeded to not fuck up the meez. An onion, a red pepper, a green pepper, four garlic cloves and thyme leaves, all set to go. I heated up roasting pan and olive oil, and browned the onions and pepper. This fills the house with an amazing smell, and so I bet the Basque people are both colorful and perpetually hungry. Judging by the recipes named after them. By that same logic, though, I am covered with cilantro and have avocado on my head.

After the veg was browned, I added the garlic and thyme. When that got hot, I poured in the white wine and scraped up the good stuff. I added some home-made stock (it really does make a difference) and brought it to a boil. On goes the fish fillets, and into the 400F oven. Your recipe is for a whole fish, which obviously would take longer to cook than just some fillets, so I kept a close eye on it. I also omitted the potatoes since we’re doing the low-carb thing most of the week. I managed to pull the fish out at just the right moment, so it was delicate, flavorful and very tender. Assistant Chef Bourdain also went nuts for it, and circled the table like a well-chummed shark.

Assistant Chef Bourdain Approves

I missed out on crisping the skin and the added flavor of the more delicate bits, but it was still really delicious. It’s also easy, and as you say, simple to improvise on, too.  I’m crossing this one off the list. I’m way behind, and the fundamental technique was still the same – and, I might add, something I’ll be using  a lot in the future.

Next time, the whole fish!

Davy

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Carmageddon Bourdain-a-thon

July 8, 2011 3 comments

Los Angeles Carmageddon, July 16-17

Hey Chef Bourdain;

I don’t know if you spend much time in Los Angeles, but we’ve got this little thing going on the locals are calling ‘carmageddon’. It might be a little dramatic, but only by a skosh.  they’re shutting down the 405 on the weekend of July 16th, which basically means that all of Los Angeles is going to descend into a sort of cross between the Old Testament and Mad Max.  You know, where wandering tribes of scavengers evade the wrath of angry God? It’s like that, plus with smog.

So my plan is to stay the fuck off the roads. Since I’m pretty far behind on my schedule to finish every recipe in your book inside a year, I’m going to take this opportunity to make ALL  THE THINGS.

COOK ALL THE THINGS!

COOK ALL THE THINGS!

Well, all the things I can find ingredients for, anyway. So my plan is this – I’ll work from home on Friday and start cooking.  There might be some drinking, too.  We’re going to watch as many old episodes of No Reserevations as I can stream. Which is nearly all of them. For the entire weekend, I’m going to cook, cook, cook. I don’t know if I can catch up or not, but I’m going to give it the old college try. No, fuck that, Chef – my college tries were pretty half-assed. Well, except after the Army. But anyway – I’mna cook the shit out of ALL THE THINGS.

Anyone who is stranded by Carmageddon and doesn’t want to take their chances evading the wrath of an angry god and wasteland scavengers is welcome to come over for all or some of it – There will definitely be something to eat. Whatever we don’t eat, we’ll freeze or give away. This is probably a  make-it-or-break-it proposition, if I don’t get caught up, or at least mostly caught up, it’s going to be progressively harder to do so  before the deadline. (November 1st, 2011, for the record.)

So Chef – or any other neighborinos, stop on by for the Carmageddon Bourdain-A-Thon. Though, if for some strange reason you actually show up, we’ll just play loud punk music instead of making you watch your own show, ok?

Davy

I’ve been working on my mussels.

May 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Moules Marinieres.

Dear Chef;

Look at those gorgeous bastards. That’s some food porn, right there. Like a lot of fond summer memories, they’re beautiful, easy and smell vaguely of the sea. I think it was you that said if someone threatens to come over and take pictures of one of your fancy dinners, mussels is the way to go.

You famously advised people not to order the mussels at any restaurant in Kitchen Confidential. That, and my mother’s deathly allergy to them has always made me leery, but now I’m converted.  I know I can take care to make sure that the mussels are nice and clean, and my local Costco has them fresh out of the ocean. We can’t eat the local mussels in the Summer due to red tide – which I was crushed to find out is not really a throw-back Soviet plot. I would have been more than happy to shake an AK-47 at the sky and holler “Wolverines!” if that would make mussels safe for all Americans.

