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Bearnaise Is My Bitch

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Cote de Boeuf with sauce bearnaise, truffled pommes puree

Dear Chef Bourdain;

With the Christmas just around the corner, all the cuts and roasts that are normally hard to get are on display at the local supermarkets. For my Christmas beast feast, I settled on a crown roast of pork. No recipe for that in The Book, but I’ll make do. Anyway, a bone-in rib steak, which is what we’d call Cote de Boeuf, was easily available, so I seized the opportunity. This means making sauce bearnaise, though, which is one of the things I was both dreading and looking forward to. One of my chief motivations in this project was my utter inability to make any sauce that requires an emulsion. Sauce bearnaise is like the granddaddy of all emulsions, so it was going to be a challenge. Never the less, your assertion that this sauce senses fear was well taken, and I proceeded with the courage of my convictions.

First I paid very careful attention to my mise-en-place. The tarragon reduction was pretty easy, and the process of clarifying the butter worked exactly as I’ve heard it described, but never done before. Imagine that!

Can't fuck up the meez!

I didn’t want to be in the middle of trying to keep the sauce from breaking and scrabble for something. So I got all the ingredients together, and sort of mentally rehearsed how it would go. With that in mind, I could proceed without feeling like I had no idea what I was doing, and also without having to stop to check the recipe. Here is the result.

This video goes on too long. Also my fiancee argues with me too much. Anyway the result was a really delicious sauce, and the steak was exquisite. The sauce had a tendency to separate a bit when it was left alone, but this could be rectified with just a little stirring. And the flavor! It was so intense and smooth and tangy! It was nothing like bearnaise sauce I’ve had in the past, in a very good way. This is one of my favorite recipes I’ve done so far, and MLF says it’s her favorite, hands down.

I got a cast iron pan ripping hot. Today was the largest rainfall in Los Angeles history, so the grill was kind of out of the question. I seasoned the steak, put olive oil in the pan, and browned it on all side for about three minutes a side.

Do you want to eat this right now? I do.

I literally had to stop MLF from molesting the steak -she picked up a fork and was about to poke it. “STOP! What are you doing?” I said. “I want to poke it,” she said. To what end? This is the sort of mystery that plagues inter-gender relations throughout the ages. I convinced her not to molest the steak, and put it in a 400F oven for 12 minutes – this was a really thick steak, it needed the extra time.

Shhh! It's resting.

I let it rest. Between Assistant Chef Bourdain and a poke-mad girlfriend, I had to guard this steak pretty carefully so it could get some rest. I felt like Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, keeping watch over his campaign tent so L’Empreur could sleep in peace. When it was done, voila – amazing steak.

Of course, I did serve a shockingly expensive burgundy in cheap glasses. I did serve that steak in bleeding, fat-rippled hunks, just as you instructed.  And yet, despite my attempts to show them who’s their daddy – which your book promises I will accomplish, when I asked MLF who her daddy is, she said, “My daddy is my father.” So yeah, that just didn’t work at all.

I guess if I want to be someone’s “daddy” I’m just going to have to have kids. But they can’t have any of the wine!

Not your daddy;

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Porc Mignons a l’ail

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

For the most part, my job is better than yours used to be. Definitely not better than it is, because clearly you have about the best job in the world right now. But I’m talking the 14 hours a day on your feet in a kitchen part. Mostly I sit on my butt doing computer stuff – it’s almost always low stress, pays well, and I like the people I work with. Also, they never threaten to “stand on either side of me, drill a hole in my neck and make their dicks touch in the middle”. Well, almost never, anyway.

But tonight I’m stuck watching a database restore which is as thrilling as it sounds. So that’s why I have time for a second letter in the same day. That’s okay though, since I have quite a backlog of things I’ve made and have yet to report on. It’s just that writing these letters after work, I only have so many hours in the day, you know?

This was the beauty of porc mignons a l’ail, part of the same dinner as the rillettes, steak tartare, and onion soup les halles.

I want to eat this right now.

Read more…

Categories: Cooking, Deep Prep, Eating, Prep

Was this a dirty trick?

December 13, 2010 8 comments

Dear  Chef Bourdain;

Your rillettes recipe was so bad, I can only imagine it was a dirty trick. I mentioned it before in a previous letter; but it didn’t seem to be going right even when I was making them. The allotted time for simmering several pounds of various sorts of pork didn’t get them in anything like condition to shred easily with a fork. Even after going an extra hour at higher heat, and then really cranking up the heat to try and render that fat, it didn’t melt. In despair, and recognizing I’d already gone off the reservation anyway – I threw it in a food processor so it was at least shredded.

