Saturday, August 4, 2012

Linekin Rainbows... or When My Afternoon Cooking Vaguely Resembles a Raucous Thunderstorm

It was a dark and stormy night.... okay don't stop reading I'm just kidding. But actually, the night I made this meal we had a thunderstorm the likes of which I have not seen in some time. It's common to have thunderstorms in Boothbay Harbor because we're right on the water, but often we get just the tail end of storms. On this particular evening, we were hit with the works - hail, lightning right off the dock, torrential downpour to top it off and thunder that deafened my ears. On the bright side, we had a double end-to-end rainbow rise up over Linekin Bay just seconds after the storm passed. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was so impressive, I exclaimed out loud. 

Look carefully to see the double rainbow over the top! I promise this photo doesn't do it justice. 
So anyway, I'll blame this extraordinary storm and my momentary escape into rainbow land, for the fact that my well-planned out dinner went off the rails pretty quickly. Our next-door neighbor Kathy and her son were coming over to join us and my mother was off at a Wind-Over-Wings show so I had four hours to prepare and get dinner on the table for a 9:00 p.m target time. I'll preface this post by saying that dinner was not ultimately served until 10:00 p.m, and that I had to scramble like a mad-woman just to make that happen. 

The Menu

  • Grilled Italian Toast with Olive Oil and Sea Salt
  • Arugula Salad with Bistro Dressing
  • Shrimp and Crab Stuffed Crepes
  • Tarragon Sauce
  • Apple Tarte Tartin

I tackled the Tarte Tartin first. As I have posted on this recipe before, I'll skirt over this part except to say that while I use the recipe from SmittenKitchen, I have decided that the instructions to "turn the apples over" is unnecessary. This is not how I learned to do it a culinary class, nor do I think it adds anything to the recipe. Save yourself sticky, burned fingers and skip this part. Just put the crust on when the caramel looks dark and brown. 

Perhaps because I was afraid of my food getting cold or I simply took too much time (having to mix up the pie crust recipe in separate sections because we only have a one-cup Cuisinart comes to mind), I found myself starting to mix up crepe batter and slice my toast at 8:00 p.m... oops. 

Crepes are extremely easy to make, and if you master the technique of flipping them over in the pan without the aid of a spatula or other utensil, you can make about 20 in less than ten minutes. In my case,  by the time I started flipping them, the audience had arrived and I successfully dropped about 4. Not to mention that I realize I wasn't going to have enough mix to accommodate my filling, and had to whip up another batch. (In case I failed to mention it, the kitchen in question is tiny with almost no counter space). 



  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • Butter, for coating the pan


In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.
Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.
By this time I had Italian bread grilling in my grill pan with olive oil and sea salt burning up around the edges nicely, flipping crepes onto the floor, and a large pan of seafood filling that while incredibly tasty, was in danger of becoming soft if left on too long... but I've gotten ahead of myself.

Before I started flipping crepes, I combined jumbo raw (cut into small pieces) shrimp, a pound of lump crabmeat, a half cup of diced red bell peppers, a half cup of diced celery, garlic, white wine, butter and Worcestershire sauce into a sauté pan and heated until the peppers were soft. The wine went in last, just enough to burn off the alcohol. I didn't use a recipe for this so I can't be more specific about the measurements, unfortunately. 

Fortunately I managed to get the Grilled Toast (which actually came out very well) onto the table with the salad to satiate my starving guests. I am bothering to list the salad here because one of my guests informed me it was the most delicious dressing he's ever had (I'm not bragging, I was just honestly surprised). 

French Bistro Style Salad Dressing
Adapted from Julia Child

Combine 2 parts Dijon Mustard to 1 part lemon juice to 4 parts extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper. 

(You can see why I was surprised about the rave reviews)

Another snafu that evening was that I had intended to serve Cosmopolitans, but found out that I neither had limes, nor triple sec, nor Rose's lime juice. I had to whip up a quick simple syrup and serve the vodka with simple syrup, cranberry juice, orange extract, and sadly no lime at all. Not a bad substitute recipe, but I think I'll call it a Linekin Rainbow instead of a Cosmopolitan. 

