Sunday, December 09, 2007
This past weekend was James' 38th birthday, and to celebrate the occasion we had a few close friends over for the big Mayweather Hatton fight and some casual dinner. James' birthday present this year was a Guitar Hero III for Xbox 360, with the Gibson Les Paul Guitar, so after dinner we rocked out to some tunes by Foghat and Pat Benatar. It's a lot of fun, I have to admit - except for the fact that I now have "Slow Ride" stuck in my head on repeat.
For the food, we put out some Fra' Mani Salametto sausage (available at Taste Cheese in Hillcrest) with fresh mozzarella cheese and bread, goat cheese topped with Frog Hollow Farms Peach Chutney, and a piece of local Winchester gouda (which nobody ate much of, so I had it left over!) I also smeared some foie pate on brioche toast squares and topped them with pomegranate seeds for some canapes, and baked up some of those Trader Joes Feta and Apricot pastries, which are always a huge hit. We had beer and wine available, and as usual we went through more champagne than I thought possible.
The main course was a stew from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook - Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta and Root Vegetables with Gremolata. It was pretty involved but worth it - the complex flavors in the broth are intense, and the root vegetables and gremolata provide an interesting contrast with the richness of the pork. The vegetables were fairly simple and would be a good addition to any braised dish - even a roast chicken. The stew could also be served over mashed potatoes or grits instead of the polenta.
To make the pork, I browned it in a dutch oven, and added all of the broth ingredients - fennel, carrots, onion, spices and herbs, and braised it for a couple of hours in the oven. I then chilled it down overnight and finished the cooking the next day, with another hour in the oven. I removed the fat from the broth by skimming it off and putting the bowl with the skimmed juices in the freezer - where the fat solidified so I could scoop it out, and put the rest of the juice back in. I really love that chilling overnight trick for getting the grease out of stewed meat dishes and improving their flavor. It also simplifies the day of -preparation quite a bit, since all you have to do is reheat.
The next day, in lieu of a cake I baked some Bouchons - the signature sweet from Thomas Keller's bakery in NYC and Yountville. I found the recipe online (which apparently had a misprint in it the first time around, calling for half the required amount of sugar) but I noticed that it didn't call for any black cocoa, which I detected in the ones at the bakery. Having planned to try these since I returned from New York - I ordered some black cocoa online from King Arthur Flour Co. and when I baked these, I swapped out half of the regular cocoa. If you've tried this recipe before and it hasn't worked, this is the secret - the result was spot on. Dare I say it - maybe even better than the ones from the bakery. I baked them in little cupcake-sized paper panettone cups, which made for an easy presentation since I didn't even have to take them off. (I found mine at Sur la Table.) You can also make them in a muffin tin or mini popover pan. The ones at the bakery are made in small timbale molds.
I also made some Honeycomb candy - from a Nancy Silverton recipe that appears in her Sandwich cookbook - which I love to look at, but I find most of the recipes impossibly complicated for a casual meal. It's part of a recipe for something called "Blum's Sandwich Cake" - a layered concoction of angelfood cake, whipped cream, hot fudge and honeycomb.
The process is super simple and fast - you cook 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup syrup (I used Light Karo, Lyle's Golden Syrup and honey in different permutations) to a boil - around 300 degrees (totally undisturbed) in a heavy saucepan, and stir in 1 tablespoon of baking soda. You whisk that in thoroughly, and dump the whole thing on a silpat lined baking sheet, where it spreads, foams and rises to form the "honeycomb" pattern. It's kind of neat, actually. I have two pieces of advice for you if you're planning to try it though. Actually three. One, turn the heat off as the sugar reaches temperature, so you don't have to worry about it burning. I had some stickage on the bottom of the pan from some slightly burnt sugar on my second try. Two, whisk the baking soda in thoroughly, it will bubble up but it's not done until you swirl it in to dissolve. And three - be very careful with this stuff, because if you drop it on the floor and step on it, your shoes will stick to the floor all over your house for the rest of the day - making little sticky sounds with every step. Not fun.
The first batch was flavored with half Karo and half Lyles Golden Syrup, and came out quite light - the second was Golden Syrup and honey, and came out a bit darker with more flavor - I think I overcooked the syrup on that one for a half second though, so that could account for the color. In any event, it was an interesting experiment and it turns out you don't have to have corn syrup to make honeycomb after all. (Sam, are you listening?? )
I finished up by cooking the root veg and making the gremolata and polenta shortly before serving. If I had it to do over again I might have started those things earlier - but polenta has a tendency to set up as it sits around, so you can't make it too far ahead. You might also be tempted to skip the root vegetables or the gremolata; and of course the pork stew would be great on it's own - but the flavors added by the shallots, the garlic and lemon in these components really do bring the dish to life. In fact, if I really had it to do over again - I'd put a lot less polenta in my bowl - why waste space on that when there's braised pork, buttered vegetables, lemon and garlic to be had?
Here, for your enjoyment - are the recipes as I adapted them.
Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta, Root Vegetables, and Gremolata
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
makes approximately six servings
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons coriander
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch chunks
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon oregano leaves, plus 3 whole sprigs
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced fennel
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
1 chile de arbol, crumbled (I used fresh chile flakes)
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups good quality beef or veal stock
4 sprigs cilantro
Roasted root vegetables with gremolata (recipe follows)
1 recipe polenta (recipe follows)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toast the fennel seeds a few minutes in a small pan over medium heat, until they release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar.
