Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 187 - Angel Food Cake and Lemon Curd

Jackie's in town from San Francisco, and Courtney's throwing a dinner party to celebrate! I've been invited to supply a vegetable dish or a dessert. No contest. I'm going to make a dessert I'd never think to serve at my own dinner party. Something that goes completely against my lifelong allegiance to chocolate-love....

Angel Food Cake (p. 449)

This is one of the recipes in the book for which I had to buy special gear. You can't make an Angel Food Cake without a tube pan, right?

I have to say, cooking my way through this book has DEFINITELY given me an appreciation for things I don't usually cook and eat. Take Angel Food Cake, for example. I never thought of this cake as being distinct in any way from your everyday yellow/butter/non-chocolate cake. But it's a completely different animal! This cake is roughly 50% air! With no fat! Which makes it a diet cake! (Sort of.)

Even if you served only 10 people (and that would be 10 generous servings), each slice would be roughly 190 calories, 42g carbs, 5g protein. (This doesn't include the raspberries and whipped cream.) Pretty reasonable, in the comparatively horrifying realm of dessert-food calorie counts. And I'm betting that a Devil's Food Cake would be similarly "dietetic," while delivering that old chocolate punch. (Note to self: find a good Devil's Food Cake recipe.)

However, you can't have a fat-free cake without working for it. Turns out you have to sift flour and sugar repeatedly for several hours (OK, maybe it was just five times), you have to whip egg whites into a fine frenzy, and you have to sprinkle the flour mixture little by little, folding it into the egg whites ever so gently to get this job done.

When I mentioned to Tracy C that I was baking this, she said, "Don't let even a speck of oil touch that pan. It'll never rise, and it will wreck the whole thing!" She scared me to death! Not that I was going to butter the pan, but all of a sudden, this cake seemed as fragile as a soufflé during an earthquake.

But it all went fine. The cake rose and browned nicely. I was surprised that it cooked as long as it did. I think my oven runs hot, as my cakes are usually done on the early side of the recipe prediction, but this went almost the full time. The gauge I used for doneness was springiness. At 30 minutes, my finger indentation kept it's shape. But around 40 minutes, there was some springback to it.

Once it cooled, it didn't want to come out of that mold at all, even after running a knife around the edge. I had to make a deeper second pass with the knife. And then, after I was able to push the bottom out of the pan (it's a two-piece pan), I still couldn't get that sucker off the pan base. I had to run a knife under the cake as well.

There was a sticky wetness to the borders of the cake that had me spooked. Was it possible that I undercooked this cake?... that I'd be cutting into a gooey mess? Dear Lord, not in front of Courtney! She's the big cook in this group, and I really don't want to let her down!

Cut to the dinner party: After a delicious turkey meal, I stole away to set up the cake, i.e. surround it with raspberries, whip some cream, and cover it all with confectioner's sugar. As I sliced into the first piece, I heaved a sigh of relief. Dry! And when Asheem said it was the best cake he'd ever eaten, I knew I was home safe. Thanks, Martha. You always make me look good!

I know my fellow chocolate-freaks won't want to hear this but... the cake WAS really good. It was light and simple, yet it had a really satisfying heft and nice flavor. The raspberries and cream were a great complement, and I'd actually consider making this again! (Which for me is saying a lot!)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

That's Courtney (hostess) on the left and Jackie (guest of honor) on the right.

Lemon Curd (p. 477)

When you make a cake that requires 12 egg whites, it's a shame to throw away all those yolks. Martha has a couple of ideas: one is to freeze the yolks for later use (which I did with half of them) and the other is to make a nice Lemon Curd (which I did with the other half). The Lemon Curd was to be a lovely accompaniment to my Angel Food Cake, but alas, it didn't go down that way. While the cake, the cream, the raspberries, the sieve, the confectioner's sugar, and the vanilla all made it to Courtney's fab apartment in Hoboken, the lemon curd sadly got left behind.

Lemon curd is something I didn't even know existed until I read this book, but the name alone was enough to turn me off. I've never liked lemon desserts. The only thing that seemed worse than lemon flavor in savory things was lemon flavor in sweet things.

