I have a very special guest duo tonight: Casey is a Jeff and Martha repeat customer, having experienced the Perfect Roast Chicken dinner last April, and while Megan did sample my leftover Blueberry Pie in June, this is her first official appearance on the blog.
As I mentioned the last time, Casey and I met in ' performing together in an Off-Broadway production of The Pajama Game. No longer performing, now he's a brilliant Broadway director/choreographer (Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone, this season's All About Me, and next season's Minsky's).
Megan and I met performing together in the ' Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business... when she played Matthew Broderick's leading lady, Rosemary, and I played his arch-nemesis, Bud Frump. But I'm guessing you probably know her best as the unforgettable Karen Walker from the TV show Will & Grace. I'm happy to report that she'll be back on Broadway this spring in Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and also back on TV starting in April on Party Down. But tonight, she's on th St. gamely eating whatever I put in front of her.
While this is mostly a social occasion, we did find a few moments to chat about our new collaboration: tentatively titled Karen, the Musical, it's a show that will bring "Karen Walker" to the musical theatre stage. Casey's directing/choreographing, I'm writing the score, and of course, Megan will star. Crazy, right?
Remember how I was talking about my friends with their particular dietary wants and needs? Well, here are some of the limitations from one or both of my guests tonight: no red meat, no dairy, no shellfish, no gluten. Yikes!
Here's what we ended up with....
Beef Consommé (p. )
If I were to have a Jeffie Awards category for worst effort-to-payoff ratio, this would be at the top of the list. At least after two days spent cooking Wine-Braised Short Ribs, there's a pot of amazing short ribs to tear into. After spending a day making White Beef Stock in order to spend another day making Beef Consommé, what do you get? Clear soup. Beautifully rich, sparkly, stellar clear soup, mind you, but still, clear soup.
I'm not going to bother re-explaining the technique of clarifying the stock with a "raft," as you can read it in my Chicken Consommé entry. I will say that I find it interesting that someone figured out that by combining egg whites, minced mirepoix veggies, ground beef, and a chopped tomato in beef stock, all the impurities and cloudiness would be pulled out of the stock, leaving only clear, clear broth. I'm curious about the science of it, but I don't think I ever need to execute it again.
This soup tastes totally fine, nice, great, complex, etc., but the fact remains: no one is ever going to properly appreciate the amount of time that went into making this soup, and I don't blame them! People come, thinking there's going to be some nice, hearty fare, and then they get a bowl of clear soup!?! Wah wah wah wah....
That still doesn't stop me from trying to guilt everyone into oohing and aahing about the incredibly time-consuming consommé. Which I'm sure is charming.
Needless to say, with the completion of this recipe, my relationship with consommé is now officially over. Hallelujah.
I garnished my consommé today with julienned carrot and leek, following Martha's lead from the book.
Megan is photographed with the soup because, unbeknownst to me, Casey has soup-a-phobia, i.e. fear of savory liquids, so he was unwilling to endorse the consommé.
Shallow-Poached Fish Fillets with Lemongrass-Orange Beurre Blanc (p. )
Here's another recipe I'm doing for the second time, the first time being the main recipe and today's version being a variation of it. I wasn't happy with the way the first pass turned out, so I'm hoping to improve my technique this time around.
Tonight I served turbot, a fish I don't know. It's on the list of endorsed fish for this recipe (flounder, turbot, sole), and I know Martha wouldn't lead me astray. It seemed a little thicker and firmer than the flounder I used the first time.
This variation is actually a little simpler than the original: fewer ingredients and just a bit less busy work.
It's my first time dealing with lemongrass, which is like an adventure. I'm not really sure what lemongrass is, but I have a feeling it's in the bamboo or hearts of palm family, since those are the two things I was reminded of when I was working with it. I'd love a little lemongrass tutorial, since I think I may have thrown away more than I needed to. Otherwise, I did exactly as I was told: chopped off the woody ends, smashed it and minced it. It seemed impossibly tough when I was chopping it, but I was surprised how much it softened up during the cooking process.
One of my big issues with this dish the last time was that the fish got cold while I made the beurre blanc. Plus, I think I overcooked it. So this time, my plan was to undercook the fish in the pan, then keep it covered in a warm oven while I made the sauce.
I should confess, when I did this the first time, I was still being wimpy about reducing liquids. I didn't used to like to crank the heat too high back then, but now I just go straight for the hard boil when I need to reduce. Otherwise, it takes too long, and you end up with cold fish.
This time, I whipped through that sauce, and between my quickness and the warm oven, the fish ended up being cooked just right. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm a huge turbot fan. I found it to be more fishy-tasting than I prefer. (I know, fish tasting fishy shouldn't be a problem.)
The sauce was nice, subtle, but not a showstopper. Whereas my sauce the last time was overly thick, I think this one could have been a touch thicker. I daresay I would have been able to better appreciate the delicateness of the sauce's flavors if the fish hadn't been so... assertive. My favorite bites were the ones that included pieces of the garnish: suprêmed orange slices. (I love supréming fruits! It makes me feel like I'm on a cooking show.)
Megan and Casey were both very complimentary about the dish - Megan even said that if she ordered it in a restaurant, she'd have been very pleased with her choice. I was much less enthusiatic about it, but I'm glad they were happy. FYI, that's the Toasted Coconut Rice from the January issue of Martha Stewart Living. I also served Steamed Sesame Spinach from the website. Thumbs up all around.
For the last variation on this recipe (Beurre Rouge), I'll aim to get the thickness of the sauce just right. And I'll shoot for using sole, since it's the only fish on the list I haven't tried yet. Maybe it won't be so... fishy.
Chocolate Ice Cream (p. )
Does anyone remember how dismissive I was when I first made the Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from this book? Well, I've completely changed my tune.
As I've since learned, I wasn't cooking the custard long enough, and once I started to do that, my ice creams really started taking off. (Suggestion: err on the side of cooking it too long vs. too short.)
Which brings me to today's chocolate ice cream:
I'm pretty confident that this is the best chocolate ice cream I will ever eat IN MY LIFE. It is completely stellar. The chocolate flavor, the consistency, the richness, absolutely genius! I licked clean every bowl, spoon, dish, etc. that touched that "batter." I practically froze my tongue to the ice cream machine canister, trying not to waste a drop.
My triumphant experience was marred only by rereading the last line of the recipe: "Serve immediately or... freeze up to days." Huh what?? Three days? It's the freezer, for crying out loud! What's going to happen to it?
Frankly, I don't care. I'm keeping that ice cream for as long as it lasts.
Which will probably not be too long.
But it will definitely be longer than three days.
As you may have noticed, I keep this blog almost exclusively related to Martha's recipes and lessons. If I'm going to serve extracurricular dishes alongside my Cooking School recipes, they're almost always from her publications or website. However, I'm making an exception today to mention a book I just started using: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Without going into detail, I have to say that this book offers a revolutionary approach to breadmaking, which is incredibly low maintenance and offers excellent results. Check it out!
Until we eat again....