Thursday, April 27, 2006

Roast Pork Filet Mignon

I have to widen my savory repertoire. Because sadly when guests come I can't just feed them dessert.

So when my parents-in-law came to visit, I looked for a simple but high-impact recipe.

This roast pork filet mignon came out well, wasn't difficult to make, and pleased our guests. At the same time, I hesitated to post the recipe. Because really, when you cook a fairly expensive ingredient, then of course the result will be good. The only credit I deserve is for not ruining this prime cut of meat. I would be truly proud of my cooking if I had taken ordinary food and made something special out of it.

But anyway, here is a tasty and easy to make dish for a special occasion. With guests around I didn't have time for well thought-out pictures, but such is the challenge of the food blog.

Recipe: Roast Pork Filet Mignon
Source: Marie Claire Recettes Vite Prêtes (with recipes by Donna Hay)

For 2 people (I doubled quantities to serve 4):

- 12 to 14 slices pancetta (or prosciutto)
I used a combination of some kind of bacon I found at the supermarket and prosciutto
- 350-400 g filet of pork
Filet mignon seems to be very long and thin. The piece I had was only about 580g but it was plenty for four people.
- 1 apple, sliced thinly
I left the skin on as the photo seemed to show it was still on, and cut out the core of the slices after slicing the apple horizontally
- 2 tspn oil
I used olive oil.
- 2 tspn sage leaves

Preheat oven to 220°C.

1. Wrap the pork meat in pancetta.

2. Place the slices of apples in an oven-proof dish and lay the roast on top. I took my largest rectangular glass dish and was barely able to fit the long thin meat in the diagonal of the dish. I'm sure it's OK to make the roast curl around if your dish isn't big enough.

3. Sprinkle with oil, sage and pepper. I added the oil after the sage to try to get the crispy sage leaves the photo in the book displayed. I also slipped a few sage leaves between the roast and the apples. I wasn't familiar with sage prior to this recipe, but I do like the scent it gives to food: a little gentler but similar to thyme?

4. Bake in the oven 12 to 15 minutes, or until the meat is cooked to your liking. The photo in the book shows a pinkish interior, which is what I achieved after 15 minutes of baking. I took a peek at 12 minutes. It's fairly easy to make a discreet slice between two bacon strips -- though maybe my slice wasn't so discreet, as I can see it in the foreground of this photo.

Update Dec. 2007: I've looked this up many times since so I thought I might as well update my post: for those of you with thermometers, you want an internal temperature of 70°C (160°F), though I think this may still be a little high as the meat continues cooking after you take it out of the oven.

5. Move to serving dish. I lifted the roast off the apples, placed the apples in a serving dish and placed the roast back on the apples in the dish.

6. Make thick slices and serve on an arugula lettuce. The book doesn't say whether to season the lettuce. I forget if I did or not. If I did, it would only have been a few drops of balsamic vinegar or lemon and a few drops of olive oil.

7. Serve roasted garlic-flavored mashed potatoes as a side dish.

Recipe: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
From the same source as above.

I thought the garlic flavor would be overpowering but it was quite discreet after all.

Drizzle half a head of garlic with oil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until it becomes soft. Squeeze garlic out of its skin. Boil some peeled and chopped mealy potatoes, until tender. Mash the potatoes, and add butter, salt, cream and most of the roasted garlic. I don't have a tool for pureeing potatoes so I used an Italian-style food-mill, which makes very fluffy pototatoes, provide you place the disk right side up. I didn't, but was able to correct the situation without too much mess. Check seasoning, and add salt, butter or garlic as needed. I think I lengthened the mashed potatoes with hot milk.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ice Cream

The good thing about making your own ice cream is you can have exactly the flavor you want, with no chemical add-ins, and at a fraction of the price of the gourmet commercial variety.

The bad thing is you are acutely aware of what goes into it, and you can't pretend you're enjoying a light dessert.

It's really easy to make ice cream, once you get over the fear of curdling the eggs (if you make custard style ice cream). Oh and of course, if you have an ice cream maker. I always found it frustrating reading recipes that rely on a piece of equipment I don't have. Ice cream recipes used to fall into that category, until on a whim I bought this machine. It's hard to go out and buy this kind of toy if you don't think you'll use it often. Ice cream is popular in this home so I don't regret buying the machine.