But your recipe calls for a pound of thinly sliced raw fat. It doesn’t say rendered fat, it doesn’t say it should be cooked – just layered on top of the finished rilettes and “folded in”. Yeah, that was disgusting.

At the end of the day, the only rillettes that were at all like they’re supposed to be, is because MLF’s mother insisted on scraping up the bottom of the pan in which I’d cooked them. Those fatty, greasy scraps? They were awesome. The rest was dry and crumbly and basically no good.

Witness for the Prosecution: They sucked

Well, no good except that in a wretched orgy of fried foods, I wrapped some in a won-ton wrapper and deep-fat fried it, which was delicious. Hot grease drooling across my chin, molten pork-jam scalding my tongue in a last act of piggy revenge on he who consumed it. That was awesome.

I served this as a starter with Steak Tartare. That too seems like there’s something wrong with the recipe. It’s not that it was bad -in fact it was quite good – but it was quite soupy, which isn’t my expectation of what Steak Tartare should be like. I followed the recipe scrupulously, with the possible exception that there might have been slightly  more sirloin than normally – which would seem to indicate it would be more firm. Here’s the plate with  Steak Tartare on it.

Like a Soup Sandwich

If  you’ll refer to your own book, you’ll see that your steak tartare recipe is one of the few that has a picture with it, and it doesn’t resemble the product you see above. I’d be more put out about this except it was good anyway, and next time I’ll just mix the “soup” with the steak bit by bit until it has the right consistency, instead of just glopping it all in at once.

This whole dinner was a killer though. I served steak tartare, rillettes, porc mignons a l’ail, pommes puree with truffles, and onion soup les halles all at once. I was so stressed out trying to get it all to come out at once, I don’t think each individual dish was as good as it ought to be. And also I was so flustered, like a Mormon at a porn convention, that when I finally sat down to eat, I didn’t really pay proper attention to the food. The wine and rum might not have helped, either.

Or maybe it did.

I’ll let ya know how the other stuff came out, but I’m kinda honked off about those rillettes, You let me down, chef!

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering

Elite Pommes Frites – Goes Great With Meat!

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Fancy French Fries

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’ve got a lot of posts chambered, and I’m doing quite well in keeping up with the requisite pace to get the whole book done in a year. But I’m really bad at video editing, and anyway I’m doing it on an iphone, or with video taken from one, so it’s not super easy. I’m just sayin’ – I’m cooking faster than I’m writing or editing.

So I actually made the pommes frites a couple of weeks ago, the same time as my previous letter, Quasi-Steak Frites. But they warrant their own entry, given how fries are really a lot harder than you’d think. I’ts not just a case of slicing up some potatoes and throwing them in a fryer, after all. I couldn’t find “GPOD 70” Idaho potatoes, either, and everyone I asked for gave me a sort of wall-eyed goggly look, like I’d asked them if I could borrow their shoes or something. But I got potatoes that LOOK a lot like the ones in your book, so hopefully, that’s good enough.

Boss, the meez! The meez is here, Boss!

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Pommes Puree, Just a Little Bit Better

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

For MLF’s family Thanksgiving feast, I volunteered to make the mashed potatoes, since pommes puree is one of the recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook.

Just as you promised, they were indeed “just a little bit better’ – no doubt because of on of the great alchemical secrets of your method of French Cooking – copious amounts of cream and butter. When my inevitable coronary occurs, and my doctor asks if I’ve made any changes in diet or activity lately, I’m just going to refer him to this blog.

The buffet, groaning with food. The potatoes, groaning with lard!

By the by, chef, I’m reading “Medium Raw”. It’s a vastly different book than “Kitchen Confidential”. In KC, you were telling your story, but this one feels like you’re justifying your success as a media figure…plus settling the hash of a few jerks worthy of your poison pen. But hey, Tony – can I call you Tony? You don’t need to justify anything. You got where you are because you tell a good story, you’re snarky as hell, but you’re honest. Just do that, Chef. We like it. You don’t have to support an empire like Emeril or Bobby Flay or whatever – tell the truth and make it as funny as much as it stings, and you’ve got your audience. At least, that’s my opinion.

