Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 88 - Sautéed Calf's Liver, Tomato and Onion Confit, Bleu Cheese Dressing, Pea Puree, Spelt, Pâte Brisée, and Blueberry Pie

Another marathon! This time, in honor of my parents' 50th (!!) wedding anniversary. Their best friends threw them an amazing surprise party in Florida in March, so they didn't feel the need to do anything special now, as they'd already celebrated. But I thought there should be some kind of celebratory event near the actual date (June 14), so I invited them over for dinner on the eve of their golden anniversary.

Sautéed Calf's Liver (p. 253)

There are not a lot of people who will happily eat Calf's Liver, but it just so happens that my parents are two of them. (I'm a third, although my brother won't touch it. How did that happen?) My mother had two requests: it should be cut thick, and there should be bacon. Now, Martha's recipe calls for it to be cut 1/2 inch thick, which passed Nancy's test, but there was no bacon in the recipe, just Tomato and Onion Confit. So I made a side of bacon. Anything to please Mother Blumenkrantz.

This liver gets soaked in milk (?), dredged in flour, and briefly sautéed in oil. I've never done anything other than throw liver right in the pan, raw. A brief Google search reveals that people soak liver in milk to make the flavor milder and to release the blood and toxins from the organ. Not sure if this is accurate....

My parents wanted their liver rare, so I didn't cook it for very long. I think two things contributed to a less than stellar result. 1) I believe the temperature of the pan was too low. And 2) I used a nonstick pan, which I think was a bad call. What happened was, the liver never really browned. It actually didn't behave at all the way I expected it to. Maybe it was the milk soak, but it stayed quite beige/tan the whole time, not pink/red, which I would have thought. As much as I would have loved it to develop a nice brown, I couldn't risk overcooking it....

So it wasn't very attractive. (Not that liver is known for its great beauty.) It tasted pretty good. I probably could have seasoned the flour more. The dredging barely seemed to provide anything. Overall, it was tender and tasty, and I have nothing else to say about it.

Jeff: B+
Martha: A

Tomato and Onion Confit (p. 306)

This is meant to accompany the liver, but since I had just done a Costco run, and I had a warehouse amount of tomatoes and onions, I doubled the recipe, and now I'm swimming in this confit.

Confit is a term I only knew re: duck, so I wasn't sure what it meant. Martha defines it as something that's cooked in its own juices, i.e. duck cooking in its own fat. The onions get sweated with some olive oil, then the tomatoes are added and it cooks in the oven for hours. Hours. Four+ hours. It's a commitment.

It tastes good, but what am I going to do with ten pounds of this? Confit omelet? Confit salad? Confit sorbet? Doubling was probably a bad call...

Also, the tomatoes are still not tasting good to me, so anything you make with subpar tomatoes is going to taste subpar.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Bleu Cheese Dressing (p. 359)

Again, this is a flavor that frightens many people, and I knew my parents could take it, so I pulled out this recipe. This dressing is delicious and easy to make. It's also lighter than your average bleu cheese dressing. There's lowfat yogurt in there. And buttermilk is quite low in fat too. The only naughty things are the mayo and the cheese, itself. All in all, great flavor and not too heavy!

FYI, I served this over a salad of romaine and red leaf lettuce, with sliced pear, cucumber, beets, and toasted walnuts.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Pea Puree (p. 311)

This is truly something I would never have made if I hadn't committed to doing the whole book. It's not that I have something against peas, but they're not my favorite. And then the thought of shelling them, blanching them, pureeing them, putting them through a sieve, and then reheating them? Oy. So much work... for what?

Yes, the color is very bright and green. And the texture is interesting. But the flavor is so harsh. For some reason, these peas really tasted of the legume family, i.e. beans, lentils, etc. It was a very earthy taste, not the sweetness, which is my favorite thing about peas. And the puree really concentrated it. There's nothing to distract from the pea flavor. Just a little bit of olive oil and salt, but other than that, the only ingredient in here is peas.

I think it was smart to pair this with liver, because there aren't a lot of things that are strong-flavored enough to compete with this.

This definitely gets filed under the never-again category.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Spelt (p. 413)

My father asked for seconds of this! (And the pea puree, fyi.) I thought this would be the long shot with my parents. Whole grains, served plain, are an unusual thing for most people. It's rare to get something so naked in a restaurant, and no one makes spelt or farro or barley at home. So it never fails to shock me how much people enjoy these grains.

This grain gets boiled, so you don't have to watch the pot too carefully to see if all the water's absorbed. You just drain and serve.

Spelt and farro and wheat berries are all so similar. I don't think I could pick them apart. But they all have a nice, chewy, nutty taste and texture, and when paired well, as they were tonight, I think they make a nice addition to a meal.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Pâte Brisée (p. 437)

My first pie crust! So easy! I didn't realize how little work is involved. It's interesting to me that you have to keep it crude, that if you over-process it, you'll break down the butter and you won't have a flaky crust. (The flakes come from chunks of butter in the crust, so you have to under-process it to make sure there are still chunks in there.)

If I had known how easy this was, I'd have been making pies for years!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Blueberry Pie (p. 444)

OK, here's where I got into trouble. Yes, the pie crust dough came together quickly and easily, but rolling it out is a whole other story. And rolling it out on a hot night with no air-conditioning? Impossible.

As I mentioned above, you have to have chunks in your butter to have a flaky crust. So you don't want the dough to "melt" before it gets in the oven. You're supposed to roll out your pie crust on a cool counter in a cool room to keep things, well, cool.

Meanwhile, there's been a horrible water disaster in my building and we've been without air-conditioning for the past couple of weeks, with another week to go. :-0

Thankfully, it hasn't been that hot or humid, at least it hadn't been, until the night of the pie crust.

I'm very inexperienced with rolling out dough, so I knew this wasn't going to come quickly, but I didn't realize how little time I had before the dough would break down. By the time I had rolled it out to the relatively right size, it was gummy and sticking to the parchment. I had to put it back in the refrigerator to harden. Of course the same thing happened with the other (top) crust too.

Ultimately, I ended up doing it very quickly and haphazardly. The crusts were misshapen, uneven, patchworked, surely all the butter chunks must have melted. I threw it together so awkwardly that I was convinced it would be a disaster.

There was some left over dough, cut from the edges, which I threw in the freezer as the pie was cooling (it goes in the fridge before it goes in the over), so I could reroll it and cut some shapes out of it. I cut out five little hearts and egg-washed them to the top crust, in honor of 50 years of marriage. (Awwwww.)

And I threw that sucker in the oven. (It was 2AM at this point....) I also made a disk of the remainder of the dough, sprinkled some sugar on it, folded it over and threw that in there too. 15 minutes later, I pulled out my little dough sandwich, which tasted amazing! Like wonderful flaky pastry! Maybe my pie wouldn't be a disaster after all!

Hours later, I served the pie for dessert. It tasted... fine. I guess I was expecting something outstanding, but it was merely fine. I will say this, though. It definitely tastes "real-er" than your average blueberry pie. It's not jellied, it's not hyper-sweet. At the same time, I think we've come to expect blueberry pie filling to be super-sweet, so this tastes somewhat tame, bland. Also, there's a slightly grainy texture to the filling, and I'm not really sure why. Is it the cornstarch?

In any case, it's a very respectable pie. The crust could probably be better, but given the circumstances, I think it came out amazingly well.

Jeff: A-
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

My parents on the eve of their 50th Anniversary! On the plate, clockwise from the bottom left, that's the Pea Puree, Spelt, Bacon, Tomato and Onion Confit, and the Sautéed Liver in the middle.

Look at the little hearts on the Anniversary Pie!

No comments:

Post a Comment