By this time I was nearing the end of my crepe-flipping fiasco, and managed to put together a sizable stack. I stuffed each one with large spoonfuls of my seafood mixture, put them in a glass pan, and popped them in the oven for ten minutes to keep warm while I mixed up my sauce. 

For me, the sauce was the pleasant surprise of the evening. I knew what I was going for but had neither time nor a decent recipe, so I just winged it. I melted butter into a pot, added white wine, half and half, garlic and tarragon with a squeeze of dijon mustard. I let it thicken to coat the back of a spoon, and I ended up with a delicious bearnaise-inspired sauce that topped well on the crepes. 

After much sweating, and worrying and things going wrong, the recipe actually came out great. I will definitely make this again, and I'm pleased with the way the flavors came together. Next time though, I'm making the crepes in advance. 

All in all, a fun night and a great way to spend three or four hours during a thunderstorm. Though the kitchen isn't ideal and you certainly can't just "run out to the grocery store," I'll miss this place when it's gone. 

Author's Note: Due to the frantic nature of this cooking expedition, photos are somewhat lacking in both quantity and quality. I apologize. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chicken Carbonara and oh, by the way, I quit my job in Congress. 

It's been almost a full year since I've posted on the Partisan Plate, but now that I've freed myself from the clutches of Congress, I have resolved to explore my culinary talents further, at least before I am thrust back into the world of stress, strife and insanity... no, I'm not going back to Congress, this time I'm talking about Law School. 

Yesterday afternoon I embarked on a pasta-making adventure. Specifically, I tackled Pasta Carbonara (with homemade fettuccine) and Caesar Salad. Overall it went very well and the outcome was a dangerously delicious mountain of Pasta Carbonara. 

Below are the recipes and a tutorial on the steps (and missteps) that I took. I hope to make my next few posts more interesting or exciting but in the meantime, here is one that I hope will make your mouths water!

Homemade Pasta

This is the fourth time I've made homemade pasta, and while I've developed my technique, I think I need to find a new recipe. So far I've been using Mario Batali's recipe, but either his recipe requires eggs the size of small bowling balls, or the recipe uses too much flour. 

You mix it right on the cutting board!

Using the traditional method, I formed a well out of the 3/12 cups of flour, and put the four extra-large eggs in the middle. I mixed the dough by slowly whisking together the eggs and the flour using a fork, until they combine to form a loose, sticky dough. While the recipe says to then incorporate the extra flour 1/2 a cup at a time, I found that I could only get about another cup of flour to work into the recipe, and was left with a flaky mess of flour that wouldn't stick to my dough all over my cutting board. Specifically, I think I wasted about a full cup and a half of flour. Needless to say, I'll either leave off a cup of flour next time or add two eggs. 

Once I'd formed the pasta into two dough balls, I let it rest for 20 minutes, and then used my CucinaPro pasta roller to roll out the dough. The trick is to start by rolling it at the thickest setting and then repeating on a thinner setting until you have it very thin. Then, you switch to the 
fettuccine attachment, and roll your dough through there. Unfortunately though I've used this machine before, this time the pasta did not cut thoroughly, such that I had to separate the pieces of pasta. 

When all was said in done, I plopped the whole thing (which turned out to be about twice as much pasta as I needed) into salted, boiling water. 

Chicken Carbonara

When one isn't having delusions of grandeur and snubbing one's nose at the "boxed pasta" portion of the instructions, Pasta Carbonara is exceedingly easy. In this case, I was the one doing the snubbing, and it's for that reason that my carbonara took me quite a bit longer, and came out a bit differently than the traditional. That being said, it was absolutely delicious. 

In spite of my ambition in making my own pasta, I fell just short of the fully- homemade mark by purchasing a rotisserie chicken and picking that instead of roasting my own (not to mention that rotisserie chickens are just darn tasty).  

The other easy portion of this recipe is that the cream, basil (picked fresh from our garden) , parsley, parmesan, and egg yolks all go together at once into a large mixing bowl. In a frying pan, I crisped the pancetta and garlic then added the shredded chicken and toasted walnuts (a delicious Giada addition). 

Once the chicken/pancetta mixture was up to full heat, I drained my homemade pasta (setting aside a cup of pasta water) and added the hot pasta directly to the cream/herbs/cheese/yolks mixture in the bowl. Second, I tossed in the pancetta and chicken. 