So your Just a Bit Better Pommes Puree are dead simple. I got my meez ready – one of the invaluable lessons I’ve picked up from your book – and set about crafting a potato dish to make the gods weep.

Boss, the meez! The meez is here, Boss!

These are actually Washington potatoes, by the way. But they’re definitely Idaho-style, and worked perfectly both for the mash and the fries. As instructed I put them in cold water cut in half lengthwise, and brought it to a boil (skins on) and left it to boil for fifteen minutes.

It's hard to make a picture of potatoes sexy.

After that, it’s just a matter of slipping the skins off while boiling some cream and butter together – then mashing ’em up and smooshing in the butter and cream. I seasoned to taste, and this time kept adding kosher salt until they were just right – which was quite a bit more salt than I’d have thought. But what a difference a bit of truffle oil made – oh, the delicious, earthy aroma! The whole aura of Winter earth and rustic goodness permeates the potatoes and elevates them from a delicate and wholesome dish into something really sublime.

Black truffles or white, that’s the question, right? Well, I went with both! Ok, maybe that’s like playing the Stones and the  Beatles at the same time, but in this case, the “mash up” really worked. (See what I did there? Pop culture reference about those crazy song mashes these kids today are doing, as well as a little play on the pommes puree!)

Definitely a “hit” – easy to make and really quite a bit better than your run-of-the-mill spuds. This is going on my list of things I’ll keep in my back pocket just for whenever. They went over very well at Thanksgiving, too – I heard folks at the other table oohing about the truffles and the cream and the goodness. There was precious little left over at the end of the night, but they made truly superb leftover sandwiches the next day, too.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too, Chef.

Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep

Quasi-Steak Frites

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;
I was torn with making steak frites. It’s not really in your cookbook – though the Les Halles pommes frites recipe is. There are several nice steak recipes though, so I decided to compromise, and use one of them for the steak part. Basically any slab of good beef served with fries is steak frites, right?

Steakfrites1

And it really was good! I went with the faux-filet aux beurre-de-vin for the steak part. The local Costco had some really beautiful New York strips. Why do the French call that “faux filet”? What have they got against New York, chef?

I also made creme brulee at the same time, but that’s this whole big thing involving blow torches and stuff, so that gets its own post. Also video, because if you’re going to burn shit with a blow torch, you ought to record it. I think you know what I’m sayin’.

So I started with the beurre au vin. I had a bottle of Pasquale Toso that I picked because A: it was cheap and decent, and B: sounds enough like MLF’s first name that she’d be flattered. I chopped up a couple of shallots nice and fine, reminding myself that my knife skills suck (Or do they blow?) and coating my hands with eaux-de-shallot that I can still smell today. Into the pot with a cup of wine, I was making a double helping.

Steakfrites6

The wine boiled down nice and quick, so I threw it in the food processor with softened butter, parsley and salt and pepper. Then it’s just a matter of rolling it up and cooling it for later.

Steakfrites5

This looks much less appetizing than it really was. I think I, once again, used too little salt, however. I’m going to write another letter about the pommes frites, since they deserve their own mention – but the steaks were fantastic. Of course, I came into this knowing how to make a pretty mean steak. I used my own personal method since I know it works and you don’t really spell one out in the book, the tricky part of this recipe is the butter – which I now have spares of, in case, as you say, my deadbeat friends turn up demanding meat. This isn’t an unlikely scenario, either. Not quite as wonderful as back in Philly when I had to cook all the “mob meat” that I’d bought from some shady characters who had a case of meat that they secured offa the backa some truck…and then the power went out for two days, defrosting the freezer. Then the carnivores circled like unto vultures, gathered to steal my precious black market flesh. In the dark, since we had no power. It was blackoutlicious!

Anyway, for these I got the oven up to 475, super heated cast iron pans with oil until just before the oil smoked, and threw the seasoned steaks in for four minutes a side, then put the pans right in the oven. Nine minutes later, they came out nicely seared and a lovely medium-rare, with the thicker ones more rare, like you’d expect and the thinner ones more medium. This satisfied the tastes of everyone at the table. I’m pretty proud that I managed it so that they were done resting just as the last batch of fries was coming out, too.

So these were some great steaks. Definitely a “hit” in that I’d do it again, especially since I have a roll of beurre au vin in the freezer, ready to go. It’s mighty fine to be a carnivore, sometimes.

