Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 313b - Prime Rib Roast, Oven-Roasted Potatoes, and White Cake with Lemon Curd and Italian Meringue

But wait, there's more! Day 313a continues with a beef course!

Prime Rib Roast (p. 138)

This was definitely a first for me. I'd cooked beef before this project, but I'd never purchased/prepared any sizable cuts of meat. A steak here, a steak there, maybe a burger. And while I've already cooked a beef tenderloin and a pot roast this year, nothing quite prepared me for the rib roast.

I'm pretty sure that rib roast is the meat that tipped over Fred Flintstone's car. It is a big, honkin' piece of beast. I tried to watch the butcher Frenching the bones, knowing that I still have a rack of lamb Frenching lesson coming up. (It took him about a minute. It will take me about an hour.)

I was prepared by Martha for the hefty price tag - she says "As it is expensive, prime rib should be handled with extra care." So be it. The butcher asked me if I wanted it tied. I said yes, because I figured I could always untie it. But I wasn't sure why it would need to be tied at all. Was it going to fall apart in the oven? Just to be safe, I left it on.

If you're making this, don't forget that there's an overnight "marinade" - chopped sage, orange zest, crumbled bay leaves, salt, and oil. The use of crumbled dried bay leaves surprised me. Would they still be on the meat when served? Would they be edible? I rubbed the meat with the marinade and put it in the fridge overnight, but I was skeptical about how much of an impact it would make. I mean, this hunk of meat is huge. How can any flavor get through to the middle?

This meat comes out of the refrigerator two hours before the start of cooking. (I'm so glad I read this recipe carefully beforehand. The overnight marinade and the two hour resting time at room temperature would be so easy to forget.) The cooking of the beef was too easy. I merely had to put it in the oven, turn the temperature down once, stick a thermometer in when it was getting close, and when the thermometer reached 115°, take it out. Now, this is something you can serve at a party and still be with your guests! No last minute sauce reduction here. And it doesn't take terribly long to cook, either. Mine took just under two hours - not bad.

After it sat for 20 minutes, I took the twine off (lost a little bit of crust in the process) and cut the meat off the bones. As I sliced the roast, I was very happy with the doneness: it was crusted on the outside, and the inside was a bright, red rare. The blood collecting on the serving board was somewhat disconcerting, but I guess that's one of the byproducts of serving a big ole roast.

The slices of meat were so large, I couldn't even imagine eating a whole one. Many people only wanted half. The meat was tender and moist and while there was a lot of fat, it was easy to cut away, and I'm sure it was that fat that made the roast so delicious. I couldn't really taste the effects of the marinade, but the whole thing tasted great so who knows? Would this prime rib have tasted just as good if I had thrown it in the oven straight from the butcher? Would the salmon have tasted just as good if I'd poached it in water? Possibly. But I'll never find out, because both dishes came out so well, I'd be a fool to try anything else.

The dried bay leaves didn't really enter into the eating equation, because there's so much fat around the edges of the meat that I ended up cutting away all the crust. I ate a piece of leaf just to try it, and it tasted crispy/burnt/fine.

It's interesting that this meat is served on its own. No sauce, no edible garnish (save for some sage leaves). I guess Martha thinks that it speaks for itself. One of my guests asked for horseradish, which I luckily had in the fridge, but the rest of us ate it plain. And it was good.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Oven-Roasted Potatoes (p. 138)

This recipe is a margin recipe in the book, off to the side. (I've been doing all of those, by the way.) It's Martha's serving suggestion to accompany the roast.

The potatoes are peeled and halved (actually I quartered them because mine were so big) and parboiled for five minutes once the pot has come to a boil. Then they're drained and scored with a fork to create ridges.

Next, you throw them into the roasting pan 15 minutes into the cooking of the roast. There, they sit in the oil that's melting from the meat and collecting in the pan, and they basically fry. You turn them once, and then when the meat is done, so are they.

There was salt in the boiling water, but there was no instruction to season again after that. I salted them just before serving, though, because I thought they really craved it. They occur more as fries than oven-roasted potatoes. In fact, if I had cut the wedges even smaller, they would have been roughly the size of steak fries and possibly even crispier. (Potatoes can never be too crispy, as far as I'm concerned.)

I think the potatoes might have been the best part of the meal. They were crazily crunchy and overall amazing. My only regret is that I hadn't made more. Of everything I served, they were the only dish that "sold out."

Jeff: A

Martha: A

White Cake with Lemon Curd and Italian Meringue (p. 457)

Here's another dessert I would never order in a restaurant, let alone choose to make and serve at a dinner party. It's the same old reasons: there's no chocolate involved, and lemon flavor doesn't belong in a dessert.

I made the cakes and the lemon curd the day before, since they both need to set before assembly. The cake is slightly high maintenance, in that it uses egg whites, French meringue actually, for leavening. You cream butter and sugar, then add in vanilla bean seeds, milk, sifted cake flour, salt and baking powder. Then you have to move the batter to another bowl, clean out your mixer bowl, and make the French meringue (whipping egg whites with sugar at room temperature), then carefully fold the meringue into the batter in stages.

The cakes came out OK, but I was a little concerned because they mounded quite a bit in the center, where it was cracked and slightly wet. I didn't want to overbake the cake, so I erred on the side of underbaked. After cooling on the racks topside down, the mounds had sort of compressed themselves, so maybe everything was fine. I put them in plastic wrap and into the fridge overnight.

Then, with all the extra yolks from the cake, I made the lemon curd. Last time I made lemon curd, it was to use as a spread, but this time it would be cake filling, so I added the optional gelatin for more body.

Lemon curd is amazing. I take back what I said before about lemons not belonging in desserts. This recipe is flawless, and I am once again reminded how much I love lemon curd. Overnight in the refrigerator made it nice and firm and layer-able.

When I went to level the cakes the next day, I was chagrined to see that the middles of the cakes were, indeed, overly moist. Where the mounds had been compressed, the cakes were sticky, and the leveling knife was just wrecking the cake, pulling little clumps with it, even as I tried to smooth it out.

For this recipe, each cake gets cut in half, making this a four layer cake. As I prepared to cut the cakes in half (using the handy dandy toothpick technique, which worked great), I was concerned that the wetness might be all through the cake, but in fact it was confined to the cake tops, and I was able to make nice clean slices through each cake.

I didn't end up using Martha's parchment paper trick on the cake plate because I needed to refrigerate the assembled cake for a few hours, and it would sit too high on the cake plate to fit in my refrigerator. So I assembled the cake on a cake round, which went pretty well. My top cake was slightly smaller than the other three. Not sure how that happened, but my cake tapered a bit at the top. If I had noticed the size issue, I would have hidden the smaller one in the middle. Ah well. The assembled cake went in the fridge to set.

The cake frosting instructions say: "Just before serving, frost the top and sides of the cake evenly with Italian meringue." Just before serving? You mean in the middle of my dinner party? Wouldn't that be rude to excuse myself from the table mid-meat course and head to the kitchen (which is essentially in my dining room) to start making meringue? What to do??

It might interest you to know that this cake is Martha's favorite cake. How do I know this? Well, she and I chatted about it on the phone the other day. Yeah, that's right. I called Martha.

Actually, that chat occurred on her Sirius radio show, Ask Martha. This wasn't my first call to Ask Martha. I had phoned back in June with a question about Barbecued Baby Back Ribs, so I was an old pro and knew the drill. You tell the assistant your question, and if you are deemed show-worthy, you get put on hold and listen to the show live as you await your turn.

When I finally got on the air, I introduced myself as Jeff from the blogging show. She was kind enough to at least pretend to remember me. I went on to explain that I'd be serving this cake at an upcoming dinner party (which is when I learned that it's her favorite), and I needed to know if I really had to make this meringue immediately before serving. In the recipe instructions for the meringue, it says "Use immediately" and after reading that and "frost just before serving," I had visions of frosting the cake too early and watching it melt all through dinner.

Martha put my fears to rest. She actually kind of chortled when I asked the question and exclaimed "No! Frost it before they come!" I explained that I take this stuff very literally.

