lundi 23 avril 2007

Cooking the night away.

The best thing about dinner parties is that I'm in charge. And I like that feeling. The worst thing about them is... well, the worst thing is when you decide that you're going to have two in one weekend, which essentially means that anything else you've planned to do (say, like.. homework), can't be done - which is okay, since it's still early in the quarter, but never again.

Saturday night was dinner with some close friends. Recently, I bought The New Spanish Table, by Anya von Bremzen, which is a lovely cookbook that all about Spanish cuisine. The author presents classic Spanish recipes and updates them, taking inspiration from contemporary Spanish chefs in some cases. There's a whole section on empanadas, yum! My only quibble is that there aren't enough pictures of the actual recipes in the book.

After starting out with some avocado and radish canapés (no, not Spanish, but easy to make since I had all the ingredients. I did sub smoked paprika and regular sea salt for the smoked sea salt, and it worked out nicely) and my new favorite drink, the aviation, we moved on to a white bean soup drizzled with truffle oil and served with pig candy. (Okay, not Spanish either. I'm getting there). The soup was okay, but it really was just a vehicle for the pig candy, since I knew the people I was cooking for love bacon and love it even more with sugar and spice.

Ah, and then we get to the Spanish dishes at last. Beef fricando with mushrooms and hazelnuts served with green salad with apricots and hazelnuts. The little introductions before each recipe explain what it is and give a bit of history and backdrop, which is always helpful when you're trying to explain the dish to your friends. Thusly, fricandó, per the book, is "Catalan bourgeois home cooking par excellence." And there's a wee bit of chocolate in the recipe, and who doesn't like cooking with chocolate? More importantly, what it is is a braised dish, and I love braised dishes because 1) it's hard to mess them up and 2) you're not stuck slaving behind the stove while your friends are sitting at the dinner table, since it's mostly all done in advance. The salad was a nice light counterpoint to the meat, sparkling fresh with the citrus vinaigrette.

Sautéed mushrooms, pig candy, and picada

And for dessert? Well, dessert, especially in this case, deserves its own entire post.

Beef fricando with mushrooms and hazelnuts
Serves 6 to 8
From The New Spanish Table

Actually, the original recipe calls for veal cutlets (1/3 - 1/4 inch thick), but it said I could sub in beef which I did. If you do use veal, you only need to braise the dish for 45 minutes.

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling chicken stock
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound small wild mushrooms (the recipe calls for chanterelles, I just used cremini)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds chuck or round steaks, about 1/2 inch thick
all-purpose flour
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium-sized carrot, finely diced
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 medium-size tomatoes, cut in half and grated on a grater, then skins discarded*
1/2 cup dry, but fruity, rosé wine (24 bottles of wine in my apartment, and not one a rosé. I used pinot noir, which seemed to be fine)
1/3 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned
1 tablespoon grated bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

1. Place the dried porcini and the boiling stock in a small heatproof bowl (or, to save yourself from washing one more bowl - just stick the mushrooms in the pot of boiling stock) and let soak until softened (around 30 minutes). Drain the porcini in a small sieve lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth, setting aside the soaking liquid. Chop the porcini and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oilve oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they are lightly browned and release and reabsorb their liquid (5-7 minutes). Season the cooked mushrooms wiht salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.

3. Season the beef generously with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of flour on a large plate and lightly dust the beef in the flour. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the beef steaks until lightly browned (about 2 minutes/side), transferring the browned cutlets to a bowl.

4. When all the steaks have been browned, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and add the onion, carrot, garlic, and chopped porcini to the skillet. Cook until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned (5-7 minutes). Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to high, and cook until the tomatoes are slightly thickened and reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup wine and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the skillet to dislodge the brown bits. Add the veal and turn to coat it with the sauce. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce is rich tasting and the mat is extremely tender, about 90 minutes.

5. While the beef is cooking, make the picada: Place the hazelnuts in a mini food processor and coarsely grind them. Remover half of the hazelnuts from the food processor and set aside for garnish. Finely grind the remaining hazelnuts. Add the chocolate and 2 tablespoons parsley and pulse to combine.

6. When the beef is done, transfer the cutlets to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Add the cooked fresh mushoroms to the sauce and cook until warmed through (about 1 minute). If the sauce seems too thick, add more wine. Stir the picada into the sauce and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat, until the chocolate melts and the sauce is rich and flavorful (about 1 minute). Return the veal to the skillet, turn to coat it in the sauce, and cook until warmed through (2-3 minutes). Transfer the veal to a serving dish, pour the sauce on top, and sprinkle the reserved coarsely ground hazelnuts and the parsley over it.

*This was the most pain-in-the-behind step ever - I boiled the tomatoes for a minute to remove the skins and then grated them, which just resulted in - guess what? Tomato mush. Next time, it's the blender for them.

Green salad with apricots and hazelnuts
Serves 6
From The New Spanish Table

1/3 cup finely slivered dried apricots
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped
10-12 cups mesclun, rinsed and dried
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Gently toss the apricots, hazelnuts, and mesclun in a large salad bowl to mix.

2. Place the vinegar, orange juice, and honey in a small bowl and whisk until the honey dissolves.

3. Carefully toss the salad with the olive oil until the leaves are evenly coated. Add the vinegar mixture and toss until evenly distributed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

(Apparently, I just didn't read the recipe, and mixed vinegar, OJ, honey, and the olive oil, salt, and pepper and tossed the salad with all those ingredients at once. It worked fine. The next night, I made the dressing without the honey, and that worked nicely as well.)