POOF! The brilliance of Carbonara. The heat from the pasta and chicken/pancetta cooks the egg yolks which thicken the whipping cream and melt the cheese, producing a creamy delicious sauce that you can mix up in a bowl without the aid of a stove. In addition to Giada's recipe, I added a ladle of hot pasta water to the sauce to help it bind and to ensure the egg yolks were heated up to the right level (without scrambling!)  In my case, this was a life-save because there is no pot big enough in my kitchen to hold the amount of pasta that I accidentally made. 

Because I ended up with almost twice as much pasta as the recipe called for, I added a bit more of all the ingredients (pancetta, parmesan, and chicken) but because I hesitated to add more egg yolks,  the sauce was a bit more creamy and a bit less yolky than traditional. I have no complaints however, as I could barely keep my fork out of the finished product. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Structured Rule

So far my biggest complaint about L'Academie de Cuisine is that the classes are only 1-3 weeks long. Needless to say this is because I've been enjoying my experience tremendously and would love to continue to grow and develop my culinary technique for weeks to come. Unfortunately I'll just have to savor my one last Thursday class... 

In the meantime, allow me to catch you up to speed on our most recent endeavor...


 - Herb Grilled Swordfish with Beurre Blanc

 - Crisp Noodle and Vegetable Pancake

 - Fruit and Nut Tart with Caramel
    see below for recipe 

This week's class was infinitely superior to last week. I think part of that is simply my adjustment to the facility, the Chef, the people and the process, but I also think that our smaller numbers (several people were out of the class), we were able to get a more hands-on, personal instruction experience. Also I can honestly say that across the board the menu was better. Last week the Pork Tenderloin and the Chocolate Souffle were delicious but the Galette was mediocre and the sauces left something to be desired. Quite the opposite this week-- I look forward to recreating these dishes again soon. 

Tips/Tricks and Highlights of the dishes:

Herb Grilled Swordfish with Beurre Blanc 

   - Swordfish is my favorite fish. I just figured I should get that out of the way so no one thinks I'm patting myself on the back too much when I start talking about how amazing the swordfish was. 
- The Swordfish was marinated in a buttermilk herb marinade. This is very easy to make. It's basically just buttermilk, herbs, garlic, salt pepper and olive oil with a dash of hot sauce. The fish is left in the marinade in a bowl for 30-40 minutes in the refrigerator before it is grilled in either a grill pan or on the grill itself. Basically it's about 3-4 minutes each side and then wrap it in tin foil to allow it to finish steam-cooking the interior for a medium-well finish. 

 - The Swordfish is finished with a Beurre Blanc, turning it from a simple delicious fish into a delicacy. Beurre Blanc isn't particularly hard to make but I wouldn't recommend trying it without either watching someone doing it or trying the following tips.  Beurre Blanc is a white butter sauce (thus the name) that is really just a 'softened' butter sauce with shallots, cream, white wine and white wine vinegar. Add the wine, vinegar and shallots (minced) over medium-high heat until it reduces by 50%. You then add the cream and allow to reduce again. The real trick then is to take the sauce off the heat and add a chunk of butter. Swirl the pan on and off the heat until the butter has just softened (not melted or disappeared). Then add another chunk and repeat. In the end you should have a nice light white sauce (not yellowed) that is made of a creamy softened butter which you strain to remove the shallots etc., -- add judiciously to the top of your swordfish! 
Shown Served with Noodle and Vegetable Pancake

 Noodle and Vegetable Pancakes 

 - Another pan-fried dish this week. Luckily, this one was better than the galette. In fact, this was was not only creative but delicious and a great light accompaniment to any chicken or fish dish.

 - The 'pancakes' are made by taking cold cooked spaghetti, chopping it into large sections.

- Combine it with herbs (your choice) and vegetables (also your choice though we used red pepper, jicama, and fennel). To bind the whole thing together, use one egg, salt, and pepper.

- Heat canola oil in a sautee pan over medium-high heat and add baseball-sized lumps of the pasta mixture into the hot oil until it flattens out (pancakes should be about 4 inches in diameter) and crisps on the bottom. They can then be flipped and cooked on the other side. Cool by resting on paper-towel lined baking sheets. Pancakes can be left in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Put in a 350* oven for 10 minutes prior to serving.

