Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Can't Beet It

Yes, I know tomorrow (Monday, May 28th) is Memorial Day in the U.S., and the “traditional” start to summer and the grilling season.  Yes, I will be grilling, carne asada, (hey, it’s a Pan-Cultural-Fusiony thing), which is so ridiculously easy and also so similar to the marinated pork I just wrote about, that I won’t bore you with the details (OK, *if* you’re interested, marinate some skirt or flank steak in some red wine vinegar, some oil, some S&P, some herbs [cilantro, dried oregano, garlic] and maybe some lime juice.  How long you marinate depends on how thick the steak.  Flank overnight, skirt 2 to 4 hours.  Covered, in the 'fridge.  Grill, slice against the grain, make tacos with corn tortillas and some salsa fresca.  Carry on.)  But this post isn’t about grilling, although I suppose you could do both dishes on a grill, and they’d work.  No, it’s about roasting and pan-roasting and the magic of old time, old-school, French-style pan sauces.  And yes, I am fully aware that the picture of those beets up top looks like some sort of oozing, alien life form.  Sorry.  Roasted beets apparently aren’t very photogenic, but they sure are tasty, especially when mixed with a tangy dressing and made into a lovely salad.

First up the beets.  Like many of the veggies I cook with lately, (thanks to my CSA, The Growing Experience), I came late to the beet love.  Oh, we ate enough of them when I was a kid, and I liked them just fine.  They were always canned, and my Mom usually mixed them with thin-sliced onions and some vinegar with a touch of sugar, to make sort of a quick pickle.  As an adult, I bought them, again only in cans, for the same preparation, or julienned to toss into a green salad.  But they were only rare guests in the little kitchen.  Too many other, bright, shiny, trendy things to play with.  I certainly never bought fresh beets.  I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what to do with them.  They were, well, intimidating.  Hard, leafy, and they *gasp* STAIN THINGS.

Yeah.  Like dishrags.  OK, that rag was a little tired even before the run-in with the beets, and frankly the beet stain rinsed out pretty quickly (and came off my fingers just as easily), but the juice color is an issue.  I wouldn’t use a good towel around them, jus’ sayin’.

But.  Come to find out, when I was hit with my first fresh beets in a CSA share about 2 years ago, they’re pretty darned good.  Especially if you roast them.  They’re sweet, and earthy, and sort of funky and just really interesting.  As with most things, a nice, long, slow roast just intensifies their flavor and concentrates the essence of beetiness.  It also contains the staining problem a bit.

So, how do you roast beets?  Why, it’s easier than falling off a log (and for me, falling off a log, or even off the floor, is pretty darn easy…..but I digress….).  Get your oven heating to about 350°F.  Take your beets, and scrub them really well.  Remember they’re root vegetables, and they’re liable to have a pretty good coating of dirt and sand, especially if they’re organic or small-farm (or backyard) produced.  Don’t peel them at this point.  You’re going to roast them in the skins, which will not only make them taste fantastic, but help contain that dye juice that they can ooze.  Cut off all but about an inch of the tops.  The greens can be sautéed or cooked like turnip greens or kale, so save them if you’re so inclined.  Mine were a little too far gone for that, so they went into the trash hopper.  Lay the beets on half of a large piece of aluminum foil, like so

and drizzle with some oil.  Fold over the foil, and seal the edges, making a nice, neat little package.  Lay the package on your favorite skanky baking sheet and put into the oven.

Roast for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending upon how large your beets are.  Test for doneness by poking a skewer or a roasting fork through the foil into the beets.  (Hence, the oozing aliens in the header shot…)  When done, take them out, open the foil prezzie bag and let them cool a bit.  Peel while they’re still warm, and then cut into wedges.

While the beets are roasting, make the dressing for the salad.  Yep, we’re makin’ a beet salad.  With horseradish.  And capers.  FRIED capers.  Uh-huh.  It was goooood.

Here’s the starting line-up for the dressing:

Well, except for this, they were in the bullpen, warming up, erm, draining.  Starting pitchers never come out for the player introductions, don’tcha know.

OK, so back to the rest of the players.  We got your horseradish, grainy mustard (you know, the kind with the visible mustard seeds in it), sour cream, white wine vinegar, olive oil and garlic.  Garlic missed the player introductions, too.  No excuse, he’s just a dolt.  As, apparently, am I.

Drain the capers, and then, lay them on a paper towel and gently pat them dry.