Thanks, Chef!
Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Pot-au-feu, aka Giant Pot of Glistening Meat

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

In your cookbook, you call Pot-au-Feu “soul food for socialists”. I still don’t know what the fuck that means. But I can say it proved to me that when French people use common or cheap cuts of meat to create a tender, delicious dish – American people will end up spending a lot of money to create a tender, delicious dish. What’s cheap in the countryside of France (or at Les Halles in Paris) is devilishly expensive in Los Angeles, if it’s even available. So for Pot-au-Feu, I had to make some substitutions, and they were generally more expensive than the cheap cuts I couldn’t find. But the end result? Well, here it is:

Glistening Pile of Meat

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Categories: Cooking, Eating, Maundering, Prep

Gratin Dolphinnoise

November 9, 2010 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

If the tart alsacienne was a miss, the gratin dauphinoise was a hit, for sure. An easy recipe without a ton of ingredients and none of them hard to find – and really delicious.  The biggest strike it has going against it is trying to pronounce the name, to be honest. Do French people find it hard, too? Is it a tongue twister in any language, or is it just my Yankee barbarian accent? I was a little disappointed to find out that it’s actually named after the Dauphine region of  France, rather than a French prince who demanded potatoes or something. I made up this whole story in my head about the poor, harried chef who had to come up with fantastic potatoes or like, get the rack or something. As per the usual, the real world is considerably less interesting than the one in my head.

I made both the tart and the potatoes at the same time, as well as your chocolate hazelnut tart, and prepping for coq-au-vin and frisee aux lardon on Monday. This required a list – you recommend lots of lists in your forward and it’s good advice.  So I put all the ingredients I’d need, plus a timeline of when things had to go in and for how long so they’d finish at the right time. I also put the page numbers for the recipes I’d be using at the bottom for easy reference.  Here’s the list, next to your book, which I had to fish out of the recycling bin because I carried it with me to Costco and inadvertently left in a box that we tossed. I had a pretty nervous time trying to figure out what the heck happened to it. Basically what I’m saying, Chef, is you spent the night in a trash can, and I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time.

Never mind my awful handwriting, look at that smug bastard on the cover!

Read more…

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Tart Alsacienne

November 6, 2010 4 comments

Dear chef Bourdain;

Today I made your tart alsacienne from the “Les Halles Cookbook”. It didn’t turn out so well. This is my first “miss” so far, so I’ll chalk it up to my inexperience – after all, I don’t know what I’m doing and importantly, don’t know what a proper tart alsacienne should look or taste like. So I’m just following your instructions as carefully as I can.

I started with your “basic pie crust” – because even though it’s a tart, your recipe calls for a “pre-baked pie shell.” (Note: you don’t say what “pre-baked” means in this context. Given that you’re so careful to explain what everything else is, this was an omission. Fortunately, google is my friend.) Here’s what it looks like when the dough is put together, chilled, and then rolled out:

I pre-baked it, and that’s where things started to go wrong. I planned ahead for Monday night’s dinner and also made a tart crust for the chocolate-hazelnut tart – and while the pie crust picked up and moved over to the pie plate with relative ease, the tart crust was an unholy mess. It shattered, fragmented, smooshed, ripped, you name it. I might as well have not rolled it at all, but instead just thrown the wrapped tart crust in the tart pan and pushed it to the edges with my fingers. I did my best – then I covered both with parchment paper and weighted them down with rice. This is allegedly to keep the bottom from puffing up too much and the sides from collapsing – but since none of this is in your cookbook (coughcoughoversightcoughcough) I’m just guessing it was the right thing to do. Both of them came out looking more “puffy” than “flaky”. Oh and burny.

After that, I cooked the apples in butter and sugar on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet.

I covered these in the cream custard, and baked it for 20-ish minutes. However, the custard hadn’t set, and I had to take it across town to MLF’s brother’s 30th birthday party, so it really needn’t to not be sloshy. I left it in for another nine minutes, and it was set – solid but not burned, golden brown on top. I was pretty psyched to try it, especially since the gratin daupinois rocked my socks so much. But I couldn’t really sneak a slice without it being super obvious that I’d sampled it. So I waited.

Here is the finished tart. It was insipid and bland, though it had nice texture and looked quite nice.

