Friday, December 29, 2006

Beef Stogan-tough

As much as I love to cook and experiment with different recipes, foods and methods of preparation, I still find myself a bit dense, or perhaps creatively limited, when it comes to creating an everyday meal. I have my standard dinners that seem to play like a song on repeat, but aside from my trusty chicken dishes and pasta dishes, I tend to draw culinary blanks when thinking about what to make for dinner.

The other day, in the midst of one of these culinarily-challenged moments, I had a mild revelation and decided to make beef stroganoff. My mom makes a really good beef stroganoff, and thinking that my culinary talents (or sometimes lack thereof) came to me through osmosis watching my mom cook, I thought I could easily put together a comparable beef stroganoff.

In preparation for the dinner, I downloaded a few beef stroganoff recipes from my favorite cooking websites and came up with a grocery list for my trip to the market. All of the recipes I found called for beef tenderloin. When I went to my local butcher to buy beef tenderloin, I was disappointed that he only had bottom and top round cuts of meats. Beef stroganoff is best when the meat is very tender – almost a bit flaky in the sense that your fork can cut right through the beef. With beef stroganoff, the meat becomes the piece de resistance to the meal if you will, complimented only to the blush tomatoey sauce and soft egg noodles. Caught in between a rock and a cheap piece of beef, I asked the butcher which cut of meat he would recommend for beef stroganoff and was told that bottom round works “perfectly” with beef stroganoff. The butcher’s eagerness to sell me bottom round should have alerted my inner culinary sleuth, but stubborn and determined to make beef stroganoff, I bought the bottom round cut of beef.

Back in the apartment, I began preparing my meal - cutting the bottom round into small cubes, chopping my onions, smashing some garlic, opening a dry white, preparing my beef bouillon cubes and getting my tomato paste ready for what was becoming a highly anticipated meal. The sauce, or perhaps better described as the base of this dish, is relatively simple. Most recipes call for onions, garlic, beef broth, a tad of tomato paste, white wine, a dash of paprika and salt and pepper. The minute before the beef stroganoff is plated, a few dollops of sour cream is added.

I proudly served my beef stroganoff over a bed of egg noodles, and upon the first bite, suffered an enormous bout of disappointment. Although the sauce was excellent, the beef was really tough – way too tough. It was hard to cut the beef even with a knife, and when I chewed the beef I thought I was eating an English riding saddle. I learned that cheaper cuts of meat should be marinated overnight to tenderize them if a better cut of meat isn’t available. But, the bottom line is, bottom round beef turns beef stroganoff into beef strogan-tough.

Until next time…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Cookie Exchange

Despite the craziness of everyone's schedules and lives, the cookie exchange came together last night like a bowl of creamed butter and sugar. :)

I will make the first parry in the battle of the dueling Canon Powershots, and post these few pics of the event. Happy Holidays everyone!!

I had a blast, still coming down from my sugar high, and I'll add a couple of my canon shots to compete! Here's my ultra-simple toffee recipe: Toffee!
- Maggie

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mastering Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are one of my most favorite foods. For me, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. They are the perfect pairing to a roast chicken and on a fall or winter evening, there is nothing more comforting than a mastered mashed potato.

So what are mastered mashed potatoes? Well, the answer is probably obvious to a true mashed potato connoisseur; for others, the answer might be somewhat puzzling. Those who grew up with unremarkable mashed potatoes might find this posting a bit trivial or strange, but for those of us who instantly know the shortcomings of boxed mashed potatoes, unsalted mashed potatoes or lumpy mashed potatoes, this posting is a long-awaited homage to the wonderful spud.

Before I tell you all about how I have mastered mashed potatoes, let me tell you of a dark moment in my mashed potato eating existence. First, my mother makes a pretty decent mashed potato. Her mashed potatoes have had moments of salt-conservatism or butter deficiencies, but overall, she trained my palate well. During my formative years, I only knew my mom’s mashed potatoes. When I was 13 or so, my aunt made boxed mashed potatoes, and for some reason, perhaps it was an act of rebellion, I decided boxed mashed potatoes were the best mashed potatoes. For a few years following this experience, I had a mild, albeit unacceptable, obsession with boxed mashed potatoes.

