Happy New Year!!!
I hope everyone had a safe and fun evening. Let’s hope for a fantastic 2011, filled with health, happiness, love and good food for all of us.
I started my new year (and this project) off with a bang and made a ‘fancy’ meal for my parents and husband. We received 4 Filet Mignon Steaks as a Christmas gift and I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to really dig in to the cookbook. For an appetizer I made broccoli soup (with homemade chicken stock), the main course was grilled steaks with compound butter and grilled veggies. Lastly, I made creme brulee for dessert. Overall the dinner was great and I received positive feedback, but there were definite flaws and it could have been better. It wasn’t Martha standard, but considering I’m a total newbie – not too shabby. I learned that mise-en-place (organizing and preparing your ingredients prior to starting a recipe) is very important and should always be used. Also, I learned that reading a recipe at least once before starting it is invaluable. Each recipe had its own challenges and lessons as well:
BASIC CHICKEN STOCK (p.41) – Lesson 1.1
You may ask yourself why make a stock when you can buy one at the market for a few bucks? Why spend ALL that time and effort? Well, let me tell you that when this stock was done I loved it so much that I put it in a little cup with some salt and downed it like it was a shot of heaven. It was the most delicious broth I have ever tasted – so yes, there is a difference. A huge difference. Making a homemade stock is worth every minute of your time, but I’m sure in a pinch you can use store-bought stock as well.
The recipe calls for 5 lbs of assorted chicken parts (backs, necks, wings) but I didn’t know where to get any and didn’t have time to save my own so I used leg quarters which seemed the most bony. I think technically my creation was a stock/broth hybrid, since I also used a lot of meat but hey I had to do what I could under the circumstances. The recipe was easy to follow and made about 10.5 cups. I used 4 cups of it for the broccoli soup and stored the rest in the fridge in an airtight container.
Mommy Tip: If you’re cooking a chicken and have enough left over bones/carcass you can throw them in a pot and make stock to have handy or you can save up your chicken parts in the freezer until you have enough to use. You can store the prepared stock in the fridge for 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months in an airtight container or freezer bag.
Leg quarters used instead of necks, backs, wings.
Mirepoix: French name for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery used as a flavor base for many dishes.
The finished product – Basic Chicken Stock.
BROCCOLI CREAM SOUP (p.62) – Lesson 1.7
I used the chicken stock I just made in this recipe. It was very easy to execute but I had a problem knowing how much broccoli to use. Martha said to use one head of broccoli (1 3/4 pounds) so that’s what I bought – a head of broccoli. I think I should have weighed it at the store because the soup came out very light in color (wasn’t the vivid green they showed in the book) and I’m guessing it was because I didn’t have enough of the green stuff. Flavor wise, it was good, but a bit bland and may have needed more salt and pepper. So I guess my lesson from this is to always follow the weight or measurements called in a recipe – don’t try to guess by size (especially if it’s your first run through it).
Broccoli Cream Soup.
COMPOUND BUTTER (p.166)
Basically, butter mixed with herbs and aromatics. I used 2 sticks of room-temperature butter and mixed it in a bowl with parsley, thyme and salt. You can use all kinds of combinations but I used those because they were in the main recipe. Once I mixed them I shaped them into a little cylinder by using parchment paper and the end of a cutting board. Put in the fridge for an hour and you’re done. I served the butter on top of the steaks and it was a hit.
GRILLED STEAK (p. 164)
The recipe was for a porterhouse steak but had filet mignon as an optional substitute. The steaks were 8 oz each and based on the book I should have grilled them about 7-8 minutes on each side for a medium – rare steak. I did exactly that and they came out a little too rare. A little too bloody. I guess I should have either used a meat thermometer or used the finger test that my old friend Sheldon taught me (he is a former chef). You might be wondering what the finger test is and it’s kind of hard to explain but I will do my best. Basically, you touch your pointer finger to your thumb (same hand) and feel the fleshy part just below your thumb. The tenderness or firmness of that part is equivalent to what a rare steak would feel like when poked. Do the same with your middle finger and you have a Medium-rare steak, the ring finger is the same as medium cooked and the pinky is well done. Like I said, I did not use the finger test nor did I use a thermometer and I wish I had but I was stressed and trying to get the meal ready in time so I forgot. I guess next time I have to try and enter a more zen state of mind and not let things get me worked up so much that I forget the essentials.
The steaks were very tasty (even though i forgot to salt them), I think the compound butter really added to the flavor but also, the steaks were of good quality so you kind of can’t go wrong there, I think. I served the steaks with grilled zucchini, Yellow squash and raddichio. The radicchio came out a bit wilted and kind of fell apart. It wasn’t bad, and had that distinct bitter taste but I didn’t love it with this dish. I also made a croustini which I seasoned with vegetable oil and some parsley – it was delicious and a great addition to the meal.
8 oz Steaks. Yum!
Radicchio, Zucchini, and Yellow Squash brushed with a vegetable oil and parsley mix.
It all came together very nicely!!!
CREME BRULEE (p.472)
My favorite all-time dessert!!! Let me start by saying that it came out AMAZING! Everyone loved it and it was so easy to make. There are a few things that are worth mentioning though. I was shocked to find out that 1 vanilla bean costs $10.99 and that I had to use the whole thing for this recipe. I wonder if using vanilla extract would produce a similar effect or is that a no-no? Either way, it was fun to slice open the bean and scrape out the little seeds … smelled fantastic. The rest of the process was pretty easy, heat up the cream and vanilla and slowly add them to the eggs and sugar. Pour them into the little dishes (ramekins) and put them on a large roasting pan (I used a baking pan) filled up with water half way up the ramekins. This step almost messed me all up because Martha says to get the pan in the oven and then pour the water in after, but I put the water in before which made it really hard to carry to the oven without spilling the water into the creme brulee mix. I baked it for about 35 minutes, until it was set but still wobbly in the center. Chill for 2 hours and then brulee (to burn, in french) a layer of sugar on top right before serving.
I had some extras so my brothers and nephew joined us for dessert. The mixture of the crunchy warm sugar and the cool custard inside is delectable and heavenly. I could have eaten 10o of these and everyone else loved them too. Ok… here comes the embarassing part – ready?
The next day I’m sitting in my family room watching The Food Channel when it hits me — I USED EGG WHITES, NOT EGG YOLKS!!! How the hell did that happen?? The recipe says 7 egg yolks and my brain translated that into egg whites, wow! The weird thing is that the Creme Brulee was amazing, just like the real deal. How could that be? I guess I just discovered the lighter version, HAHA. I’m still laughing at that one today, what was I thinking? Anyways, I NEED to do a taste comparison now. Make the recipe with egg whites and with egg yolks and do a taste test. It’s just that my ‘diet’ version was so damn good that I can’t imagine there being such a big difference.
Just out of the oven.
Use a torch to burn a thin layer of sugar on the top.
Delicious Creme Brulee (light version?)
To summarize the whole day, I loved starting this project in such a grand way by making all those dishes. I love that I slightly failed and I loved my successes. My perfectionism tends to hold me back sometimes so I was happy to see that my little failures didn’t bring me down. They actually made me more eager to learn and to improve. I am very excited to continue cooking through the book and even more excited to write about it. I hope you all think it’s worth reading about, would love to have you along for the ride.