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). 

Crepes 



Ingredients

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

Directions

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. 


video



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.