Place the pork in a large bowl with the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cayenne, smashed garlic, oregano leaves and thyme. Using your hands, toss the pork and spices together to coat well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Take the meat out of the refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. After 15 minutes, season it on all sides with 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper. Reserve the garlic and any excess herbs and spices.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in the olive oil and wait a minute or two until the pan is very hot and almost smoking. Place the meat in the pan, being careful not to crowd it. (You will most likely need to cook the meat in batches.) Sear the meat until well browned and caramelized on all sides; this will probably take at least 15 minutes. As the batches of meat brown, transfer them to a baking sheet.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot and fennel. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the tasty crusty bits left in the pan. Stir in the bay leaves, crumbled chile and reserved garlic and spices. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables start to caramelize.
Pour in the wine and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
In the meantime, use a vegetable peeler to pull long strips of zest from the lemon.
Turn off the heat, and add the pork to the pot. Tuck the cilantro, oregano sprigs and lemon zest around the meat. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and a tightly fitting lid. (Her recipe says to put plastic wrap under the foil, but I'm leery, especially after reading about incidents like this one. Braise in the oven about 2 hours. Allow to cool, and put the pot in the fridge overnight. The next day, skim the fat off and put the bowl in the freezer - the fat will solidify so you can remove it easily.
Preheat the oven to 325. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a simmer, then put in the oven and braise for another hour.
Turn the oven up to 400 degrees.
Ladle most of the braising juices and vegetables into a strainer set over a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with the ladle to extract all the juices. Reserve. Discard the remaining herb sprigs from the braising pan.
Return the pork to the oven for about 15 minutes to caramelize the meat.
If necessary, reduce the broth over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, to thicken it slightly. Taste for seasoning.
Pour the broth over the browned meat and stir to coat well. Transfer the stew to a large warm platter. Scatter the warm gremolata-coated root vegetables over the stew. Serve with the bowl of hot polenta. Tell your guests to spoon the polenta onto their plates and top with pork and vegetables, making sure to get lots of delicious braising juices. (You may need to serve more braising juices on the side if your platter is too shallow to hold them all.)
For the Roasted Root Vegetables with Gremolata
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
9 baby or 3 regular carrots, peeled
9 baby or 3 regular parsnips, peeled
9 small or 3 regular turnips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 branches of thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup 1/4 inch-thick slices shallot
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest the lemon with a microplane grater, or chop the zest finely. Place the garlic, parsley and lemon zest in a hand chopper and puree. This mixture is called gremolata. Set aside.
Slice the carrots and parsnips in half lengthwise, leaving the stems attached. If they are on the bigger side then slice each half lengthwise again, into long quarters. Clean the turnips, cut off the tails and trim the stems leaving 1/4 inch of the stems. Cut small turnips in halves or quarters; if they're larger, cut them in half and then into 1/2-inch wedges. The root vegetables should be no thicker than half to three quarters of an inch across.
Heat 1 very large, or two regular sized skillets or saute pans over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and wait 1 minute. Divide the carrots, parsnips and turnips between the pans and season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the thyme. Saute 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables just start to caramelize.
Add the butter and sauté another 5 minutes, tossing them often. Add the shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook another 5 minutes or so, until the shallots and all the vegetables are tender and nicely caramelized. If you're serving dinner soon, turn off the heat and hold them in the pan. Re-warm if necessary.
Toss with the gremolata just before serving.
For the Polenta:
1 cup medium-grain polenta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring 5 1/2 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil over high heat. Add the polenta slowly, whisking continuously.
Turn the heat down to low, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, whisking often.
Add another 1/2 cup water and cook 1 more hour, whisking often and adding 1/2 cup water as needed, about every 20 minutes. The flame should be low, so the polenta is barely simmering. As you whisk, make sure that you reach the bottom of the pan to prevent the polenta from scorching. I like to use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot.
Whisk in the butter, and taste for seasoning. Even when the polenta is finished, you might sense it thickening up a little. If so, add a little more water and whisk to get the right consistency. If you're not serving right away, cover the pan with plastic wrap to keep the polenta from thickening or losing moisture. If necessary, re-warm over low heat before serving.
Thomas Keller's Bouchons
adapted from The Bouchon Cookbook
Makes 15 2-inch bouchons
Butter and flour for the timbale molds or muffin tin (paper mini pannetone molds do not require buttering)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Scharffenberger cocoa powder
1/2 cup black cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon flake sea salt, crushed (the original calls for 1 tsp kosher salt)
1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (12 ounces) Plugra unsalted butter, melted, just slightly warm
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60%)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 16 (2-ounce) timbale molds or fleximolds. Set aside. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl; set aside.
2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until very pale in color. Mix in the vanilla.
3. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)
4. Put the timbale molds or papers on a baking sheet. Pour the batter in (or use a large pastry tip big enough for the chocolate chips if using smaller molds).
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When the tops look shiny and set (like a brownie), test one cake with a wooden skewer or toothpick. It should come out clean but not dry (there may be some melted chocolate from the chopped chocolate).
6. Transfer the bouchons to a cooling rack. After a couple of minutes, invert the timbale molds and let the bouchons cool upside down in the molds, then lift off the molds. Dust with confectioners sugar.