So far I've tested chocolate with caramelized almonds, raspberry sorbet, vanilla, and butter pecan. Butter pecan has been my most successful flavor so far, with chocolate as a close second. The brown sugar gives a warm caramel backdrop to the toasted and slightly salted pecan pieces. If you toast them a tad too long, as I did here, the flavor becomes almost that of coffee ice cream.

Recipe: Butter pecan ice cream

Original source: Gourmet magazine, from Epicurious, but I made some changes.

- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 1/2 tbspn butter
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 cup brown sugar (try less?)
I used the European variety, the darkest I could get in a health food store
- 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
I forgot to include cornstarch once but added an extra egg yolk, and the result was fine
- 4 eggs
I was surprised, as most recipes seem to rely on yolks more than whole eggs, but this seems to work. Still, in the ice cream pictured here I used two or three whole eggs (I forget) and two egg yolks
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 packs vanilla sugar
Because I can't get vanilla extract in this country. If you can, use 3/4 tsp vanilla.

Preheat oven to 350°F. (176° C)

Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until fragrant and a shade darker, 7 to 8 minutes. If you can smell them before 7 minutes taste to make sure they don't overcook.

Add butter and salt to hot pecans and toss until butter is melted, then cool pecans completely (they will absorb butter).

Chill and even freeze before using. Add-ins for ice cream should always be as cold as possible for the best possible texture ice cream.

Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs, whisking until combined.

Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat.

Add to egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly, and transfer custard to saucepan.

Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170 to 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let boil). If you don't have a thermometer, which I didn't at first, then really don't cook longer than 2 minutes. It goes surprisingly quickly and you don't want to overcook the eggs.

Immediately pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve (I don't bother with this step) into a bowl and stir in vanilla, then cool, stirring occasionally. If you're using vanilla sugar, you may want to put it in a bit earlier so it dissolves properly.

Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper (I just put plastic wrap over the top of the bowl, and ignored the slight skin that formed on top of the cream), until cold, at least 3 hours. Though from what I've read overnight is best.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker until almost done. (A good 45 min in my little ice cream maker).

Add the pecans just before the end of freezing time, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden for a few hours (at least one, maybe a bit more if you don't like soft ice cream).

As with all home-made ice cream, it has the best texture when eaten the day it is made. If you keep it for a few days, let it soften in the refrigerator for half an hour, or at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Nice Cup of Coffee

Eight in the morning. The best time of the day: I have the apartment to myself, and my official work day hasn't started yet.

Time for my second cup of coffee. I wish I had some home-baked snack to go with it. These were madeleines I baked (and ate) a few days ago. I'm still searching for the perfect recipe, but these work pretty well. And so quick to make, I could (almost) bake a batch right now. In time for that cup of coffee.

Recipe: Madeleines

From a comparison of many recipes. They vary a lot.

For about 18 madeleines:
- 2 eggs
- 100g brown or white sugar
I used brown sugar for this recipe. Although this was European brown sugar, not sure what it would do with American brown sugar. The brown sugar is not traditional, but I love its flavor. I've tried with less sugar, but they are not as pleasantly crisp on the outside.
- Grated zest of one lemon
or vanilla extract or "fleur d'oranger" essence
- 125 g flour
I use about 30g wholegrain and the rest all purpose. Again, this is not traditional, but it soothes my conscience to think there is some nutrition in them when I give these to my children as a snack...
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
I put in a little less than 1/4 tsp and it was too much
- 125 g butter

Mix eggs, sugar and lemon zest. Mix flour, salt and baking powder in another bowl or in the measuring cup, then stir gently into eggs and sugar. Add melted butter and fold in gently. (I'm not sure why the butter gets added after the flour, but many recipes seem to recommend it). Fill madeleine molds 2/3 full, and bake in preheated 180° oven for about 10 minutes.

- If you use a metal mold, you have to butter and flour it first. No need to do so with a silicone mold, which is what I used.
- Madeleines taste best the day they are made. You can store them in an airtight box but they will lose their crisp exterior.

* * *

OK. I just broke down and went and made another batch. Just to check the recipe. It took me half an hour, including clean up and baking time. Mmmm, time to enjoy my coffee (and to get to work!)...

I froze half the recipe in madeleines-sized portions, ready to bake for when company comes over. I'll add an update to this post to say if the frozen dough produces good madeleines.
Update May 2006: freezing the dough works well. I let the madeleines defrost in their silicone molds while the oven preheats, then pop them in. Perhaps they bake a minute or two longer, and their shape is a little less elongated, but the taste and texture are excellent.