But basically it sucked, Chef. It just had no flavor – the apples weren’t very sweet, and the custard was really bland. The pie crust was nothing to write home about. Now, one of the two of us is clearly not a pastry chef. Possibly both. I talked this over with MLF’s mother, who is a very accomplished chef d’maison herself – we agreed it need a little kick. Cinnamon and nutmeg may be painfully American pie spices, but there’s a reason, ya know? Alternatively, I might add some Calvados, though this would be mixing yer basic Brittany coast with yer basic Alsaice-Lorraine, and I’m not sure if that’s the sort of mongrel-ry up with which the French would put. So maybe rum? But then it wouldn’t be a tart alsacienne, would it – it would be like… a tart buccanier or something. Which, come to think of it, sounds better.

‘Cause this tart? It was nasty.

Regards,
Davy

Categories: Cooking, Eating, Prep

Spiced Pears in Red Wine

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Well, best laid plans and all that. I had planned to start with a proper meal with all the various courses today, Nov. 1st, and keep going throughout the year until I’m done. And then I got wickedly sick and was flogged up and down the length and breadth of Los Angeles by my cruel, cruel (but lovely! and kind! and wonderful! [shhh, she’s reading this]) fiancee.  As a result I’m still sick today and still a little overhung from yesterday’s Halloween celebrations.  Someone should have told me that Calvados is  Bretonnian embalming fluid.

As previously discussed, the poulet roti was a fantastic success. I still hunger for it. In an effort not to start out completely behind the proverbial power-curve (curiously, the proverbial power-curves were in sharp display by my fiancee in her Batgirl costume) I decided to make something that would be easily done in an afternoon, and serve well as something at the party – preferably with some thematic element to go with our zombie theme.  So, zombies, naturally, made me think of spiced pears.  Eh, not really but I figured we could put ’em in a tube and call ’em embryos or something.

Your recipe for spiced pears in red wine seemed just the ticket – only a few ingredients, none of them terribly hard to find, and a prep time that doesn’t measure in days.  I gathered the ingredients, and after being whipped back and forth across the house to do the cleaning, re-tar the roof, build a brick shed out back and all the other stuff Herself demands of the deathly ill, I got my “meez” together.

There’s the pears, peeled and sliced, the spices in a prep bowl, and a bottle of two buck chuck boiling with a cup of sugar. Actually I doubled the yield so it’s two bottles of two buck chuck (four whole dollars – American! – in wine!) and two cups of sugar.

It was nice having everything together when I was putting it together, even for something as dead simple as this.  Once the wine had been boiling for five minutes, I put in the spices and lowered the pears in. I had the presence of mind not to just drop the pears in, because I didn’t relish the thought of boiling hot wine splashing all over me. Though come to think of it, it would have been pretty authentically zombie looking. Maybe next year.

Here’s the pears, boiling in the pot. I let them simmer, covered, and took them from the heat when they were nice and tender. I removed the pears with a slotted spoon, but I felt like the wine wasn’t really properly “syrup” since it was still quite liquid and didn’t really stick to the side of the pot or the spoon at all.  So, I deviated from your recipe just a bit, and brought the liquid back to a boil for a while, until it was nicely thickened.

I then put pears, spices (except for the bay leaves) and the syrup into a canister that looked sort of mad-sciency, but this was just because it was a Halloween party. When we served them up, they were very well received.  They were tender, with just a hint of the grittiness that pears have, but all of the nice autumnal flavor.  The star anise and juniper berries contributed a nice, smooth warmth to the whole flavor – it was delicate and complex, and really quite delicious.  A friend and I agreed that if served hot with a dollop of nice ice cream on them, they’d be even better, but then I suppose we’re filthy Yankee barbarians, and pretty much anything sweet seems like it ought to be better with ice cream on it.

I’ll add this to the “success” list, which is so far everything I’ve made. There won’t be a big fancy dinner tonight, but if I’m going to stay on schedule I need to do at least two items a week, and with the pears and the chicken, I’m on schedule. Three, if you include the herb butter that went into the chicken. I finished veal stock, chicken stock and demi-glace, too.

I’ve been picking the low-hanging fruit so far – next I have to try for something with some more obscure ingredients.  My friends have so far been fixated on escargot as the weird stuff, but heck, snails are easy to find, just go outside after it rains. Or is that slugs? Same difference, right?

Have some Calvados, Tony;

Davy

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