Friday, 5 April 2013

Living a Foodie Kind of Life: Boston, Sunday (3/24)

After attending Mass at St Mary of the Assumption, Jillian met up with me at the church and we headed to Trader Joe's and Stop & Shop to purchase ingredients for the menu we had been building with Christina since Friday evening. (An aside: the stark difference between the two sites offers quite an interesting comparative case study in terms of the access, availability and value of food across lines of difference.) In the end, we got most everything on our list, except for the important ingredient for my signature finale course. No matter.. As The Next Iron Chef competitions have demonstrated over the years, adaptability and improvisation are among the essential traits one should aim to hone. On our French-inspired menu: salade Niçoise, coq au vin, plat aux fromages, and brownie avec caramel salé et bacon. This being said, allez cuisine !

Okay, so we didn't complete our meal in an hour, but we also weren't timing ourselves. Prepping and cooking at a relaxing pace on such a wonderful Sunday afternoon, we did surprise ourselves in finishing the bulk of our time in the kitchen in about 90 minutes. To start things off, as most great meals tend to start, we cooked a pound of bacon, making sure to reserve the rendered bacon fat and of course snack on nature's candy while we prepped the rest of the meal. As that was going, the oven was being preheated to 350°F, a pot of water was coming up to a boil for red skin potatoes, and a pot containing a tablespoon or two of water and about 1.25 c granulated sugar (if you have corn syrup, use 2 T and reduce the granulated sugar to 1 c) was being brought to a boil. Bone-in chicken thighs were also being patted down to remove excess moisture, seasoned with freshly ground pepper, and then browned in about 3 T of the rendered bacon fat (this is where the salt and additional seasoning naturally comes from), as the ingredients for the brownie base of my salted caramel bacon brownies were coming together in a bowl over another pot.

Meanwhile, and in an attempt to purposefully prepare and plate the coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine, usually red) in an atypical manner, the typical ingredients of the coq au vin (carrot, onion and potatoes) were being uniformly petite diced by Christina and then cooked together in a fry pan with about 1 T rendred bacon fat and 2 T red wine until fork tender.

Once diced, the ingredients for the Niçoise salad (tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, red onion, and potatoes) were chopped in turn; and with so many pots and pans going at one time, the green beans were microwaved in a touch of water on a plate until they were al dente. In addition, a vinaigrette based on this recipe was pulled together by Jillian using extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, a diced shallot, and dried thyme, basil and oregano. And if I recall correctly, some heavy cream was being whipped to soft peaks and then placed in the fridge.

Back to the stove: After the chicken thighs had browned on both sides (about 5-7 minutes on each), these were transferred to a baking dish. With the any remaining fat poured out, the pan was deglazed with about 1/3 a standard size bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, cooked down for a minute or so and then poured around the chicken. To the baking dish, about 3-4 T of the veggie hash were added. All of this was then covered in tin foil and placed in the oven to finish cooking (about 30 minutes, at which point we turned off the oven and left it in there to stay warm). Next time around, I'll have to remember to cut some slits in the foil so the chicken skin could remain crispy.

In the pan the veg had been cooked, the rest of the Cab Sauv was poured in and left alone to cook down with 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, until the reduction successfully coated the back of a spoon.

And while all of that was going, the sugar had earlier started changing colour. Since we neglected to get sour cream, we upped the heavy cream to 3/4 c (instead of the usual 1/2 c) and whisked this in off the heat (i.e., turn the heat off from under the pot) as soon as the sugar had turned golden brown. To this, about 1.5 T coarse salt was added. With the salted caramel now finished, this was layered with the brownie batter and crumbled bacon and put into the oven to bake. Depending on how deep your baking dish is, this can take anywhere from 25-40 minutes. If you carefully nudge the dish and the center doesn't move, the brownie's ready to come out of the oven. This was quickly replaced by a baguette we were crisping up for our cheese course, which was taken out of the oven after about 10 minutes or so; meanwhile the cheeses were being sliced for the tray.

With all of these different components prepped and ready to go, we were ready to start plating and eating. First up was our take on Niçoise salad, with Champs Elysées greens (not making that one up) as our base, canned Albacore tuna at its center, the various veggies that had been chopped, freshly grated carrot for extra crunch and colour, and the light vinaigrette to dress it all up. Texturally diverse and flavourful, the brightness of this otherwise simple salad matched the clear skies in Boston that day and was a great opener to the courses to follow.

Course number two was our take on coq au vin. Restrained in portion control (given the number of courses we had planned), the chicken was fall off the bone tender and picked up on the saltiness from the rendered bacon fat, as well as the deep, distinct flavour from being cooked in red wine and some slight heat from the red wine and black pepper reduction. As anticipated, one of my favourite components of the meal--inspired to an extent from my veggie experience at La Morra's on Thursday--was the onion, potatoes and carrot hash. Sweet and with a soft bite to each piece, this along with finely crumbled bacon, added a great textural contrast to the texture of the chicken and balanced the savoury quality of the sauce.

It's been a while since I remember partaking in a cheese course as part of a set menu (domestically, anyway), and so I was especially looking forward to this one, and definitely after knowing which cheeses would be making an appearance. On this plate, we had the Franche-Comtoise Comté (my favourite), the Basque Etorki (Jillian's favourite), a smooth goat cheese and a Swiss cheese (the arguably more familiar relative to Emmantaler). Contrasting the smoothness of the cheese and their similar though distinct flavour profiles, we enjoyed all of these with cashews and the crisped baguette.

Just before we got too full, we ended with an unusually large (debatable, though an oftentimes sufficient and perhaps more accurate serving size is a 1" square) slice of the salted caramel brownies which had been encircled by even more of the delicious salted caramel and crumbled bacon for added textural contrast, and topped off with a dollop of the whipped cream. I've had this one too many times (also debatable) in my young cooking career, and I know I'm extremely biased when I say this: but, oh.my.yum.

Looks like Willow needed a nap, too.
Well, and if we weren't full before the brownie, we definitely were full after course 4. And before we could justifiably even think of formally concluding this meal, we all took a well-deserved break from the table. (Oof, I have no idea how we got away with not taking such breaks when we were studying in Paris.)

After another brownie serving a few hours later, we were able to conclude this wonderfully relaxing culinary experience with a new take on my version of hot chocolate. Having survived such an experience, I think we may very well be on the road to entering Kitchen Stadium, no? Though, it'd mean we'd have to cook 5-course meals more often to adequately prepare for battle. Anyone else want to join the team?

For these and even more photos of Sunday afternoon cookery, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment