well, this is it, the halfway point. i feel excited and a bit relieved. its not going quickly but it is going.
with this being the midway point, i wanted to do something a little special. a little fancier, something to knock the socks off so to speak. my efforts to this end were two-fold. first off, as far as the menu, i opted for a few dishes that aren’t exactly everyday fare. this week i made a Brie en croute, Ratatouille on the side and for the main, a take-off from a faux maki that i found online using beef as the outer roll. not sure what to call it but it turned out quite nice. For the second departure, i decided to wait for all the prep until after Eddie arrived, to give a full demonstration of the process, start to finish. it was nice to roll through the steps, to verbalize them and to give reasons why each step was done the way it was done. in some ways, this reinforced my confidence in my techniques and gave me a bit of a mental boost.
I identified two key concepts that today’s prep revolved around. the first is the importance of a timeline when cooking multiple dishes that need to be ready at the same time. with more elaborate spreads, i use a whiteboard to identify the timing on key steps to make sure i keep on track. This is essential for large meals like Thanksgiving or larger dinner parties to make sure that your dishes are both ready on time and not ready too far ahead. a dish that sits is one that loses quality. every timeline that i make revolves around the prep/cook time of the dish that takes the longest. it sounds obvious but you need to remember it and focus on that when determining what time to start everything. you may remember me referring to a dish in past posts as my “long pole”, that is the dish that takes the longest and is either the most prep intensive or takes the most actual cooking time. once i’ve figured out what time to start this dish, based on prep time and the time i want to eat (usually about 30 minutes after i tell guests to arrive since no one ever shows up on time), i work backwards with the other dishes to fill in the time, subtracting the prep/cook time + 15 minutes wiggle room from plating time to determine the start time of each dish. it happens almost subconsciously with smaller meals like this one but takes a bit of planning with large meals.
the second key concept is the mise en place. this is basically laying out all the ingredients, tools and any other items needed to make your dishes. a well organized mise en place leads to smoother cooking processes. its much more important when you are cooking on a commercial scale but its a good habit for the home chef as well. i usually work with a partial mise en place, most of my items laid out and a few more that i dig for at the time of need either because they need to stay in the fridge or more likely because i forgot to get them out.
so, here is my mise en place for the three dishes i made this week:
ok, more than anything, i just have my ingredients laid out and my central area, pictured here in the Brie prep picture is my work station for todays meal. a nice clear area with your cutting board is essential for me in meal prep.
the long pole today was a split decision between the Ratatouille and the Brie. both take about 45 minutes but the Brie required some prep followed by some time in the freezer for the pastry to hold shape better so i started with it first. this gave me flexibility in building the Ratatouille while the Brie was chilling. The brie recipe was intended for an entire wheel of brie but given that it was intended for an audience of two, i scaled this back to individual cheese filled pastries, using a single sheet of puff pastry cut into six sections.
found at Epicurious.com
Mushroom stuffed Brie en Croute
1 small onion
1/2 pound mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
a 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
a chilled 14- to 17-ounce wheel Brie
1 large egg
Mince enough onion to measure 1/2 cup and finely chop mushrooms. In a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet cook onion in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add mushrooms, Sherry, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated. Cool mushroom mixture.
On a lightly floured surface roll out 1 sheet of pastry into a 13-inch square and, using Brie as a guide, cut out 1 round the size of the Brie. Cut out a mushroom shape from scraps for decoration.
Horizontally halve Brie. Roll out remaining sheet of pastry into a 13-inch square and transfer to a shallow baking pan. Center bottom half of Brie, cut side up, on pastry square and spread mushroom mixture on top. Cover mushroom mixture with remaining half of Brie, cut side down.