 The noodle/vegetable pancakes make a great bed for the swordfish. I also recommend adding the beurre blanc to the noodle pancake as well. The tangy accents in the sauce bring out the fennel in the pancake.

Musician's Tart

 - The Musician's Tart stole the show. Unlike last week when we made the souffle that you can't really take home, the Musician's Tart kept perfectly well overnight and out of the goodness of my heart I brought the leftovers into the office the next day for my coworkers. Rave reviews ensued. Why is it called a Musician's Tart? Why I'm so glad you asked...

The Story of the Musicians Tart

Way back in ye olden times, Musicians wandered the Countryside.
They played their lutes along traveling routes  
and peddled their tunes for dimes.
But fiddles alone, nor harps nor guitars could produce any coin-- there was none to be found
So patrons and friends, they gave what they could
They turned out their pockets of dates, figs and nuts
For payment for songs and to pass away time.
But Musicians need meals and lodging to stay
So in turn they would give to the landlords their pay
and from dried fruit and nuts emerged tarts of the day
With caramel, crust and a marscapone cream these little round treats
are a flute-players dream.

Ok everyone, sorry about that-- it sort of started by accident and then I just had to go with it...

Musician's Tart tips/highlights and tricks:

 - I learned the key to good pie crust. Basically it's ensuring that the butter stays cold right up until the second it's baked. This means that you don't want to overwork the butter into the flour etc., and that you don't want to leave it on the counter or play with it too much in rolling it out. A really good crust dough should also be refrigerated for about 30 minutes before it is rolled out. 

 - The reason for the cold butter is that when it starts to melt in the oven, the water separates from the butter and boils and the steam creates little cracks (which give you the flaky consistency). 

 - The dried fruit mixture that we used was dates and figs and dried pears but you could also use apricots, prunes, or any other dried fruit that you like. It's basically just the fruit, mixed with lime juice and pureed in a food processor with brown sugar until a thick, sticky consistency. 

 - The nut topping is also relatively easy. Combine brown sugar, butter, and light corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat until it boils. Reduce the heat to medium and boil one minute. Remove from heat and add cream until smooth. Then add nuts (previously toasted) and mix until combined. 

- Once everything is put together you blind-bake the tart crust (by poking holes in the bottom, covering it with parchment paper, filling the parchment with beans or rice and baking for 12-15 minutes until just golden. 

 - Remove from the oven, spread the fruit filling into the bottom and then pour the nut topping over the top until full. Bake another 13-15 minutes or until very golden and caramel is slightly bubbling around the edges. 

- The Marscapone cream is amazing. Use it liberally. 

Thanks everyone! I've included the recipe for the Musician's Tart Below but let me know if you'd like any of the other ones. 

Fruit Filling:
1 cup dried pears, cored, coarsely chopped  (4 ounces)
1 cup pitted dates, halved
1/3 cup fruit juice
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 

Nut Topping:
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup pine nuts (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup dry roasted cashew nuts
1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream

Pie Crust:
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 T sugar
8 T butter (cold)

3-4 T water (cold)

For the Fruit Filling:
    - Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
    - Reduce heat and simmer 1 minute
    - Puree mixture in food processor to thick paste. Cool completely (at least an hour)

For the Pie Crust:
    - Mix flour, sugar, salt in a food processor for 2-3 seconds. Add the butter and then pulse quickly 4-5 times or until the butter is crumbled in and the whole things has the consistency of cornmeal
    - Gradually add enough cold water to bring together (2-3 tablespoons). When you grab a handful of dough and squeeze you should be able to see your palm prints on it. Additionally, it should pull away easily but not flake or crumble away. 
    - Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight or 30 minutes.
    - Roll dough out to desired thickness on a floured surface. Place onto tart dish. Pick up the sides and let the middle fall into place before pushing it into form in the pan. 
    - Tuck the edges up and either press with a fork or scallop the edges. 
    - Perforate the bottom of the crust with fork. Cover with parchment. Fill parchment 'bowl' with beans or rice and cook in a 350 oven for 12-15 minutes or until light golden brown.
    - Remove beans/rice and parchment from crust and let cool. 

For the nut topping:
   - Cook first 3 ingredients in heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
   - Increase heat and bring to a boil
   - Boil vigorously one minute. Remove from the heat.
   - Add nuts and cream 
To Assemble Tart:
   - Spread fruit filling thickly (about 1/2 of an inch) into the bottom of the tart pan. 
   - Add the nut/caramel filling to the top until tart is full. 
   - Place in the oven on a cookie sheet and bake about 20 minutes.
   - Remove from the oven and the tart pan and place on a wire rack and cool 10 minutes. 

Marscapone Cream
   - 4 oz Marscapone cheese, room temperature
   - 3 T heavy cream
   - 2 T confectioner's sugar
- Blend all ingredients together with beater or a stand-up mixture until light and fluffy. 


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Privileged Resolution

As indicated in my introductory statement, the Partisan Plate is a place that I hope will entertain you, invoke your curiosity, and satiate your appetite for all things culinary and political. Given my penchant for literary self-indulgence however, I expect there will be times (like today) when I stray beyond the sphere of the practical discourse and into that precarious realm of opinion. 

Today the House GOP Leadership proved once again that it lacks one of the most basic elements of any publicly elected body- the ability to govern effectively. I do not mean to say that the Democratic Party is without faults (if I ever do say such a thing I implore you to stop reading this immediately as I will have proven myself intellectually inept). The difference between the Democrats and the GOP is that the GOP has what could to some be called malicious intent as far as the United States Government is concerned. It’s not that they wish any harm on the American people or that they hope any radical changes will befall the Republic (indeed they cling to the US Constitution as though it handed down on Mt. Sinai). Rather, the very heart of conservatism is the belief that government is an invasive weed that, unless regularly pruned by the People, will suffocate the freedom that they believe to be the only essential lifeblood of our country.
Today’s government therefore, riddled as it is with such cancerous roots as social safety nets, equal rights protections, and food and environmental safety provisions, must be hacked at – and hacked at – until we can all rest easy that money, and the pursuit therein, will dictate the course of our nation’s future.

That is… if you’re a Republican.

Democrats have overseen the greatest leaps in national evolution that this country has ever taken. A progressive income tax, the establishment of National Parks system, the end of Social Darwinism, a lasting peace with Europe, Social Security, the end of segregation, fair pay for women, Medicare, putting a man on the Moon, the regulation of unchecked financial leveraging by Wall St., and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – just to name a few. Had the Republican Party been in charge, the Social Security Administration would never have been dreamt of, much less established. If Social Security had never existed and were pitched on the floor of the House of Representatives today, Ronald Reagan would be rolling over in his grave. The very idea that the government should mandate its citizens to give over part of their paycheck for insurance against a national or individual economic crisis would be as egregious to the GOP as striking the first amendment.

Today, their great battle is being waged against raising the debt ceiling. Never mind that George W. Bush pushed this country into a massive military engagement halfway around the world that has cost the federal government nearly 30 billion dollars a month. Never mind that he cut taxes on the wealthiest of Americans and widened the income gap to an extent that has not been seen since the Gilded Age. Never mind that in one year controlling the government the Republicans squandered a budget surplus that took eight years to build.

Never mind that under their watch, this nation slipped into the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Apparently the GOP doesn’t mind leaving the United States in pieces as long as they can rely on the short memory of the American people to forget who got them their in the first place and use whatever is politically expedient to continue to get themselves elected and keep the coffers of their Wall St. friends fat to the point of bursting.

It is this hypocrisy that brings me full circle to my reason for writing this post. For all their whining and crying about the ‘bloated’ and ‘wasteful’ spending of this Democratic Administration, it is the House GOP Leadership who decided today, in all their wisdom, to call members back to Washington, DC this coming Monday (7/18) instead of the previously announced Tuesday (7/19). The end result of this last minute, unnecessary change, is that members and their staff will be scrambling to book flights 72 hours in advance. For those of you keeping score, that equates to roughly a 50% uptick in the cost of airline travel, which is paid for at your taxpayer expense.  Not to mention the general cost of maintaining operations in the Capitol and the House office buildings. What are we voting on next Monday? Good question. So far the answer is…. Umm…. Post office re-namings. Downright hypocrisy or simple ineffectual governance? You decide.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

H.Res 71086- A Resolution in Honor of Kate's 25th Birthday

Before I endeavor to discuss my most recent dinner party, I'd like to provide for your political appetites, the following article from HuffingtonPost. I'd like to re-title it: "Obama Channels President Josiah Bartlet"

This past weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a small dinner party with my closest friends here in DC. My best friend from college returned once again to the city from whence she came (her returns are much like the arrival of a favorite celebrity to us few who constantly lament her absence).