Oh and about the coffee above: yes, we broke down and got a Nespresso machine (second hand). I hate being locked into buying their expensive pods, but the coffee is good. And fun to make. We're enjoying our slavery...

Monday, April 03, 2006

I Make My Own Stock?!

And now, for something a little less appetizing...

To give a bit more credibility to my cooking expertise -- yes, baking is 90% of what I do, but I can cook a whole meal -- I've decided to launch into the more macho exercise of demonstrating how to make stock.

Let me rephrase that. This is how I make stock. And I'm still too busy getting over the fact I make stock from scratch to research whether my method is correct. (Comments welcome).

But I'm serious, I've actually stopped using bouillon cubes and now I just grab some from the freezer whenever I need to lengthen a soup or a sauce, or make a risotto. Amazing. To me at least.

This is how I do it.

My recipe for making stock

1. Throw leftovers in the freezer as you go.
I plop them into a ziploc bag marked "for making stock" which resides permanently in the freezer. These leftovers usually include:
- Chicken bones (we eat a lot of roast chickens in this family). I'll even use the chicken skin.
- Carrots
- Broccoli or asparagus stems (not sure these are appropriate for a stock, but I never seem to have the more traditional celery on hand.) (Update May 23rd: I've been told these might be too bitter if stock is reduced a lot. See comments.)
- Herbs that have wilted in the fridge (but I don't actually let them rot, let's get that straight).
Do mark the bag clearly, or you will have an unpleasant surprise the next time you rumage through your freezer for ideas for dinner. ("Ugh, what's this?")

2. Throw these leftovers into a big pot adding:
- An onion or two, roughly chopped without peeling
- A garlic clove
- A bay leaf
- Some pepper corns
- More carrots or carrot peel (is that OK?) or whatever veggie you have on hand

3. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Update: bringing the stock to a boil should be very slow, as I've been told (see comments).

4. Let simmer for a few hours.
Two hours? Three? Whatever fits my schedule. In this photo it simmered for 2 1/2 hours. I know you're supposed to skim scum off the top as you go. I don't. I'm not sure if it's really necessary as skimming happens at the end anyway. I guess I would get a clearer broth if I did, but clarity is not my priority, only flavor. Every now and then I stir a little, and press down on anything sticking out of the water.

5. Pour the broth through a sieve into a clean bowl.
I have to fish out the big pieces first, or my little sieve overflows. Throw out any solid items.

6. Cool the broth. I let the bowl sit covered on a window sill overnight. I would refrigerate but at this point it's usually late in the evening and the broth is too hot for the fridge. I often put it in the fridge a few hours later if I happen to get up for baby duty. If not, I could always re-boil the broth the next day if I'm concerned about bacteria developing. In theory. (Update: the window sill is OK only if it's a cold winter night. If not, cool in a sink filled with water and ice and refrigerate asap. Thanks Chuck for this advice)

7. The next morning, skim scum and fat off
and discard (yikes, that doesn't make for a pretty photo, I'll shrink it but you can click on it if you're determined to ruin your appetite...)

8. Warm up the broth to make it liquid again. It can be a bit gelatinous at this point.

9. Pour it into silicone muffin molds
-- any shape, in my case stars, hearts or cannelé shapes... yes I'm a baker, and I have a thing for cutesy molds or cookie cutters. The silicone makes it easy to pop out the ice cubes.

10. Place the muffin molds on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer.

11. Transfer to a plastic bag once they're frozen solid. At this point I really should date and label the bag, but I usually don't.

Et voilà. I now have portions of stock ready for use whenever I need them.

Wow, 11 steps. I still can't get over I bother with all that. I think I get a lot of satisfaction out of using leftovers. And the apartment smells delicious. And yes, I find the taste is better than bouillon cubes.

Which by the way, contain ingredients such as dehydrogenated fat, monosodium glutamate, chicken powder, and antioxidants mix. Source. There's no way my greenish-looking broth can be worse than that!

One last thought: as I make this I always think of the tale of nail soup. Brief excerpt:
"And thank you for teaching me how to make soup with a nail," she said, "because now that I know how, I shall always live in comfort."
"That's all right," said the tramp. "It's easy if you remember to add something good to it."