Without stretching pastry, wrap it snugly up over Brie and trim excess to leave a 1-inch border of pastry on top of Brie. In a small bowl lightly beat egg and brush onto border. Top Brie with pastry round, pressing edges of dough together gently but firmly to seal. Brush top of pastry with some egg and arrange pastry mushroom on it. Lightly brush mushroom with some egg, being careful not to let egg drip over edge of mushroom (which would prevent it from rising). With back of a sharp small knife gently score side of pastry with vertical marks, being careful not to cut through dough. Chill Brie, uncovered, 30 minutes. Brie may be made up to this point 1 day ahead and chilled, loosely covered.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Bake Brie in middle of oven until pastry is puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Let Brie stand in pan on a rack 15 minutes and transfer with a spatula to a serving
i modified this a bit by using a splash of marsala wine in place of the sherry, a combination of taste preference and this being what i had on the shelf. i also added 4 cloves of minced garlic to the mushroom mixture, personal preference again…
While the formed Brie pastries were chilling, i formed the Ratatouille. My original intention was to make this in my little corningware bowls in individual portions and then turn it out onto a baking pan to finish with some more parmesan under the broiler. this would have worked great with the exception that i was using my solitary pizza pan for the brie pastries and the bowls were way too hot to effectively manage a flip into any other type of container. so, i decided to just finish them as they were in the dishes and scooped them out onto the plates for serving. they were very cooperative and came out of the bowls whole and well formed so i have no complaints there. the recipe below is intended as a casserole, use your own preferences when making the dish. as i was making it as a layered formed dish, i sliced the eggplant thinly and did not precook it as in the recipe below. i also increased the seasonings, adding scant amounts of oregano, basil, majoram and cayenne pepper in the layers.
2 tablespoons Olive oil
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dried parsley
1 Eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt to taste
1 cup Grated Parmesan cheese
2 Zucchini, sliced
1 Large onion, sliced into rings
2 cups Sliced fresh mushrooms
1 Green bell pepper, sliced
2 Large tomatoes, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Coat bottom and sides of a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic until lightly browned. Mix in parsley and eggplant. Saute until eggplant is soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Spread eggplant mixture evenly across bottom of prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Spread zucchini in an even layer over top. Lightly salt and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Continue layering in this fashion, with onion, mushrooms, bell pepper, and tomatoes, covering each layer with a sprinkling of salt and cheese.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.
My inspiration for my beef main was Japanese Beef and Scallion Rolls from Epicurious but i decided to deviate in such a extreme manner that it really can’t be seen as the same dish anymore. you can follow the link to see the original but here is what i did:
pound flat a cut of flank steak and slice into two portions. you want this as flat as possible and vaguely rectangular.
meanwhile, blanch 4 green onions and two large julienne cut carrots of the same length as the green onions in briskly boiling water, removing the green onions after about 45 seconds and the carrot after 3 – 4 minutes when they begin to soften. transfer to a bowl of ice water to retain color and prevent further texture changes.
toss two stalks of asparagus with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil. pan roast in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat until blackened, turning to char all sides of the asparagus.
mince 4 cloves of garlic.
season the flattened steak with salt, pepper and just a hint of rosemary. place all your ingredients sushi-maki style on one edge of the meat and tightly roll. the original recipe called for these to be tied up in string which is probably a good idea. i improvised with some toothpicks to hold them together and it worked reasonably well.
fry the meat rolls over medium-high heat until all sides are cooked to desired level, around 5 – 6 minutes total.
let rest on a plate. while the meat is resting, deglaze the pan with a 1/2 cup of Bordeaux, cooking over medium-high to reduce the wine to a sauce consistency. slice the meat maki-style and drizzle a bit of sauce over top. serve and enjoy.
overall, i would say the meal turned out well. my biggest complaint is the quality of the cuts of meat available here at Osan. i should know after a few failures that you can’t get away with using a cheaper cut of meat because although a bashed the hell out of it, the meat still wasn’t very tender. the next beef dish i make, i will have to pony up for a more expensive cut. the only other criticism is that the brie overpowered the mushroom mixture and the subtlety of the filling was lost. i would probably opt for a milder cheese if/when i made the dish again.
Eddie brought a Mouton Cadet 2007 Bordeaux which was just what the doctor ordered for this meal. it was well balanced and tasty, definitely a wine i would have again.
with the leftover sheet of pastry, i made homemade pop tarts, going off the vague memories of seeing Alton Brown do so on an episode of Good Eats and recollections of my wife’s fruit compote recipe:
add frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar into a pan, bring to a boil and continue cooking on high until the mixture thickens. add a generous splash of vanilla extract. use your immersion blender to puree most of the strawberries leaving some chunks. cool the mixture
roll out the sheet of puff pastry to a thin layer on a lightly floured surface. cut into four rectangular pieces, twice as long as you want your pastries as you will be folding them over. spoon some strawberry compote over the middle of each pastry bottom part leaving a bit of space between the edge to seal it. sprinkle just a hint of fresh ground black pepper on top of the strawberry compote. fold over the other half of the pastry and crimp closed on all four sides with a fork. transfer to a cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes. try to save some to share.
unfortunately, no pictures exist of these pastries. i’m not sure what happened to them but by the time i thought of the camera, they were gone.