In honor of this event and to have the opportunity to cook for a couple of my other close friends, I embarked on an afternoon-long kitchen adventure. Let me say up front that in my haste to put everything together (and my lack of practice at this blogging thing) I forgot to take pictures of anything as I went along. I promise to do better in future. The menu was as follows:

Evening's Menu

  • Bruschetta
  • Caesar Salad
  • Fettuccine Alfredo
  • Grilled Salmon with Lemon and Dill
  • Grilled Portobellos Marinated in Red Pepper Worcestershire Sauce
  • Garlic Sauteed Spinach
  • Tiramisu

My favorite: Fettuccine Alfredo. I'm already craving it again.

Not having the capacity (yet) to work miracles, I took a half day off of work in order to have enough time to actually complete the meal in time for the arrival of my guests. Fortunately I had completed my grocery shopping for the basics the night before and only needed to pick up the things that you just can't get a day in advance (namely the baguette and the fresh eggs for the caesar and tiramisu). I also had the additional foresight to have picked up savoiardi (lady fingers) from our local italian grocer the previous week when I stopped off for fresh pizza dough.  As a result I had time to hit the gym and then dive into putting together my tiramisu. I'm including the recipe below because after several attempts at other recipes I decided to just try the one on the back of the Bellino Savoiardi package and it was a great success (if you can get past a raw-egg phobia which I highly recommend doing).

After successfully constructing the world's largest Tiramisu (I put it in a large glass baking dish that took up half of a shelf in my refrigerator), I started on the bruschetta. By the time I had the bruschetta completed and the table set I was left with just enough time to shower, put the pasta on to boil, and start a multi-tasking masterpiece of cooking up the salmon and the mushrooms just in time for guests to arrive.

Steam-grilled Salmon with Lemon and Dill
A few tricks I employed:

     - I don't have the luxury of a grill in my apartment building (though I have just purchased a grill pan which I am excited about), so I improvised. By placing a broiler pan top (like a cookie sheet with slats in the bottom) and turning on two of the gas burners I was able to replicate a grill. This works best with dry things like hot dogs or vegetables, but if you want to branch out you can put down some tin foil. For the salmon, I wrapped lemon and dill and salmon filets into tin foil packets and grilled them up right on the burner. For the mushrooms I simply placed them on small tin foil squares to allow the smoke of the flame to work it's way in.

Portobellos with Mozzarella 
    - I made up the Caesar dressing about an hour in advance-- just enough time to still be fresh but not so much time that the eggs went south (obviously I kept it in the refrigerator)

    - Mandolin the tomatoes for the Bruschetta. I did 5 plum tomatoes in about 2 minutes. Perfect slices

    - I fine-chopped about 7 garlic cloves and put them in a ramequin in advance so I didn't have to do that at the last minute.

    - I clean as I go. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Cleaning as you go is the only way to actually enjoy a meal at the end of your labor. Otherwise you finish and walk into a disaster kitchen. When you finish eating you should only have plates to do. Also, make sure you run the dishwasher mid-stride so that you have ROOM for the dishes at the end and don't have to hand-wash them

Needless to say I made about 52 times more food than anyone could possibly consume. I sent a lot home with people and kept a bit for myself but still had more than I knew what to do with-- better too much than too little!

My apologies for the crooked photo- I was trying to angle the whole thing into the frame... fail.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Government Pork... Not as Palatable as Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

In the last 3-4 years we've heard a lot about 'pork' in the government. Pork, properly known as earmarked appropriations has been a favorite subject of ridicule from the right. If you become (as I hope you will) an avid reader of this blog, you'll hear me talk at length about what I find to be one of the most insurmountable problems for liberals. Namely, that most Americans prefer to receive their information and form their opinions based simplified concepts. For this reason, 'pork' is the perfect target because it is so easy to spin as excessive, secretive government spending. In truth, it is not only a drop in the bucket in discretionary spending, but it has the potential to be the MOST transparent of the appropriations. Some offices (the commendable ones) have posted their earmark applications online, and requested that those organizations and municipalities requesting earmarks, record a short video explaining it's impact to the community which is also posted on the web. If the goal therefore, is for so-called 'transparency', earmarks should be held up as a demonstration of citizens, local governments, and organizations working together with their Members of Congress to direct government spending in the most appropriate way.

