How is it possible that this is my last Jeff and Martha dinner party? Tempus fugit, you guys, tempus totally fugit....
I'm so happy to have squeezed in another one of my favorite couples for a first/last visit, right under the wire: Lady Susan Blackwell and Lord Steven White. You may remember Susan from my Lemon Curd entry, but at that time, she tasted the fruits of my labor via satellite. Tonight, she and her husband, Steve, are really a "part of it all," along with some other [title of show] peeps, hilarious Heidi, marvelous Michael, and [tos] friend and supporter, remarkable Ryan. Rounding out the group is my childhood friend and J+M semi-regular, beautiful Barbara.
Pot-au-Feu (p. 235)
For this very special, penultimate episode of Jeff and Martha, I'm preparing Pot-au-Feu, also known as The Thing That I Stalled Making For 362 Days Hoping It Would Go Away.
This recipe features one of the longest ingredients lists in the book, not to mention a time-consuming preparation which Martha suggests might best be spread out over two days. Yikes! And what are you serving when all is said and done? Boiled meat, chicken and vegetables. Hmph. If I'm going to be putting in that much time and ingredients, I want to be serving turducken. (Not really... I have turducken-o-phobia.)
This is a classic French dish, but it's not fancy. It's really quite basic. But since it's French, it's also somewhat complicated. Or maybe because it's Martha, it's somewhat complicated. All I know is, I've never used so much cheesecloth and twine in one day. Almost everything in the pot gets wrapped or tied. (Incidentally, I decided to do the one day version.)
Amazingly, Fairway had almost everything I needed to make this. Short ribs (cut to 3 inches), veal bones, marrow bones (although the Fairway cut isn't a cross section cut like Martha shows in the book), brisket (first-cut only, though), and of course, chicken. What they didn't have was savoy cabbage. Turns out neither did Whole Foods or Gristede's. And given that I was shopping for this meal in the horrible, horizontal rain storm of 2010, I wasn't about to search any wider. Green cabbage was going to have to do.
It all begins with the wrapping of the short ribs in cheesecloth. These, and the veal bones and brisket, go in a gigantic pot (I bought a 16 quart Martha Stewart for Macy's pot for the occasion) and get covered with water and brought to a simmer. Martha said this would take 35 minutes, and for the first time ever, it actually took less time than she said! (About 30 minutes.)
After simmering for another half hour, you add another special cheesecloth package filled with herbs and spices, as well as some onion halves (one charred, another studded with cloves), celery, carrot, and salt, and that simmers for another two hours.
By now, the meat is cooked, so that gets put aside, covered. I actually had to stall for about 45 minutes here, because I knew if I kept going, my food would be done too early. Conveniently, this gave me plenty of time to peel, trim, and wrap my carrots, trim, wash, and wrap my leeks, peel and slice the turnips and cabbage, and wrap the marrow bones in cheesecloth.
Once I was ready to start the clock again, I brought the broth back up to a boil and put the chicken in, whole, for a 15 minute head start. Then, the rest of the vegetables went in, along with the marrow bones. (The baby potatoes are cooked separately - I almost forgot to make them!)
This is definitely the home stretch, so don't start the chicken until you know you're only an hour or so away from serving. About a half hour after the veggies go in, this baby is done.
Thank god I had Barbara there. She was totally my sous chef! I was trying to assemble a Shaved Beets with Orange over arugula salad while all this was going on, and she was setting up plates for me, and basically reading my mind and doing whatever I was about to ask her to do. Sous chef - what an amazing concept! FYI, she went to ICE and worked at Aureole, so she knows her stuff. In fact, as a present tonight, she gave me her ICE graduation chef's hat and wrote "Chef Jeff" on it. :-)
I was very concerned about the brisket and the short ribs, which had been sitting in a covered pot and were definitely not anywhere near warm at this point, not to mention dry. Barbara encouraged me to get them back in the broth for a little while to warm them up, which I thought was a great idea. So she arranged the veggies and the marrow bones while I reheated the beef. Then she laid out the meat and chicken, as I carved it, very badly, I might add. Brisket gets so thready... Barbara said you can put it in the freezer, which makes it very easy to slice, then put it back in the hot liquid to reheat. Interesting....
See that picture of the platter above? That was merely one of two identical platters!
Long story long, I served the food exactly as Martha prescribed, with broth ladled over it and also served on the side, along with grainy mustard, fleur de sel, cornichons (baby pickles), croutons, and fresh grated horseradish.
Can you believe, I mindlessly threw away a half of a horseradish root last week, forgetting that I'd need it again for this recipe? This is the one I bought this week. Kind of makes you wonder how this root got its name. :-)
I was very self-conscious about serving such boring fare to all these nice people. I mean, boiled meat, boiled chicken, and boiled vegetables? It sounds like institutional food.
Well, it couldn't have been further from the truth! It was surprisingly good! Everything was cooked well and all, but I think what really made this dish was the accompaniments. Brisket tastes fine, but then you add some mustard or horseradish or a bite of cornichon, and all of a sudden, it's a whole new world, or I should say, un tout nouveau monde.
The best compliment I got was from Barbara and Michael who've eaten this before, and they said it tasted very authentic and French. Yay! Mission accomplished.
I feel pretty confident saying I'll never make this again. I probably won't even ever order it in a restaurant. But it's really satisfying to capture and experience the taste, style, essence of another culture thousands of miles away.
Martha: A- (reheating the meat is such a good idea, it almost seems like an element that's missing from this recipe)
Buckwheat Groats/Kasha (p. 413)
Here's another grain gratuitously and inappropriately wedged into a meal. Nothing French about kasha, that I know of.
My experience of kasha has been confined to kasha varnishkes, which is a Jewish dish that combines this grain with bow-tie pasta. The big difference between the two preparations is that in the Jewish version,
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining about fluffy buckwheat. In fact, I think it makes the grain a little more approachable, less forbidding, less nutty. And by nutty, I actually mean nut-like, not zany.
I wouldn't say this was an obvious pot-au-feu accompaniment, but in the end, I thought it was a nice, unexpected side. That's Susan and Steve cradling the kasha.
Jeff: B (I overcooked it - thought I'd turned the heat off but hadn't)
Kiwi Sorbet (p. 485)
It's been a long road for me and sorbets. And you may remember, I went from being one who dismissed sorbet to being one who appreciates, even loves it, but only under certain conditions. And I've pretty much determined that those conditions are 1) a great focus of that fruit's flavor, and 2) an element of tart or acid to offset the sugar.
It should be said that the taste of the sorbet will really depend on the actual fruit used. There are ripe kiwis and less ripe kiwis, tart ones and sweet ones and everything in between, so it's not really fair to judge the sorbets simply on my one-time versions.
However... in case you're interested, here's my sorbet wrap up, with all the flavors listed in order of my favorite (top) to my least favorite (bottom):
Until we eat again....
Pot-au-Feu had very few cares...
(10 points if you can finish that line)