My good friend and mentor, Pierre, is moving away from Vermont – again. Pierre is the chef under whom I served as sous chef in my only restaurant cooking gig. He took a chance letting me into his kitchen; I met the challenge and he taught me well. It seemed only right to send him off with a fine meal in the company of close friends.
Thursday night I served the following menu, for eight:
Artichoke tapenade on semolina toasts
Nino Franco Faive (rosé brut spumante)
• • • • • •
Smoky sweet corn bisque with crispy fried shiitake
'01 Jobard Meursault-Genevrieres
• • • • • •
Filet of beef poached in rich veal broth with carrots and leeks; horseradish two ways (marmalade and savory cream)
Assortment of reds: Oregon Pinot Noirs (Maysara), California Barberas (Uvaggio) and a Shiraz (Renard)
• • • • • •
Cheese course: Afuega'l Pitu, Bleu des Basques, Piave Vecchio Serra da Estrella, Tomme d'Aydius
• • • • • •
Deeply chocolate ice cream, chocolate-cinnamon shortbread wedge, sour cherry conserve
I started cooking on Monday night, making the sweet corn bisque. I made a stock, starting with sautéed cob-smoked bacon and onion/garlic/carrot/celery, then added water, chunks of corn cob (the corn scraped off and reserved), bay leaf, salt and peppercorns. I let that simmer for about an hour, then strained it and cooked the reserved corn in it for about 15 minutes. Then I strained it again, holding back the cooked corn; I puréed the corn to a very fine paste and added it back to the stock. Just before serving, I reheated the base and stirred in some heavy cream. I garnished it with shiitake mushrooms, fried crisp in clarified butter.
I've been hankering to cook something from Terry Brennan's excellent book, Artisanal Cooking. It's full of recipes for just the sort of simple straightforward food that defines my “style”. I settled on poached filets of beef with horseradish cream (TJ just harvested our horseradish from the garden; this may have swayed my decision). I've also had a vision of a sort of marmalade with horseradish and garlic, and this seemed as good a time as any to experiment (and it sounded like a fine accompaniment).
Wednesday night, I brewed up a blend of finely chopped fresh horseradish, slivered fresh garlic, sherry vinegar, a little brown sugar, not so little white sugar, and some kosher salt. I let this all simmer until the vegetables were soft and translucent and the mixture was thickened, then let it stand overnight at room temperature. On tasting in the morning, it needed more salt to balance the acidity of the vinegar, but both the horseradish and garlic had mellowed to a soft, full richness.
Thursday afternoon, I reconstituted some homemade veal stock from the freezer and poached a few halved leeks and some quartered carrots, then set them aside. I made a quick whip of heavy cream, seasoned with a little dijon mustard, a splash of sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, then folded in some finely grated horseradish and put it all in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors develop.
The final preparation went quickly after the soup was served: the filets (bound at their equators with twine to help hold their shape) took about 10 minutes to poach to medium rare (with the stock just at a simmer). While they rested on a rack, I plunged the carrots and leeks back into the hot stock just to reheat, then arranged them simply on the plates with the beef alongside. I put a spoonful of the marmalade on each plate, and put the bowl of horseradish cream on the table to be passed separately.
My friend Daphne was in Manhattan earlier in the week and picked up a selection of excellent cheeses from Dean and DeLuca. Daphne also supplied the wines (she's an independent rep/consultant in the trade, and always has fine and interesting bottles). In the center below: Afuega'l Pitu; then clockwise from top left: Tomme d'Aydius, Piave Vecchio, Serra da Estrella, Bleu des Basques.
Chocolate shortbread recipes should be easy to come by, but I took a misstep with a Martha Stewart recipe on Tuesday night. I ended up throwing it out (not poor execution, just a crap recipe) and starting again Wednesday with a recipe from The Good Cookie – which turned out just as I had hoped, although I altered it by swapping cinnamon for the recommended espresso powder. Recipe is included at the end of this post.
The shortbread was intended as a sideshow for some Insanely Great Chocolate Ice Cream, with a cameo by my carefully hoarded Sour Cherry Conserve. I made the custard base on Tuesday night, and TJ and I took turns cranking on Wednesday night while the shortbread baked. The ice cream was just as ridiculously good as we remembered, and the shortbread and cherries were perfect foils.
I was worried about getting a dinner together while managing my current workload, but by doing a little here and a little there throughout the week, and with no small amount of help from TJ, I managed just fine (if diner feedback is any indication).
Dear Pierre: best wishes to you and Kunthea. I hope your new jobs and home suit you well, and that you find yourselves soon enough at home in Cambodia. And thanks for the education.
• • • • • •
2/3 c. AP flour
1/3 c. cake flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder (alkalized)
9 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Special equipment: a 9- or 10-inch tart ring laid on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or a 9- or 10-inch round cake or tart pan.
Heat oven to 300°F.
Combine flours, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and whisk well to mix and lighten (or sift together if you're compulsive that way).
Beat the butter and sugar together until well blended, but do NOT beat until light and fluffy. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing just until the dough comes together.
Using your fingers, press the dough firmly into the tart ring or pan so that it is an even thickness all around. Press the tines of a fork around the edges to make a nice patterned border.
Bake until set and no longer shiny, 35 – 40 minutes. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then cut the shortbread into wedges using a sharp knife. Be sure and cut while the shortbread is still slightly warm, or it will break unevenly.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.