Far be it from my to expound on earmarking and appropriations procedure-- I leave that to you to read about if you haven't already. Suffice it to say that the argument over 'pork' is just another in a long series of misguided attempts on the part of the right to oversimplify the work of American government in an attempt to drag arguments down to such intellectually low level that only the most outrageous assumptions can prevail.

All this is to say that today's assertion is that Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Dried Fruit and Herbs, unlike government 'pork', is probably something we can all agree on.

Last night I embarked on the first of three Intermediate/Advanced level culinary courses at the Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Maryland. I won't go into detail about the school itself or my review of their courses yet (I'll leave that until I've completed the first of these three), but I'll take some time now to talk about my most recent foray into the land of the delectable.

Dried Fruit and Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
with Chive Oil and Citrus Gastrique
Potatoe and  Herb Galette
Chocolate Souffle

Dried Fruit and Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin Served with Chive Oil 
(see below for all menus and instructions)

Of the three dishes we made at L'Academie de Cuisine, this one was the greatest success. The menu itself is simple. In fact, it was in many ways more simple than I would have preferred, seeking to expand my already fairly solid culinary knowledge base. Nonetheless, I picked up a few good tips. They are as follows:

    - Silver Skin. Silver skin is the part of the fat/sinew that you can't pull away with your hands off the tenderloin. You have to pull it away with a knife (a sharp paring knife works best), starting under the fat and working out.
    - Shitaki mushrooms, though not an obvious choice, are a solid option as a binder for the dried fruit and herbs in the stuffing. Unlike bread crumbs or egg wash, the shitakes gave the stuffing a hearty-without-being-heavy quality.
   - Trussing. Trussing is not particularly easy when done properly. The quick easy way to do it is just to tie several strings around the tenderloin in circles. The trickier, more proper (holds together better) way, is to truss the tenderloin using a slip knot to hook the first loop, and then proceeding to just loop circles around the tenderloin all the way through to the end, tying it off with the second-to-last and the last loops. (I know that sounds complicated but it's not).

  - Sear seam-side-down so that the juices sear the edges of the stuffing/pork together, and present opposite-seam side up. 

End result- DELICIOUS.

Apricots, shitakes, cherries, mustard, thyme and parsley... yummm

Potatoe and Herb Galette
(Let me know if you want the recipe)

I'm not going to spend much time on this one. I generally think the recipe was bad. Even the Chef's presentation of it didn't look very good, and the recipe doesn't really work. Putting that many potatoes into a pan with light oil creates potatoes-stuck-to-the-pan which means flipping is impossible and the end result is a slightly browned edges potato pancake with an ugly gray interior. Also-- it doesn't plate well.

It looked a lot better before it got cooked....

Citrus Gastrique
(Let me know if you want recipe)

So this one is just funny. At L'academie de cuisine, you work in pairs. Because I was busy scraping burned potatoes off the bottom of the galette pan, my partner took the lead on the gastrique (seemingly a very simple task of combining vinegar, citrus and sugar and reducing by 50%). Unfortunately my partner completely overcooked/overheated the gastrique and it candied. We tried to plate it but it was literally hard candy by the time we got it off the burner. Oops. Second oops was that he stuck his finger in it and burned himself (I felt bad.... cooking classes are supposed to be fun).

Just before it turned to citrus candy....

Chocolate Souffle
(See recipe below)

Of all the recipes we tackled, this was the one I was most looking forward to. As it turns out, souffle is actually absurdly easy to make if you have a basic knowledge of cooking and how egg yolks and whites work. Unfortunately, I had a slight mishap with this one too (NOT MY FAULT!) You'll probably read later that my only criticism of the classes so far is that the chef sort of breezes over the instructions. I think that's generally fine if you know how to cook, but when the class is supposed to cut the recipe in half, it might be worth repeating. Needless to say I didn't hear him when he said that, and I think I ultimately ended up putting in one too few egg whites. The end result is that my souffle didn't rise enough. I'm eager to tackle it again though....