Then she said I could even torch the meringue a bit to brown it in places, which is not mentioned in the book. Since Martha, herself, suggested it, I felt I should try it!

So, an hour before people arrived, I made the Italian meringue.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Italian Meringue (p. 459)

What distinguishes Italian meringue from Swiss and French meringues is the way the sugar is heated before being added to the egg whites. With French, you add sugar directly to the whites while beating. With Swiss, you lightly heat the egg whites and sugar until the sugar is dissolved, then beat, providing a little more stability. And with Italian, you make a syrup with sugar and water, and when it reaches 238°, you slowly pour it into already half-beaten egg whites, providing ultimate stability.

On the page, the Italian method looks very risky. There's some delicate timing here, because you have to get the egg whites to a certain whippedness at the same time the sugar is reaching 238°. You can't stop beating the whites to wait for the sugar, and you can't overbeat them either. Amazingly, I managed the timing perfectly, and it came out really well!

And it's actually amazing how stable it really is. I was slopping that stuff on, and it really didn't care what I did to it, it held its own and went wherever I asked it to. It was like a really light version of Fluff, seemingly synthetic, but I knew better.

It was scary to torch it - I feared that the meringue would just melt or burn, but instead, as Martha said, it allowed itself to be browned! Amazing! I didn't push my luck with a lot of browning - just a tip here, a tip there. In the end, I was really happy with how the cake turned out.

But of course, the ultimate proof is in the pudding. How was the cake received? Thumbs up all around, I'm happy to report! Some commented on the flavor: "It was like white cake and lemon meringue pie had a baby." Others commented on the lightness: "I feel great after eating it, not overwhelmed and stuffed, the way I usually feel after a piece of cake."

It really does manage to walk the line of being rich without being heavy. And the lemon curd flavor is tops. (I wish I had put a little more filling in there, but really, I shouldn't complain - it was lovely.) I served the second piece first (great tip, Martha), and I think it's important to note that the meringue completely held its shape, even while being sliced and served. Italian meringue may be trickier to make, but if you're looking for stability, it is definitely worth the extra effort.

That's Ted, above, with the whole cake and Rubén, below, with the slice.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Incidentally, I also served Roasted Brussels Sprouts as a dinner side, and Roasted Pineapple with dessert, both recipes from the book. Here's Luba and Jeff during the meat course.

Until we eat again....


  1. Holy Cow, Jeff...that's one heck of a dinner party, and a lot of solo cooking. Surely, that dinner party alone qualifies you for a Martha diploma!

    I'm intrigued about the potatoes...did they pick up any of the flavors of the meat or the spices you had on the outside, and more importantly any blood? It doesn't look like it from the photos, so I was wondering.

    Congratulations on a triumphant evening!

    All the best,

  2. Darnit!!! My comment from yesterday didn't post!!

    I'm not a rare meat person...makes me want to vomit...but that looks absolutely delicious and it's not really all that "rare". And the potatoes!!! Mmmmmmmmmmmm!!! BTW, does Martha have a good recipe for mashed potatoes? You may have already gone over it but I didn't start following your blog until I saw you at the show a few weeks ago.

    Your cake icing skills have come a long way from what we saw at the Martha blog show!! That cake looks great & for the record, I'm not a lemon person either but you make it look & sound so good!!

    So, when can I come over for dinner?! (just kidding...kinda)

  3. Hey Michael- Thanks! It was a lot of solo cooking! I forget that that's not a typical thing, so thanks for acknowledging that. FYI, there was no blood in the oil in the meat pan, so the potatoes were cleanly fried. I didn't notice any animal fat taste at all. In fact, there were non-meat eaters who were tucking into those potatoes with no problem. I wonder if the fat from a prime rib is of a better quality than the fat on other cuts...

    Corrie- I have to say, the meat really was quite rare. The pictures don't do it justice. You definitely would have vomited. :-) As for mashed potatoes, Martha has a very refined version but there are also suggestions for more rustic interpretations. I liked both. Thanks for writing!

    海角10號 - Thanks for your message! Are you from China? I don't know if it's the same language but if so, can you tell me what 小巨蛋 said? :-)