Fortunately, I moved out of this dark time and regained culinary sense. Then, when I got a bit older and developed my own culinary interests, I figured out how to property make mashed potatoes. First, true mashed potatoes are simple. They are not made with red potatoes and their skins, they are not made with wasabi, nor are they chunky. Mashed potatoes, my way, are smooth, salted, buttered, beaten and fluffy. Liberal doses of butter, salt and milk are essential. There are no frills, no spills, just simple mashed potatoes. For me, a simple mashed potato, is a mastered mashed potato.

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Eating Marathon, of Sorts

The eating season is upon us. Starting at Thanksgiving and ending in the New Year, we all participate in a figurative eating marathon, or so it seems. For purposes of this gastronology, I equate the 26 mile venture with 26 days of eating, give or take a few days. In true spirit of the season, I am convinced that I am leading the marathon.

Without going into the intricacies, and perhaps grotesque, details of my daily eats, I'll give a quick summary of the highlight, thus far, to this season's eating experience. This past Friday, George and I celebrated his birthday at Fiamma. Fiamma, a restaurant situated in Soho, is part of the B.R.Guest association of restaurants. You may know of some of the other B.R. Guest member restaurants, including Blue Water Grill, Ruby Foos and Dos Caminos, to name a very few. Fiamma, meaning "flame" in Italian, is a 3-star sophisticated Italian restaurant, which has also earned a very prestigious Michelin star – a rarity in New York. I happened upon Fiamma's website during one of my weekly comprehensive online searches for interesting restaurants in New York City. On a lurch, I made a reservation thinking it might be a nice spot of a birthday celebration.

Our experience at Fiamma was outstanding. The ambiance, which I consider to be a necessary component to any good meal, was sexy, a little seductive perhaps, wholly inviting, and proportionately trendy. The tables were not so Euro-friendly (too close to each other…yes, I made the phrase up and it is genius), the service was impeccable and the staff knowledgeable and the food was unbelievably innovative and incredibly tasty. We started with the braised pork bellies, which consisted of a thick layer of pure soft fat that sort of hovered over a very thin shred of pork. They were so flavorful, so tender and just melted away in our mouths. The entrees were equally innovative. What was most interesting was the white truffle option to each entrée. For an extra $75, 10 grams of white truffle shavings were sprinkled over the dish. White truffles, I am understanding, are the crème de la crème of anything culinary. They are fungi royalty, coming only from the Piedmont region in Italy and pretty much create the most intense and sensual flavor to any meal.

Instead of having a traditional dessert, we decided to have the cheese platter, and believe me, this was a good decision. The cheeses, all Italian, were amazing. I instantly fell into a very intense love with a raw sheep's milk cheese that was laced in black truffles. The cheese, called Pecorino Tartufello, is truly a cheese worth finding.

Our experience at Fiamma was terrific. I recommend this restaurant for any special occasion, or if you have the money for an every night dinner, but definitely a meal worth this blog. My whole point in this is, yes, of course, to make your mouth water, but more importantly, or perhaps concerning, is to share with you a little of my eating experiences this season. Not all my eating on this figurative seasonal marathon has been as lavish as Fiamma, but in terms of calorie counting, I don't think it matters whether I am dining on gourmet pork bellies or canned peas – I am still eating….a lot.

Until next time…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Inspired by the madness of Julie Powell

Inspired by the madness of Julie Powell and her Julie/Julia project, along with my own continuing unemployment (or underemployment as I like to call it), I have decided to do my own project this December. But it will have less of the madness and far more in the way of butter and sugar (well, it sounds like the butter was one of the main ingredients for all french cooking -- so lets just say for sure more sugar!). It is a "Twelve Days of Cookies " project! Simply put, in December, I will bake 12 different types of cookies before Christmas (i.e. 12 batches of cookies in 24 days). It is fairly easily attainable, yet its quite a bit more baking that I am accustomed to, so it will stretch me a bit. It may also stretch my waistline, but that is another story (I do know the dishwasher can handle cleaning the bowl by itself, but hey, I like to help!). Another bonus is that my project will tie in to the cookie exchange we are doing for this month's cooking club.

In order not to crowd our blogspace, I am posting about the project here.

Happy holiday and happy baking!