Friday, December 4, 2009

76 Trombones

Happy Friday! This morning I made Pork en Croute with Duxelle Stuffing and Apple Sauce. While the loin was marinating, I rolled out my croissant dough and made half croissants and half pain au chocolat. I also was on "biscuit duty" which meant I had to make cookies for lunch (because we don't have enough dessert to eat as it is). So, I made chocolate and toffee squares, which have a layer of shortbread, a layer of toffee, and then a layer of dark chocolate. For a final flourish, I sprinkled some flaky sea salt on top (to give a "salted caramel" effect). With 16 ounces of butter in the recipe, they were heart-stopping-ly good.

My camera's battery died so I didn't get to take a picture of the Pork en Croute. It's just as well, though, because my pastry split open on top. To guard against this, make sure the seam of the split loin (you split the loin to fill it with stuffing) faces off to the side, not up, when you wrap the loin in pastry. Also, make sure the pastry is nice and "rested", and don't wrap it too tightly around the loin. Finally, some steam holes poked on top help. If the butter renders out of the pastry while you cook the pork, pooling in the roasting pan, then your oven is not hot enough initially. It should be quite hot to sear the butter into the pastry.

For the afternoon demonstration, we learned how to cook lobster, scallops, a "tagine" of lamb with medjool dates, braised chicory, and cous cous with apricots and pistachio nuts. For dessert, we made a chocolate mousse genoise, praline cake, and brandy snap baskets filled with a scoop of caramel ice cream.

A "tagine" of lamb is basically a lamb stew, made in a specific shallow cooking dish. Chicory is a vegetable that is sort of shaped like a plump, cartoon cigar (as seen in Pinocchio). Its pale, greenish-white leaves are wrapped so tightly into a cigar that you just cook it whole. Cous cous is a fantastic grain - I like it almost as much as quinoa! It is a great canvas on which to paint flavors. Finally, Genoise is a rich, Italian-turned-French cake, whose batter is mousse-like and voluminous.

The lobsters sat alive on the counter until it was time to cook them. Although slightly disheartening to kill such a creature, if you want lobster for dinner, someone has to do it! You can plunge your knife, matador-esque, through the cross at the back of the head, which kills the lobster instantly. Alternatively, place the lobsters in cold, salted water and slowly bring it to the boil. Our headmistress (along with the Humane Society) likes to think that with this method, the poor guys just drift off to sleep!

Lobster is undoubtedly a treat, so make it a good experience! The lobsters in the tanks at restaurants and grocery stores are never, ever fresh. Don't waste your money. You're best off buying them only when you're at the seashore from a local fisherman or fishmonger, and eating them that day. My family only eats lobster once a year on an island in Maine, where we buy the creatures right off the lobsterman's boat. They stay alive until dinner in a submerged crate on the beach (which we constantly have to move with the rising & retreating tide!). Simply cooked, with some melted butter and lemon, eaten outside on the rocks - it's a taste of heaven!

Tips, tips, tips:

- The older, darker, and heavier the cake tin, the better. The new ones are too light to protect the cake from the heat of the oven.

- Medjool dates go well with a glass of whisky before dinner!

- Scallops should not smell fishy at all. If they do, they're not fresh.

- For a creative Christmas present this year, try jarring flaky sea salt mixed with chopped thyme, rosemary, or sage. Herbed salt is delicious sprinkled on lamb, an omelette, pasta, etc.

- Do NOT throw out your lobster shells! Boil them in water to make a lobster stock for lobster bisque, lobster risotto, etc. Lobster stock is liquid gold.

- When buying lobsters, make sure they have both their claws! Also, like crabs, they should feel heavy.

- When cooking lobster, their shells go from blue to bright red.

- When taking a scallop out of its shell, you only want to keep the scallop nugget and the bright orange "coral". You can discard the membrane bits. In America, the fishmonger does not sell the coral with the scallops for some unknown reason. It is delicious, and beautiful in color! If you can, buy the coral!

- Sear scallops on a very hot pan. They are delicious raw, so you don't have to worry too much about cooking them through. With a nice seared top & bottom and a semi-raw inside, a scallop is at its best!

- You'll know a cake is done when the center feels the same as the outer edges. Also, the edges will shrink back from the sides of the tin.

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