But Martha has been chipping away at that old belief. I have developed a fondness for the little yellow fruit that is defying all of my previously known rules of the universe.

This recipe is a quickie, fast and easy. And such rewards! Even as I stirred it, I could tell just from the consistency that this was going to be something special. It's a custard, like the ice cream recipes, i.e. it doesn't become magical until it thickens. But once it's thickened, watch out! Can you say "Addictive?"

There are very few ingredients in play here: lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, eggs, butter. But if you do what Martha says, you will end up with a silky, tart/sweet spread that is utterly irresistible. Even to an old lemon-hater like me. And it's a beautiful color, to boot!

Since I blew my opportunity to serve it with the Angel Food Cake last night, I thought I'd bring it with me to rehearsal today to share with the cast and crew of the workshop I'm doing. (I'm performing in a workshop of a wonderful new musical called The Kid, based on the amazing Dan Savage book of the same name, coming later this season to an Off-Broadway theatre near you... if you live in New York City, that is.)

Yes, [tos]sers, that's my workshop castmate, [title of show] star and "vampire slayer" Susan Blackwell, making eyes at my Lemon Curd, atop a slice of Entenmann's pound cake. I'm not sure which I love more: Susan Blackwell or my Lemon Curd.

Jeff: A
Martha: A
Susan Blackwell: A

Until we eat again....

Don't even joke about it, ladies....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 181 - Country Pâté, French Onion Soup, Pan-Seared Steak with Red-Wine Shallot Sauce, and Crème Brûlée

Welcome to La Fête Française!! aka French Feast!!

As I mentioned in my Sixth Tally, I planned a special, French-themed dinner tonight in honor of the pâté terrine I received as a thank-you gift from the amazingly generous David T. Tonight's group of four included David, our mutual friends Neil and Brian, and myself. David, as I've already mentioned here, is a super-talented hyphenate (actor-singer-composer-filmmaker-long distance runner) and Neil and Brian are ex-actors and super-talented musical theatre writers (last season's The Story of My Life and more!).

You would think that theatre might have dominated the conversation, but tonight, food was the main attraction!

Country Pâté (p. 280)

I have been strategizing for months how I can make this pâté without springing for the terrine. I'd even asked The Martha Stewart Show to lend me one of theirs, since I live down the street from the studio and could have picked it up and returned it in a mere two days. Meanwhile, David saved me from grovelling any more than I already had. It's a beautiful, blue Le Creuset special, with a tight-fitting lid with a steam escape hole.

Let me be straight here - making this pâté is the opposite of easy. Purchasing the ingredients alone is a feat. For instance, fatback? The guys at the Fairway deli counter didn't even know what it was. And the guy at the butcher counter sold me "salt pork" insisting it was fatback. I took him at his word, but it turns out that salt pork is a heavily salted version of fatback, which left me with a very salty pâté. If you must use salt pork for fatback, I suggest you not add those two teaspoons of salt (as I unfortunately did).

Luckily, Fairway is very well-stocked, so finding the veal shoulder, chicken livers, pork loin, ham, and thinly sliced bacon was not an issue. Dicing meat, though, is a pain. And dicing it into 1/4 inch cubes is nigh impossible. Maybe if I had frozen the meat, I could have gotten a more precise dice, but refrigerated meat is slack, and I was maybe getting a 1/2 inch dice, at best. This led to some complications along the grinding part of the journey. The blade in the grinder kept getting layered with sinew and the meat stopped feeding through. I had to take apart the grinder attachment a few times, clean off the blade, and restart, which compromised the temperature of the meat and the grinder parts (they should all be cold for the best result). Ultimately, everything was ground, but I wonder if I had been diced it smaller, would I have had an even better result?

The ingredients came together in what seemed like a good consistency, i.e. a base of ground meat with chunks of this and that scattered throughout. A quick, pan-fried taste revealed a heavy saltiness, but great flavor. Now it was time to fill the terrine.

But first, we line it with bacon! Can you imagine? I'd already experienced barding when I wrapped a pork loin in pancetta, but this seemed particularly naughty, given that there was already a bunch of fatback in there. (FYI, fatback looks like bacon, but with a much higher ratio of fat to meat.)

I asked the Fairway deli guy to slice my bacon really thin, and I ended up with a TON of bacon. I'd asked for a pound and a half, as directed in the book (1 1/4- 1 1/2 lbs), but when I saw the bacon mounding under the slicer, I stopped him at a pound. And that ended up being roughly twice more than I used. Perhaps my bacon was sliced overly thinly, but if you are able to get your bacon sliced to order, you will not need nearly as much as Martha indicates.

So I lined the terrine with bacon, pressed the meat mixture into it, flipped the bacon over the top to cover it, popped the lid on, and cooked that sucker.

The next step was one I was really looking forward to: you cut a piece of cardboard to fit inside the terrine, line it with foil, rest it on top of the just-cooked pâté, and weigh it down with cans to compress the pâté. In Martha's description of this, she suggests that as the pâté gets compressed, excess fat will spill over the sides of the terrine. Alas, no excess fat spilled out. In fact, it didn't seem as if the compression made that much of an impact.

I will say that I noticed that the pâté "tightened up" as it cooked - when it was done, there was a small gap between the perimeter of the pâté and the terrine. Not to mention, the top of the meat was well below the top of the terrine, so there would have to have been a few cups of excess fat to create any spillover....

Blah blah blah... Cut to: a great-looking pâté! And an almost great-tasting one. There is an amazingly authentic pâté flavor here, and I can't even tell you why! Is it the shallots? The fatback? The veal? The pork? The ham, bacon, raisins, egg, port, cognac, allspice, nutmeg? Interestingly, there's a relatively small amount of liver in there. If you had fed me this pâté and asked me to guess the ingredients, I would have only been able to put my finger on liver and pistachios (and only because I can see them) - the rest would be a mystery. But this recipe is completely legit!

I served this traditionally, with grainy Dijon mustard, cornichons, and toasted baguette slices. As you can see in the picture below, I repurposed the terrine as a serving dish for the bread. Wow, there are so many things you can do with a pâté terrine! :-)

Even though the pâté was clearly overly salty, it was roundly praised for its flavor. And Brian noted that there's just something special about a pâté - it's an event, in and of itself. I guess I'm going to have to make a few more of these....

Jeff: B (I should have done some research about fatback and salt pork - I might have been able to avoid the extra salt. Also, points off for lazy dicing...)
Martha: A- (More information about fatback would have been great... Also, why all that bacon?)

French Onion Soup (p. 53)

Who doesn't love French Onion Soup? It's so warm and comforting and familiar.

This recipe, like the pâté, is very authentic and effective, although I'm guessing it ultimately depends on the stock. I, of course, defrosted my Basic Brown Stock, which took me a whopping 12 hours to make back in July. It's a long row to hoe for French Onion Soup, so I don't know if this will become a regular dish in my arsenal. But you can really taste those 12 hours in this soup. The brown stock doesn't taste like much by itself, without having been salted or seasoned - its flavors are waiting to be revealed. This soup is the perfect vehicle to do just that.

This recipe is quite easy to make. There's a fair amount of time spent slicing and then cooking the onions, but after that, it's pretty straightforward.

The croutons are a great touch. Mine got maybe a little too brown in the broiler, but once in the soup, they tasted just right. As for the browned cheese on top, I made the mistake of buying non-oven-proof crocks. (Why make a French Onion Soup Crock if you can't put it in the oven? Really, people...) But luckily, I had my crème brûlée torch at the ready, so I browned the cheese with that. (Phew.)

This course was another hit. The flavor rang true, and it was comfort food at its most refined.

(That's Brian, pictured with the soup.)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Pan-Seared Steak with Red-Wine Shallot Sauce (p. 260)

This is my last Pan-Seared Steak variation, the other two being the enormously successful Mustard Cream Sauce and Balsamic Sauce. Since the red wine Martha suggests we use is Côtes-du-Rhône, I thought this fit the French bill.

The steak preparation is great, as ever. And even though I used a thermometer to judge the doneness, I think I'm starting to be able to tell by touch. They were all cooked perfectly, fyi.

As for the sauce, once again, I had the experience of it not reducing at the speed Martha says it should. I tried turning up the heat, but there was very little thickening happening, and eventually I just gave up. What I ended up with was thin and not particularly flavorful or interesting. It probably needed more salt, but I was serving so many crazily salty dishes that I was hyper-salt-sensitive at this point in the meal.

Verdict? Good steak, but the sauce didn't really add anything.

(That's Neil, pictured with the steak.)

Jeff: A- (What am I missing?)
Martha: A- (What's missing?)

P. S. I have leftover sauce and steak, and I will try to reduce the sauce down even more when I reheat it and see if I can discover what's great about this sauce.

Crème Brûlée (p. 472)

Here's a universally-beloved dessert that has never appealed to me. Have you noticed, there are creamy vanilla lovers in the world and then there are the chocolate freaks, and I'm definitely one of the latter. What's more, I prefer desserts that have a salty element (crust, nuts, etc.), and this is just sweet x 1000. But I'm going to put that aside and judge it on its own merits.

First let me say, this is not difficult at all. It's basically the same process as making custard-style ice cream. Steep a vanilla bean in heavy cream and sugar, heat, temper sugar and egg yolks with the hot cream, mix together, pour in bowls, bake in a hot water bath, cool, and serve. Oops, almost forgot the most important part: cover in sugar and brown!

Martha suggests spreading 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar over each dish for browning, which seems to be a standard amount, but I think this is overkill. I think a better way of executing it would be to say "spread a thin layer of sugar," which in this case would probably have been closer to two teaspoons. That's not to say there was a problem with using Martha's amount. I just felt as if it was too dense of a sugar cover. I mean, the cream part is plenty sweet. It seems as if the sugar on top wants to be a nice thin crust, not a thick candy roof top.

David thought this was the best tasting crème he'd ever tasted, with a deep, vanilla flavor, and it was delicious, but we all agreed there was something "off" about the brûlée. I vote for less sugar....

(That's David, pictured with the crème brûlée.)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Incidentally, this meal was rounded out by encore appearances of Roasted Potatoes, Vegetable Tian, and Caramelized Figs. (I think that marks the fifth time I've made those figs. Yum!)

Special Thanks

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of my Jeff and Martha angels for their kind gifts, all of which were used to help make tonight's meal!

My heartfelt gratitude to:
  • Tracy KP for the KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment! Tonight's pâté would not have been possible without it.
  • Tracy C for the MicroTorch! Tonight's French onion soup AND crème brûlée would not have been possible without it.
  • Annie and Charles K for the Ove Gloves. Tonight's soft, unscarred hands would not have been likely without them.
and of course
  • David T for the Pâté Terrine. Tonight's country pâté, nay, tonight's whole meal would not have happened without it.
Thank you all!

Until we eat again....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 180 - Sixth Tally

Halfway, people!

And out of 356 recipes, I've completed 216!! Still ahead of the game!

Some wonderful things have happened in the past few weeks that I must share with you:

First of all, I've received a couple of wonderful cooking-related gifts! David T., who was one of my guests for the Soft-Shell Crabs meal in August, got an earful from me that night about needing a terrine (it's a piece of cookware) for the pâté recipe in the book and how I'd been scheming to borrow one from The Martha Stewart Show because I didn't want to splurge on it for myself. Well, what did he do? He sent me one! What an amazing gift! So as a gesture of thanks for the gift, I thought it only fitting to invite him back for Country Pâté and turn it into a French feast dinner party. (Check back for the story in a few days - it's happening tomorrow night!)

The other gift came from my parents - a glamorous new mixer! I've been using a mixer that my next-door neighbor, Michael, was kind enough to give me. He and his partner had invited me over shortly after I moved in, and I spied a Kitchen Aid mixer box in the corner. "Oh, I was just eyeing that at Macy's," I said, and he said, "You want it? I just bought myself a new one." What a great "welcome to the building" gift, right? It was my first ever mixer, and it's served me beautifully. But now I'm really excited to have this beautiful, new, shining, silver wonder-mixer.

All this to say: Thanks, Mom and Dad! And thanks again, Michael!

And last, but not least, I have to tell you that...

[gigantic drum roll]

... I've been trading calls and emails with a producer at The Martha Stewart Show, and it looks like I might be making an appearance!!! There are no details yet, but of course as soon as there are, this will be the first place I crow! To merely meet Martha would be a thrill, but to appear on the show and cook something with her?? I'm beside myself, as you can imagine....

Cross your fingers for me, for both that and for the French feast tomorrow night: Country Pâté, French Onion Soup, Steak with Red Wine Shallot Sauce, Vegetable Tian, Roasted Potatoes and Crème Brulée. I'm reserving an ambulance for 9:30 PM....

Until we eat again....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 174 - Broccoli Cream Soup

Marcy was feeling better and came for lunch today. Since Labor Day is behind us, I thought it was appropriate to start revisiting the soups....

Broccoli Cream Soup (p. 62)

This soup seemed like it would be a quickie. There are so few ingredients, and if you don't read the recipe too carefully, it looks pretty easy. Then, you start making it, and your guest arrives, and you keep her waiting for 45 minutes while you whisk and blend and strain. (Sorry, Marcy.)

It's not that it's a difficult soup to make, but it's one of those recipes that uses lots of utensils and pots, etc. and requires some clean up. Think about it: knives, cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, a whisk, a stirring spoon, a ladle, two pots (one for before you've strained it and one for after), a sieve (I ended up using two because the first one was too fine and nothing was passing through), a spatula for pressing solids through the sieve, a blender... I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

But all that is meaningless once you taste this soup. Yum!

Of course, I believe that part of the magic is in the homemade chicken stock, which provides such a great depth of flavor.

I've never made a "cream" soup with a velouté base. It's so amazingly creamy, and it's all done with butter and flour! And as if the base isn't creamy enough on its own, once you blend in the broccoli, it's positively thick and rich and amazing.

As Marcy commented, this soup had none of the icky broccoli flavor that often plagues cooked broccoli dishes. It was all vegetable goodness. And so comforting! I didn't add any of the "optional" cream, and it really didn't need it. In fact, I can only guess that added cream would have put it over the top in the richness department.

Since the homemade stock is salt-free, this soup doesn't really blossom until you salt it, which interestingly happens twice during this recipe. Once when you add the raw broccoli, and then again, at the end, after it's all been blended. I was conservative with the salt on the first pass, but the second time around I could taste that it was still undersalted, and I'm happy to say, I think I hit the salt nail right on its head.

Have you ever noticed: there's a small window of saltiness when a dish is salted just enough to bring out the intrinsic flavors. Too little, and the flavors don't come together or come across. Too much, and all you taste it salt. Today, I found that window.

It wasn't until we were eating the soup that I exclaimed, "This is Cream of Broccoli soup, but a million times better!" For some reason, because it was named Broccoli Cream Soup, I failed to make the connection between it and Cream of Broccoli Soup until that very moment. (Duh!) But this soup is in a whole other galaxy than anything Campbell's makes. It's heaven.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again...

Confession: This soup was so good that we finished the whole pot in one sitting. According to the book, it serves 4-6. :-0

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 172 - Kalijira Rice

I was gearing up to eat the leftover grouper and Chinese broccoli tonight, and I thought it would be nice to have some rice with it. I've had this Kalijera in my pantry for months now, waiting for the perfect opportunity to try it. Why not tonight?

Kalijira Rice (p. 412)

This rice stands out because the grains are teeny-weeny. They're the shape of a long grain rice, but on a much smaller scale.

This is one of the rices that you rinse until the water runs clear, and that took a surprisingly long time. Then, it's a totally straightforward preparation: boil, cover, simmer, take off the heat, let steam, and serve.

The rice was well-cooked, tasty enough, but I was hoping for something really unique. I guess I was expecting some basmati-like nuttiness, but I think the charms of this rice are so subtle that they were lost on me.