All in all, a very enjoyable experience. I loved getting to meet new people, try new recipes, and generally do what I love. I'm very eager for the next class. Thank you all for your support!

Dried Fruit and Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin (4 servings)

1 whole Pork Tenderloin- 1-1/5 lb
1 T mustard (dijon, whole grain, or whatever you prefer)
1-2 tsp light oil (canola)
2 T Shallots
2 Garlic Cloves
2 cups mushrooms (shitake is a good choice)
2 T dried fruit (we used apricots, dried cherries, dried blueberries)
2 T Fresh herbs (we used parsley and thyme)
Salt and Pepper
2-3 Feet butcher's twine
2 T White Wine (this is ESSENTIAL. Seriously. Don't leave it out)
4 T Stock (chicken or whatever you have on hand)
1 tsp butter

Preheat oven to 425.

   - Heat a pan over medium-high heat.
   - Add garlic and shallots and sautee briefly
   - Add the dried fruit and herbs and cook until just soft
   - Add 3/4 of the white wine and 3/4 of the stock
   - Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool enough to stuff the meat without it cooking the meat.

    - Remove all the loose fat
    - Remove silver skin (follow directions above)
    - Butterfly the pork using a paring knife to thin out the thick parts
    - Place meat between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with either a mallet or a heavy bottomed pot (I recommend a pot).
     - Unwrap the meat and season with salt and pepper. Spread mustard onto the top. Add stuffing (enough to fill but not so much that it will fall out when you roll the meat).
      - "Roll" the meat. This really just means fold one side over so that they meet at the other end. It will turn into a 'roll' when you truss the meat.
      - 'Truss' the meat (see above)
      - Seer on medium-high heat, seam-side down and brown slightly. Turn meat over and brown on other side. Turn over again and finish in over 8-12 minutes or until meat is 155*.
     - Remove meat from pan and put under tin foil until ready to eat. De-glaze pan over medium heat with remaining wine and stock and scrape brownings. Pour over the top of the meat.
      - Ready to eat!

Chocolate Souffle

2 T Butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for coating the ramequins
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract or orange liqueur
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
Pinch of Cream of Tartar

- Preheat oven to 400*
- Coat the inside of the ramequins with butter. Add light sugar and tap bowl to ensure even spread. Sugar acts as the ball bearings to allow the souffle to rise.
- Melt the chocolate and remaining butter over medium-low double boiler until JUST melted. Do not.. I repeat DO NOT overheat.. it will separate the chocolate. When chocolate is just about melted, add flavoring (vanilla or liqueur)
- Beat the 4 egg yolks with remaining sugar until a canary yellow color
- Add 1/3 of the yolk/sugar mixture to the chocolate to temper. Fold in. Add remaining 2/3 and fold in.
- Beat the egg whites in a completely clean mixing bowl until soft peaks. Add 1/3 to chocolate mixture, folding carefully in (streaks are A-okay). Add chocolate mixture to remaining egg whites and fold together (again, you want to LEAVE streaks).
- Separate into ramequins. Leave about 1/4-1/2 inch of room at the top of each ramequin.
- Bake for 14-17 minutes or until doubled in height. Do not allow them to crack more than just a tiny tiny bit or they will deflate.
- Remove from over, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The House will Come to Order

Welcome to the first posting of my first attempt at a blog. I hesitate to call it strictly a food blog, though the culinary arts will certainly be the driving content. It is my hope to mix my two great passions into one self-indulgent literary exercise -- politics and food. Before I came to Washington I toyed with the idea of going to culinary school. Ultimately I was drawn to the magnetic and seductive power source that is the U.S Capitol to embark on my political future.

If Washington, DC is two different places, Washington, and the District of Columbia, then my experience in this coexisting town has been as follows: Washington is for politics, the District of Columbia is a rising star in the culinary culture in the United States. In full disclosure, I may be particularly aware of this because my close friend grew up here, and my roommate is a professional food and culture writer here in DC.

It's my hope therefore, to post about not only my cooking and kitchen adventures, but a little bit about my thoughts on the happenings in Washington.