But hey, a little care and cleaning and these ones from Northern California are fresh, safe and delicious. I let them sit in fresh water for a few hours before I even start to think about cooking them. Periodically I change out the water, so even though they’re pissing on each other’s heads, it gets flushed. If I’m ever captured for the purpose of eating, I hope my captors extend me the same courtesy.

"Privacy, please? We're peeing."

An hour before dinner or so, I put them in a plugged-up sink, run water and scrub and beard them as I toss them back into the (re-scrubbed) pot. This is basically the most tedious part. Those little suckers do not want to give up their last little snack of seaweed.

The rest is dead simple – throw some butter, shallots and white wine in the pot. Let them get nice and moogly (that’s totally a word) and then toss in the mussels. Once the mussels are all open, put on the lid and shake.

Action shot!

I put them all in a nice color bowl, poured the liquid over top, and served with a loaf of rustic bread and soft butter. They were simple, fresh and delicious. I sort of outsmarted myself though – I was serving other stuff for dinner, so while my fiancee and friends sat down to eat some mussels and chat, I was still cooking.

I will definitely make this again, so it’s totally a hit, Chef. Moules marinieres was much easier than the moules normandie, and I think even better, to tell the truth. If I have one lesson learned, it’s that I should plan to serve them with plenty of time to go before dinner – what a fine bowl of deliciousness to share on the deck with some crisp white wine and  friends on a warm Southern California day.

Next time you come over, I’ll make some for you, Chef. The wine is definitely a key part of the experience, but I don’t think I have to explain that to you!

Davy

Charlotte de Marron – I’ve dishonored Charlotte, I hope she forgives me.

May 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Charlotte de Marron. Don't tell Charlotte.

Hey Chef  Bourdain;

Look at this random picture of a charlotte I found on the internet. Then look at the fucking travesty I created. You’re probably thinking “That’s a goddamn nasty-looking mess.” You’re right. But you know, it was delicious anyway! The fault in this one was entirely my own, and my lack of experience, and not with your recipe. (This time.)

I hang my head in shame.

I know that thing looks sort of like a cross between the Horta from Star Trek and an Egg McMuffin, but it tastes creamy, light, fluffy and sweet, with a delicious note of rum and chestnut. There’s not a lot that has a delicious note of rum and chestnut that wouldn’t be awesome. Maybe like…axle grease with a delicious note of rum and chestnut? Nah, I’d still eat it.

The travesty occurred in not having enough ladyfingers, and also not being particularly adept at soaking them in the simple syrup of water, sugar and rum. The first few completely disintegrated. You specifically abjured me not to do that, so hey, this one’s on me. Once I figured out how little it takes to soak the ladyfingers, I figured out how to maneuver them into the cake mold without them falling apart like a biscuit at a frat-house on Soggy Biscuit Night.

The cream filling was a snap to make, and I’d found chestnut puree at the French Market and Cafe down the street. I love The French (as us locals call it) and enjoy any excuse to eat there. I’ll have Le Cheval on baguette, thanks!

I didn’t have a tureen pan, but it seemed like any kind of form would do the trick. Sorry if that’s less authentic, but hey – it resulted in that gorgeous mess up top, right? Lining the form with plastic wrap was an important step – after a few hours in the fridge it slid right out and unwrapped easily.

If I did this again, and I might, I’d save some ladyfingers to wrap around the outside after it came out of the pan. I’d also dust the top with some chocolate powder or something. I’d also make a point of getting bigger ladyfingers, not from a packet, in larger numbers.

But if your name is Charlotte, and you’re reading this – I apologize for the aesthetic desecration I committed to you. However ugly you were, Charlotte, I assure you that you were creamy and delicious.

Thanks Chef and sorry Charlotte!

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating

Tartiflette – The Triumph of Bacon

February 24, 2011 1 comment

Tartiflette, aka The Triumph of Bacon, aka Oh Shit That's Good!

Dear  Chef Bourdain;

For a long time I was an adherent of the notion that everything is better with bacon. This was a mistake – like telling a friend you like monkeys, and then getting monkey shit for every gift-giving occasion for the rest of your life, I was inundated with bacon-related gifts. Lest I sound like a cad, let me say, bacon-related gift items are pretty much as awesome as they sound. But it did teach me that not in fact quite everything goes better with bacon.