I just did a little research and discovered that Kalijera is a non-glutinous rice, which is interesting, because it left me craving Vietnamese sticky rice. Someone named Jeffrey has a recipe for sticky rice on Martha's website. I'll have to try it sometime....

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 171 - Ravioli with Butternut Squash Filling

Once again, I've taken on the daunting task of catering David P.'s "cheat meal." For those of you who aren't aware of this phenomenon, David eats like a monk for six days, and then for dinner on the seventh, he gorges like there's no tomorrow. By law, the meal has to be abundant, rich, and naughty. Anything less would be waste of a "cheat meal." The last time I hosted his cheat meal, the main attraction was gnocchi (a definite hit). Would this pasta get the job done??

Ravioli with Butternut Squash Filling (p. 372)

This is my second try at ravioli, the first time having used spinach pasta dough and Paula's ravioli molds. I went it alone today, no molds, no spinach. Just me, flour, eggs, and a pastry cutter.

It's kind of amazing that you can make pasta with just flour and eggs. It's so bare-bones! Martha's recipe uses two cups of all-purpose flour, but I still have 00 flour on hand, and since that's the "ultimate" pasta flour, I thought I should use at least some. (Plus I had such a nice result when I mixed some into the lasagne noodle dough last week.) For these ravioli, I used half all-purpose and half 00 flour.

Unfortunately, I think I may have used too much flour in general this time. The dough seemed a little dry and tough. It was kneadable, but it was a little sluggish and didn't have the shine and elasticity that I've seen before. Still, I forged ahead.

The filling was easy enough to make. There's something a little confusing in the ingredients list, though. I bought a smallish butternut squash, about 2.5 pounds. In the ingredients, it says to get half a small butternut squash, about 1/2 pound. So one might assume that I'd be using a fifth of the squash I bought. In fact, I used a little more than half of it to make the 1 1/4 cups of cooked squash that I needed for the recipe. So 1/2 pound may refer to the weight once cooked, but since the cooking happens within this recipe, I think that measurement should read "1 1/2 pounds," meaning raw squash.

I took Martha's suggestion to add some crushed amaretti to the filling. Who doesn't like "a hint sweetness and added texture?"

Rolling out the pasta went surprisingly quickly, although I think that because the dough was on the dry side, it was especially resilient. To a fault, even.

I'm still having an issue with the shape of my rolled out dough. It's a nice wide sheet, but the end of it is always pointed, like an arrow. Does anyone have any tips for keeping it square? (I know this has to do with it being thick in the middle at the beginning, but all my efforts to flatten it out have failed.)

I was concerned about shaping these ravioli without a mold, but it turns out that it's a breeze! The directions in the book are perfect! A couple of extra tips: Cut the top piece of dough to be a little longer than the bottom piece. You will need the extra length to accommodate the filling. Also, don't be alarmed if the sheets don't stick together perfectly after you press the edges. When you cut them with the pastry cutter, that will seal the deal. And one last thing: don't skimp with the semolina on the baking sheet. These puppies will stick, no kidding, so create some good coverage.

I ran out of filling making the last batch of these, i.e. the fourth sheet of pasta. (I filled the last half dozen with plain ricotta.) If you want big ravioli with lots of filling, you might want to increase the filling recipe by 50%. If you want a smaller, more delicate ravioli, you should be fine.

I was very happy with the look of the ravioli. They were beautiful, even professional-looking, I daresay.

As for the boiling, I had the same experience as last time. My ravioli floated to the top within seconds, way before they could possibly have been done. I went ahead and cooked them for 3-4 minutes anyway.

After tossing them with butter and adding the sage and parmesan shavings, the pasta still seemed as if it were missing something. It's almost like you can't use enough butter.

And something else strange about this dish: the ravioli cool off almost instantly. It's practically impossible to serve these hot. By the time you've tossed, plated, and accessorized, they're basically room temperature.

I think two things sabotaged these ravioli. One, the over-flouring of the dough made for a heavy pasta. Easy to roll, yes, but leaden to eat. There was none of that feathery, almost transparent, magical texture of my previous pasta efforts. This was rubbery and D.O.A.

Secondly, I think I cut these ravioli too big. I tried to use as much of the pasta sheet as possible, but that was a mistake. I'm realizing that these are meant to be filled modestly and cut to a proportionate shape. My ravioli, beautiful though they were, had too much pasta per square inch and consequently, not enough filling.

As for the flavor, the filling is lovely, but very subtle. Even with the added amaretti, they're just barely sweet. The sage is a nice accent, but the Parmesan is the real star here.

With each subsequent batch, they got better and better. I tried cooking them longer, and that helped a little with the heaviness of the dough. And strangely, salting the butter helped the flavor overall.

But at room temperature, with leaden pasta, and too much of it at that, these were definitely not cheat-meal-worthy.

Jeff: B- (for over-flouring the dough and over-sizing the ravioli)
Martha: A- (for a potentially confusing ingredient measurement)

Until we eat again....

Note: Cheat meal wasn't a total bust. David made his mother's friend Barbara's Chocolate Mousse (actually, he redubbed it Chocolate Pousse, because it came out more like pudding than mousse). The pousse definitely delivered on the three laws of cheat-meal: abundant, rich, and naughty.

David's smiling because he'd already started this meal with a generous helping of pousse. It should be mentioned that in spite of everything I chronicled above, he still ate three platefuls of this ravioli....

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 170 - How to Fillet a Round Fish

Wow, a whole week went by with no entry! I have to confess, sometimes after a big cookathon (or two!), I need a little time to recover, and that was definitely the case this week. Meanwhile, I should mention that I did make Caramelized Figs twice this week and might even make them again before the week is done. (So good and so in season!)

Tonight was supposed to be a Marcy special, but she was under the weather and canceled. I went ahead and made everything, though. I mean, I had a five-pound grouper in the fridge, and by god, I was going to fillet that thing.

I decided to shop in Chinatown for this meal, instead of Fairway or Whole Foods (my regular haunts). I thought it would be nice to try that Green Papaya Slaw again, finishing it right this time with the herbs and peanuts. And while I was down there fetching the green papaya, I could pick up a whole fish, take the fillet lesson, roast the fillets and plop them on top of the slaw.

Of course, there's so much at one's fingertips in Chinatown, and I couldn't leave without some extra treats. I bought a pound of 芥蘭, aka Kai-Lan, aka Chinese Broccoli, and also a pound of lychees, one of my summer fruit obsessions (along with cherries and watermelon).

I had no idea what I was going to do with the grouper or greens, but I'd figure something out.

How to Fillet a Round Fish (p. 121)

I thought you should see the fish before I had my way with it. This is a 5 pound grouper, which was cleaned (gutted and scaled) by the fishmonger. You may remember my unfortunate experience with grouper in April. When I was scoping out the fish at the market, I spotted the grouper and I thought this would be a good opportunity to make my peace with this fish. I must conquer the grouper!

The lesson went quite well, I think. There was a lot of back and forth between the text, the pictures, and the fish. Luckily, grouper is pretty solid, so even with some awkward slicing, it didn't suffer too badly. Once I understood the concept of slicing the fish from the bone, it went pretty easily and quickly.

Here I am halfway through the process, with one side sliced off. I missed that belly section the first time around, as you can see, but I caught it on the other side.

I'm sure I could have gotten some more meat from the fish, but in the end, I ended up with six very respectable fillets.

Filleting my own fish, like many of the exercises in this book, was quite empowering! And economical. Even though I may have paid for parts I didn't use (head, tail, etc.), it's still so much less expensive than buying fillets. And soon, I'll be needing those heads, etc., once I start doing the fish soups and bouillabaisse!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Note: I prepared the grouper and Chinese broccoli with the marinade from this marthastewart.com recipe, and it was delicious! It tied in perfectly with the green papaya slaw, which tasted even better with the proper finishings. And David P. came over at the last minute to eat it with me! What a great meal! With lots of leftovers!

Until we eat again....