Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Weeks of Bistro Cooking

So I've been on vacation for these past two weeks. I lolled around, watched internet TV, and ate bonbons. But then I decided to return to an old project I had forgotten about - going through Patricia Wells' cookbook, "Bistro Cooking."

The first recipe I cooked was one I had tried before: Potato and Celery Root Gratin (Gratin de Pommes de Terre et de Celeri-Rave). Celery root is this prehistoric looking root vegetable that Dave and I found once at the Farmer's Market. It is very knobby on the outside and difficult to peel, and it has the texture of a radish but tastes like celery. This recipe incorporated tomatoes, creme fraiche (one of my favorite ingredients) and Gruyere cheese. The celery root lightens the gratin.

We had it with a simple salad of chicory dressed with red wine and olive oil.

I then tried Tante Paulette's Chicken Stew with Fennel and Saffron (Bouillabaisse de Poulet Chez Tante Paulette). I didn't quite realize I was making a poultry version of a bouillabaisse, even with such an obvious title and even after I made the classic accompaniment, a rouille, until Dave looked at the stew and the condiments and thought aloud that this was all very reminiscent of a bouillabaisse. It was the first time I cooked with Pernod, a licorice-flavored aperitif. I was a little afraid to use it as it smelled a pretty strong from the bottle, but it mellowed out nicely after cooking and reinforced the chopped fennel bulbs that were in the stew. The rouille, a red aioli that turned out yellow for me, was made of garlic, olive oil, saffron, cayenne, salt, and egg yolks. While the chicken stew is very nice on its own, the truth is that it is a great excuse to eat lots of garlicky aioli. We smeared it on toasted baguette slices and flavored the soup as we dunked the bread into the broth.

I was looking for a way to use the rest of my creme fraiche from the gratin recipe, and came across Chez Toutoune's Mussels with Cream Sauce (Moules Sauce Puolette Chez Toutoune). This recipe is a winner. It involves steaming mussels the usual manner with white wine (we used vermouth) and herbs, but the final sauce involved whisking a combination of egg yolks and creme fraiche into the liquid released by the mussels. We ended up using half a baguette to soak up every drop of that sauce.

Patricia Wells described one of her recipes as "The family's favorite. So far...!" So how could I not try making Duck Stew in Sauternes (Civet de Canard au Sauternes). The recipe she describes is a skeleton that she uses for many of her other poultry recipe involving browning the meat and then simmering it for 40 or so minutes, and then using the simmering liquid as the final sauce. I thought the dish was okay, but I would like to try it again after reducing and better seasoning the sauce. Her suggestion to drink a young Sauternes with the meal didn't make any sense to me at first. Sauternes is a dessert wine. But I tried it and I realized that the dish, which wasn't as sweet as I first thought it would be despite 2 cups of Sauternes and several Golden Delicious apples, for that reason went very well with a sweet Sauternes.

I have always wanted to cook bacalao, or salt cod. So I tried Le Cameleon's Codfish With Herbed Tomato Sauce (Morue A la Provencale Le Cameleon). I had to soak the salt cod for a day or two and change the water several times. After I drained it, I had it simmer/soak for about 15 minutes in water, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic. Then it was just a matter of tearing it into bite size pieces and mixing into a nice homemade tomato sauce. Crystal and Susie helped Dave and me eat the dish with potatoes and the rest of that garlic aioli.

Finally, the last hurrah of my vacation was the Oxtail Stew (Daube De Queue De Boeuf). This was a great way to get rid of our $3 buck Chuck red wine, which we had bought a case of from Trader Joe's a while back and with which we had become disenamored. I was able to empty 3 bottles of the stuff into our largest Dutch oven, add a variety of vegetables and spices, and 5 pounds of oxtail. I let it marinate for a full five days. I then simmered it for 3 hrs and let it cool overnight.

Our first meal with the oxtail stew was a little unsatisfying as it took a lot of work to get the meat off the bones. So the next day, I boiled the heck out of it for a hour or so. This time, the meat was soft and falling off the bone and quite satisfying with the red wine sauce. We had it with buttered Savoy cabbage on the side.

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