See all that moisture on the paper towel?  That would most certainly not be a good thing for the next step.

Take some of the oil, pour it into a small frying pan, and heat it up.  When it’s hot, add the drained, dried capers.  They’re still gonna spit and sputter like the dickens, so be careful.

Fry them until they puff up a bit, and look crispy.  That’ll only take about a minute, maybe less.  Then fish them out with a slotted spoon, and drain them on fresh paper towels.

Yummmm.  Fried capers.  Fried salty, briny goodness.  What a grand idea.

Take the horseradish, mustard and vinegar and whisk them together in a small bowl.

Then drizzle in more oil, and some sour cream.  Pour some of the dressing over the wedged beets, and taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper or more dressing if desired.  OK, now I remember why the garlic didn’t make the starting line-up.  I didn’t use it.  The OR (remember our lingo, that’s “O”riginal “R”ecipe) said to rub a serving platter with the cut garlic and discard it.  Then mound the dressed beets on the platter attractively, yada yada yada.  I skipped on by and didn’t do the whole garlic rub thing.  Didn’t miss it.  But you DO need to sprinkle the fried capers over the dressed beets.

Boy.  That’s another scary looking picture, isn’t it?  *Mental Note*, red beets in a sort of beige-ish dressing in a blue bowl is NOT a good combination.  Sure tasted good though.  And yes, I fully think you could do the whole beet-roasting action (in the little foil gift bag) on a grill, gas or charcoal, and be golden.

So.  What did I have with my lovely beet salad?  Why these little jewels….

Don’ those be purdy?  Lovely, lovely little lamb rib chops.  Such a splurge.  Such succulent little goodies.  Ahhhh, how do I love these delights?  A whole lot, that’s how.

But I digress….

I had found these little gems at the MegaMart on my normal, sort-of-weekly shopping crawls.  I wasn’t really quite sure what I wanted to do with them, but I did know I wanted them.  When it came time to cook them, I thought about just seasoning them simply, and tossing them on the grill pan, but really thought I wanted something….”more”.  I didn’t know particularly what, but just….”more”.

So I turned to the ever-expanding cookbook library, and also decided to use a book I either hadn't used in a while (I have tons of those) or had never used (embarrassingly, I have tons of those, too….).  And I found a gem, a true gem.

A thousand years ago, when I was a young, snot-nosed cook, I used to follow a French cook named Pierre Franey.  He wrote, for many years, a column in the New York Times called “The 60-Minute Gourmet”.  This was probably back in the mid-70’s to 80’s.  As I said, a thousand years ago.  He also had a cooking show on PBS with the same title.  He was a contemporary and a cohort of Jacques Pépin and Craig Claiborne, so you know he had some culinary chops.  He was a delight to watch on TV, heavy, heavy French accent and all.  And his food is good.  I have two of his books, both based on the 60-Minute Gourmet concept.  But for some reason, I’d never cooked from one of them, Cooking with The 60-Minute Gourmet.  Why, I don’t know.  The bright, shiny, glittery thing I guess.  Franey is old school, not the latest trend du jour.

So , I found a recipe in that book, “Curried Lamb Chops”, that sounded good.  Quick (obviously, this is the 60-Minute Gourmet, after all), interesting flavors (curry powder and wine and butter), and I had been toying with the idea of doing something vaguely “Indian-ish” with these chops, since lamb and curry flavors are just a natural match.  So this recipe was a winner on all levels.

Aside from those spectacular chops, here’s the starting line-up for the lamb:

Curry powder, shallot, tomato paste, white wine, butter, chicken base and oil.  First up, you season the chops.  Salt and pepper on both sides, followed by the curry powder.

Rub the seasonings into the meat pretty well.  You want a nice, spicy crust on the chops.  Plop them into a frying pan with some oil, and brown them on each side.  You even want to turn them on edge, and brown the sides as well.  When they’re well browned, turn them onto one of the flat sides, and let them cook until done, about 15 minutes total.  Turn them a couple of times so they cook and brown evenly.

While the chops are browning, mince the shallot really finely.

When the meat’s done, remove it from the pan.  Pour off the excess fat.  Look at all that spicy brown goodness in the bottom.  Good start to the sauce, I’d say.

Throw in some butter

and let that melt.  Then add the minced shallot and sauté for a few seconds.  Add wine (wine, good) and bring to a boil to deglaze.  Reduce for about a minute, then add in some tomato paste and chicken broth (or water mixed with chicken base).  Oh, and a note about that tomato paste in a tube.  Greatest.  Idea.  EVER.  Especially for very small quantities like this recipe calls for.  I’ve no problem with opening a can of paste, using a tablespoon or two, and then scooping out and freezing the balance.  But, seriously, a freakin’ teaspoon?  Get a tube.  Let it live in the ‘fridge forever (and it will keep for about that long).  No worries.

Let that mix reduce for a couple of minutes over fairly high heat, then swirl in a bit more butter (the swirl action is actually important – it helps to emulsify the sauce).

Pour the sauce over the cooked, rested chops.

Try to get *all* of the sauce on the plate with the chops, not splooshed over your cutting board.  Oy.  And your pot holder.  Oy again.  And down the front of your counter and cabinets, and thus, onto the floor, and your feet.  Triple oy.  The Circling Vulture Dogs were happy with that occurrence, however.

Swoon over the texture and the taste of this old-time, classically-based French sauce.  We don’t make pan sauces like this to often any longer, and that’s a shame.  The flavor from the curry was good and interesting, but it was the sauce that literally blew me out of the water.  Smooth, silky and so flavorful.  A total throw-back, but in a good way.  Yeah, all the new bells and whistles and the glittery and shiny are cool, and they taste good too, but sometimes, the classics are the best.

You *could*, I suppose, cook the seasoned lamb chops on a grill, but then you wouldn’t be able to make that sexy sauce.

And, trust me, you want that sexy sauce.

Here’s the real recipes:

Curried Lamb Chops
From Cooking With The 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey
Serves 4

8 lamb rib chops (about 2 pounds)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tblsp. curry powder
1 Tblsp. corn, peanut or vegetable oil (I used a canola/vegetable blend))
2 Tblsp. butter, divided
2 Tblsp. finely minced shallot
1/2C dry white wine
1/2C chicken broth
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 Tblsp. finely chopped parsley

Season the chops on both sides with the salt and pepper.  Rub both sides with the curry powder, coating evenly.

Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the chops in one layer.  Add the chops and cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes.  Turn the chops and brown the second side, also about 2 minutes.  Turn the chops on the fatty edge, and brown until the fat renders, about another 2 minutes.

Turn the chops to one of the flat sides, and cook, turning occasionally.  Total cooking time should be about 15 minutes.

Transfer the chops to a plate, and keep warm.  Pour off the fat from the pan, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter.  When melted, add the shallot, and cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds.  Add the wine and bring to a boil.  Cook about 1 minute, then add the broth and the tomato paste.  Cook over moderately high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup.  Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and pour the sauce over the chops.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Beet Salad with Horseradish and Fried Capers
From The 150 Best American Recipes (2006 edition) by Fran McCullogh and Molly Stevens*
Recipe by Amanda Hesser
Serves 4

1&1/2 pounds small beets, trimmed and scrubbed
5 Tblsp. olive oil, plus more for frying the capers
2 Tblsp. capers, drained and patted dry (or soaked in water for 10 minutes and dried if salt-packed)
1&1/2 Tblsp. prepared horseradish, or more to taste
1 Tblsp. grainy Dijon mustard
1 Tblsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tblsp. sour cream
Kosher or sea salt, if needed
1 garlic clove, crushed (very optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place the beets on one half of a large piece of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil.  Fold the foil over the beets, and seal the edges.  Lay the package on a baking sheet and place in the oven.  Roast until the beets are tender, about 45-60 minutes, depending upon the size of the beets.  Test by poking a skewer through the foil.  Remove from the oven.  Carefully open the foil package (steam will rush out) and let beets cool enough to handle them.  Peel the beets while still warm, then cut into wedges and place in a bowl.

Drain the capers and gently pat dry on paper towels.  Pour about 1/2 an inch of oil into a small saucepan (note, I didn't use near that much…didn’t seem to need it either) and heat over medium-high.  When oil is hot, add the capers.  The oil will spit and sputter.  Fry the capers until they fluff up a bit, and begin to brown on the edges, about 30 to 60 seconds.  Drain on fresh paper towels.

Whisk together the horseradish, mustard and vinegar in a small bowl.  Whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, followed by the sour cream.  Pour half of the dressing over the beets and mix.  Taste, add salt and pepper if needed, and more dressing if desired.  Optional (totally) rub a platter with the garlic and discard.  Spoon the beets onto the platter and sprinkle with the fried capers.

*One of the best cookbooks, EVER.

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