Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't Let The Name Fool You

You Gonna Finish That? champion Muffy was heading eastward to the Island for the weekend, and in my fevered mind, everything had to be perfect. I spent hours staring at my computer monitor, combing the Food Network and Epicurious Dot Com for ideas. I ransacked my own library seeking inspiration. Cookbooks are still scattered about the apartment. But I caught the train to Southampton Thursday finally safe in the knowledge that I'd planned a menu sure to secure my rightful place in Miss Muffy's pantheon of noteworthy cooks. One night would include dishes from the adored and adorable Barefoot Contessa, and another night would feature someone less well known, but with plenty of comfort food street cred all her own. But more about that later.
The Contessa put out "Back to Basics - Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients" last year, actually a pretty handy guide if not truly encyclopedic with "basics". But there are some wonderful recipes and one criticizes Ms. Garten at one's own peril, so...
I really did mull over Julia Child's Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, but having decided on steak for Saturday night, I thought beef two nights in a row might be overdoing it a bit. I learned later that Muffy had made beef stew a few nights previous. Whew! Ina had near-pornographic photos of pork tenderloin (been there, done that) and pot roast (we did that last winter), and my eye kept wandering back to a French trussed up chicken stew, chicken bouillabaisse. Very, very basic and just chocked full of flavor. Given the mid-January temps, I didn't think I could go too far wrong trusting my first instincts.
Did I say basic? I had to go to three different markets to find all Ina's ingredients, four if you count 7-Eleven upon discovering I forgot to buy butter. By the third stop, a decent little wine shop on Jobs Lane, I was more than a little irritated with the Barefoot Contessa, who took the brunt of my wrath.
"I hate Ina Garten," I exclaimed after greeting the counter clerk.
"Let me guess," she slyly replied. "Pernod."
Uncanny. Obviously, others had walked down this road before me. And with that I just had to laugh. I was immediately disarmed and had my good spirits restored. Bouillabaisse was gonna be just the right meal to start the weekend.
Chicken Bouillabaisse - adapted from Ina Garten
  • 3 chicken leg/thigh pieces, separated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 can (15-ounce) tomato purée
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 Tbsp Pernod
  • 1lb small Yukon Gold  potatoes, quartered
  • Crusty French bread, for serving
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season generously with salt, pepper and rosemary. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven and brown the chicken in batches. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and set aside.
Lower heat to medium-low and add the garlic, saffron, fennel seed, tomato purée, chicken stock, wine, Pernod, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of ground pepper to the pot. Stir and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the garlic is quite tender, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300° F.
Carefully pour the sauce into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Purée until smooth. Return sauce to the Dutch oven, add the potatoes and browned chicken with their juices. Stir carefully.
Cover the pot and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, just until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is done. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot with thick slices of crusty bread.
Holy crap, talk about flavor. It started, I think, with the browning of the chicken. The aroma filled the house, making everyone giddy with anticipation. The garlic, tomato and seasonings were perfect. Yes, even the Pernod! Just-tender pieces of potato, juicy, succulent dark meat. Comfort food does not satisfactorily convey the gratifying feeling experienced afterwards. Maybe there should be a new category: comfort food, and then ecstasy food.
I always have a hard time coming up with an agreeable side dish when preparing stews. Salads seem so pedestrian and more starches like rice or noodles strike one as needlessly superfluous. Naturally, the Contessa had two cents to add.
Pan-roasted root vegetables - from Back to Basics
  • 4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 white turnip, unpeeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 carrots, 1-inch diced
  • 2 small parsnips, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • ½ celery root, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 celery ribs, 1-inch diced
Ina called for Brussels sprouts, but Muffy hates them, so they were out!
Melt the butter in a large (12-inch) sauté pan that has a tight-fitting lid.
When the butter is melted, add the turnip, carrots, parsnips, celery root, thyme, salt and pepper, and toss with the butter. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
Add the celery and stir the vegetables. Cover the pan again and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. If they are too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.
Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
Root vegetables and bouillabaisse are the Vulcan Mind Meld of dinner combinations. All that celery flavor and the hint of thyme in the vegetables was the perfect foil for the garlic-y power of the stew.
Well, the crowd was on its feet between the main course and dessert. There was talk of the next day's meal even before the plates had been cleared. I must admit to being not a little impressed myself, and looking forward to whatever was gonna come out of the kitchen next. But like I said earlier, more about that later!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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