Happily, French cuisine is not one of those things that doesn’t go better with bacon. Let me unpack that unwieldy sentence for you – the recipes in your book often contain bacon, and are always better for it. I hadn’t realized bistro style cooking was quite so bacon-positive. (Must be third-wave baconists, I guess.)

Almost everything is better with bacon.

Tartiflette is an obscure name for an amazing dish. I’m pretty sure if we gave it a more appealing name, it would rapidly become a much-beloved bar food like potato skins or buffalo wings. “Tartiflette” doesn’t really convey what a beautiful mashup of potato, bacon and cheese this is. I will henceforward refer to it as “The Triumph of Bacon.” Hmm, maybe that still needs some work.

Tartiflette, aka The Triumph of Bacon, aka Oh Shit That's Good!

This one was really easy, too. Boil some potatoes, a skill mastered by everybody who can get potatoes. Skillet up some bacon.

Be prepared to fend off Assistant Chef Bourdain and other interlopers.

Drain off most of the grease and set aside the bacon. Fry up some onion in the pan until it’s nice and moogly. And that’s it. Remain vigilant, interlopers will have smelled the bacon and the onion and become interested.

Eyes in the back of my head, when bacon is at hand.

Scumbling up the potato, bacon and onions in the pan is easy. Then put in a layer in a casserole, and cover it with rebolochon cheese. Another layer of the mix, and another layer of cheese on top. Melt in oven. Bask in the glory that is one of the most comforting of comfort foods imaginable.

Melting, bubbly, bacony comfort.

I served this with some crostini to dab it on or scoop it up. I think something like fritos scoops would be white trash…but white-trash-delicious. This also reheated beautifully, in some ways even better than it was fresh out of the oven. In the future in cold weather, I might make this well ahead and reheat as a starter. I’m definitely making while skiing next month – putting this firmly in the “Hit” category.

What’s seeming to be the heart of bistro style cooking is recipes that are relatively easy, keep well and reheat nicely, and are very delicious.  The challenge has been finding some of the ingredients that would be very common at the actual Les Halles, but are esoteric here in Los Angeles. But the methods I’m learning, and the heart of the style are really valuable.  It’s kind of like practicing kata or forms in martial arts – first you learn the individual moves, then you see how they go together and flow from one to another – but the work of making the cognitive leap from understanding parts to the whole that is greater than the sum of those parts takes time, repetition and some stroke of inspiration.

So far those strokes of inspiration have, happily, involved a lot of bacon. What a wonderful discovery!

Yours with bacon;

Davy

 

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Those Adorable, Delicious Little Lamb Bastards

February 22, 2011 1 comment

Carre D'Agneau au Moutarde

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Doesn’t “Carre D’agneau” sound like a character from a chick-flick like “Sex In the  City” or something? I’m going to name a character in my next story “Carrie Lamb”. She (or he) should somehow exhibit the characteristics of being delicious, covered in mustard and crumbs, and easy to prepare.

Since the crust is really mustard, herbs, and crumb, I feel like there ought to be an “en croute” in there somewhere. I am neither an expert in the French language nor cuisine taxonomy though, so I’ll stick to telling you how fucking awesome this recipe is. It is. (Fucking awesome that is.)

MLF (Acronym for My Lovely Fiancee if you’re just joining in) is a huge fan of eating any sort of baby animal she can, and in particular, lambs. Those adorable little bastards just look incredibly tantalizing to her – like in a cartoon when the wolf and the rabbit are trapped on a life-raft and the wolf just sees a big drumstick instead of the rabbit’s face? That’s how she sees adorable little lambykins bounding around in the Spring meadows. So for Valentine’s Day, it was a given I’d be making lamb for her.  Originally it was going to be a lamb shank, but your only recipe for shanks is “Agneau au sept heurs” which, true to its name, takes seven hours, not really practical on a week night for a working stiff.

I picked up a couple of frenched lamb racks. When I got home on Valentine’s Day night, I heated up a pan nice and hot, and seasoned the lamb on both sides. I seared it so it was nice and brown and let it stand. It was a simple matter to slather it with herbs, dijon and bread crumbs, and put in a roasting pan for the hot oven.

Can you see how adorable that lamb must have been?

Whipping up the sauce from the searing pan was easy while they cooked. I’ve noticed in general that your recipes in the book take about 1/3 again as long as you say they ought. I theorize that my oven just isn’t as hot as a professional oven. (That is also not a euphemism.) Anyway they came out more than just a little raw, but having seen this before throughout this project, I knew to leave the oven hot just in case. A few extra minutes did the trick, and they were perfect.

Innocent Creatures For Two!

The fat side was nicely seasoned with the dijon crust. The fat that ran along the edge of the bone had melted into the meat, and that particular bite was especially delectable. It’s like I could taste that little lamby-wamby’s innocence. And it was delicious! Mmmm, innocence. And now that I’ve eaten that innocence, I’m more innocent, right? Or does that just work with fat?

We also reheated some of the tartiflette to go with it, and if it’s possible, it was even better the next day when everything had melted together and mixed. The same was true of the lamb – I took the leftovers in to work the next day and they were even more complex, nuanced, and superb.

This one was a definite hit, Chef. It doesn’t take too long, there’s next to no prep, the ingredients aren’t too obscure, and the results were truly excellent. This is another recipe that goes in my back pocket of things to whip up if I have short notice and unexpected guests.

So delicious, and so adorable! Thanks Chef!

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating

Steak Warhammer – Steak Au Poivre

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I have a tiny mortar and pestle. That’s not a euphemism. I mean the kitchen implement, and the one I have is a great size for say, crushing herbs or making almond dust. (Internet commenters, I have provided you with some excellent straight-lines here, I expect top-notch work!) But it’s too small to crack enough peppercorns for steak au poivre for six people. Sterner measures were called for.
So there were my peppercorns, crushed with the best tool I had for the job – a warhammer. Hey, it’s not just my weapon-of-choice for the zombie apocalypse, it’s also a handy tenderizer and whatnot!

I’m pretty handy with a steak, if truth be told. Knowing how to nicely pan-roast a good cut of meat was one of the skills I came into this project having if not mastered, at least journeymaned. But I was looking forward to this dinner – I found some really beautiful filets mignon at the local Costco. They were really thick, and a deep, dark red color. Like theater curtains. Of meat. Like you, I don’t think filet deserves the reputation it gets, it’s kind of bland. But it certainly has a buttery, toothsome texture, so kicking up its flavor with some pepper for spice, butter, cognac and to add some fat and flavor? Yeah, I’m in. And the prospect that the pan would flame up made it even more enticing!

I had two pans large enough to use, and six steaks to do. Because everyone was sitting down together, I couldn’t do them in batches,  per se, they all had to finish resting at the same time. So I got both pans ripping hot. Not as hot as I normally would, because your instructions call for a a little less heat, presumably because of the butter rather than oil – lower smoke point and all. I seared ’em up nice and brown, then transferred all six into the cast-iron pan in the pre-heated oven.

It was then that it was time to make the flame happen!

Action Shot! Only...without the action!

No flame.  I was excited about this, too – giant gouts of flame are ALWAYS fun, and when they’re combined with delicious meat and booze? That’s a fiesta, Chef.  A goddamn fiesta! But there was no flame here, just the steam and smoke. I realized why, after the fact – because this pan hadn’t roasted in the oven (the other one was doing that) it wasn’t as hot as it otherwise might have been.

So, the cognac didn’t flare up, but the resulting sauce was still pretty amazing. Hard to go wrong with butter, fat, cognac and seasoning though, right? I de-glazed the second pan with the sauce when it came out of the oven too, not wanting to waste any of that delicious frond.

I served up the resulting symphony of beast, flame, booze and warhammer-crushings with truffled pommes frites, sauteed asparagus, and love. That’s the secret ingredient.

The Secret Ingredient is...

HAHA. No, just kidding, the secret ingredient is definitely the booze.

Have some booze for me, Chef.

Davy

P.S. The leftovers the next day might have actually been even better, chef!

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