Friday, December 30, 2011

Mister C's Beef Tenderloin Roast with Cognac Rosemary Dijon Cream Sauce

New Years' Eve used to be a performance night for me, so the fare was usually hastily-eaten and best-forgotten- usually a burger or sandwich courtesy of our host venue. Now that we've come to our senses and generally stay home on that most insane of party nights, I take the time to prepare a formal dinner for the family here at GreenWood.

As I was shopping for our holiday feasting a local market advertised a butchers' special for beef, so I picked up an excellent beef tenderloin at a great price. Here at GreenWood we are serious about our beef: we don't eat it often, so when we do I make sure it's memorable. I also found a bottle of cognac that someone had gifted me some time back, and as I'm not really a fan of the liquor I decided I would use it in some way for our New Years' Eve dinner. The recipe as follows is inspired by a couple of recipes I came across from home chefs and a meal I enjoyed some years ago in Chicago. Beef tenderloin is very easy to prepare, it has a rich and almost buttery taste that holds up extremely well on its own- but when coupled with a spice rub and a decadent sauce it becomes sublime. Suggested sides are potatoes of any sort, julienned carrots in an herbed reduction, broccoli with sesame or nuts, root vegetables such as parsnips and beets- basically any hearty vegetable which can hold its own with the beef and cream sauce. A spicy red wine such as a Tempranillo, a mature Shiraz or a fat-bottomed Cabernet will complement the meal. The recipe as posted will easily serve 6-8 hearty portions, or 8-10 when a full-course dinner is desired.

The Roast
5lb Beef Tenderloin Roast, trimmed of tendon and excess fat
2 Tbsp Dry Mustard
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
Whole Sage Leaves to Garnish the top of the roast
Cracked Peppercorns to cover the top of the roast

Cognac Rosemary Dijon Cream Sauce
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream or Creme Fraiche
1/3 Cup Cognac
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp Fresh Chopped Rosemary
Ground Pepper to taste

Remove the roast from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1.5hrs. Heat your oven to 400F.  Rub the roast with the dry mustard and brown sugar and set aside for a few minutes. Heat a heavy skillet on medium-high heat, then brown the roast on all sides. Set the skillet aside, as you'll use the browned bits and juices to make the cream sauce while the roast is resting after coming from the oven. Add the sage leaves to cover the top of the roast, then add the cracked peppercorns. Place the roast on a low rack in a shallow roasting pan and cook until rare or medium-rare at most, 125F-130F internally, for a 5lb roast begin checking the temperature at 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the pan and tent loosely to rest for 15 minutes. While the roast is resting, add about half the cognac to the pan to deglaze it. Heat the skillet on medium-high heat  until it gets fragrant and begins to barely smoke, then remove it from the heat and add the rest of the cognac to the skillet to deglaze. Add the cognac and juices from the pan to the skillet and return it the stovetop on medium heat, whisk in the cream and rosemary, then add the dijon mustard. Reduce by 1/3, whisking until the sauce has thickened a bit, remove from the stove and pour into a serving dish. Slice the roast according to the number of servings desired and spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the meat. Serve immediately with your chosen sides and enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hallow-weekend! Dead Man's Dinner

It's Hallows' Season! Hallows' is the time of the traditional Celtic New Year, and we usually have a nice fire in the woodstove and harvest the last of our garden. It's all fun, but aside from good old trick-or-treating our favorite event is Dead Man's Dinner. Yes, it was inspired by the Oingo Boingo tune, and we kind of follow that theme for our Dinner.  We usually start by carving a few pumpkins while dinner is cooking, remembering folks who have passed in the past, particularly the ones who have passed on during the year while having soda (it's like liquor to our kids- mainly forbidden and make them act kooky) and lots of cocktails for me and Ash. I have tons of appropriate music and playlists, so it's loud enough to wake the Dead and let 'em know Dinner's on the way. We put on campy horror movies, build a new fire in the woodstove and wait for dinner to.... manifest... (insert spooky laugh here). Here's a bit of a digression to entertain you while I'm... looking for... the... rum:

The spiritual tradition is taken from is a combination of Native American and ancient European harvest festivals, where the Ancestors and recently-deceased were invited to come and visit, hang out with those who remember them and then PARTY til the dawn. In some societies it was quite debauched, after the initial solemnity of respectfully asking the Dead to join the Living for a night, a festival replete with pigging out and drinking copious amounts of the previous years' spirits. Traditionally children were excluded from what was a very adult time: what kid wants to be at a dinner where Mommy and Daddy start the night with something like the Last Supper but ends up resembling a tailgate party at a Pink Floyd concert? Right-O... Well, we don't do it like that here... not anymore, at least... plus, our harvest consists of tomatoes and peppers- pretty tame stuff. What's important to us is that we teach the kids that the Dead are immortal through our memory of them, that we miss them and this is our way of keeping their memories close by. Some traditions (I'm using the term loosely here) teach that the meal is eaten in silence out of respect for the Mighty Dead, but nobody I know wants to be remembered with tears or grief hence the Dead Man's Dinner motif.  Aren't you fond of your departed whom you've chosen to remember? Were they fun to hang out with? Then have a good time, like you're glad they've dropped by! Any excuse to whip up a feast, I say. And when I've passed, remember that I like rum and rare meat. And Snickers Bars...

We like meat, so Dead Man's Dinner usually includes something a bit out of the ordinary like a rib roast or Cornish hens. Some years we get creative with the sides and I try to make them campy with references to horror movies or haunted houses, lots of candles and red and orange colors in the food. Most importantly, we remember our Dearly Departed and invite them to dinner, and the kids have learned over the years that we do not simply wink out when our physical body breathes its last- the soul moves on after death, but there's a Party in our house every year and the Dead are always welcome!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)

I had this dish many years ago while traveling, it was served as part a a "big dinner" by our hosts. The only fish soup I had tasted before was bouillabaisse (I hated it), and when our host Rolando announced that our second course was to be a fish stew my heart sank. I had to be polite, as my business - and perhaps my safety - depended upon this man's good graces but I was not looking forward to fish in a bowl. I was proven wrong, much to my surprise. Our server brought a wide bowl to the table that had a bed of white rice, filled with coconut milk and brilliant peppers, with big chunks of white fish, scallions and a bright orange oil drizzled over it all. It smelled like something sweet and spicy, not fishy at all. After the first bite I was a fan, and although I had it a few more times on my trip I never looked for it when I came back home.
A few months ago I had some big fillets of ocean fish and was looking for a new recipe as an alternative to the obligatory deep-frying or baking with breading. Then I remembered: rewind twenty-five years or so, back to a tropical locale and the amazing fish stew I discovered: My Brazilian hosts called it Moqueca. Since I prepared it that first time it has become one of those indulgences that I make every few months. It's tangy, creamy and spicy all at the same time with big chunks of fish marinated in lime to complement the peppers and coconut milk. I always make enough so it can be enjoyed as leftovers the next day, after the flavors have mingled overnight.
Mister C's Moqueca
Serves 4-6
2-3 Lbs White Fish Steaks (Cod, Halibut, Plaice, Sea Bass, etc)
1 Tsp Annatto Seeds
3 Tbsp Canola Oil
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 Cloves Garlic, minced (4 Tbsp)
3 Tbsp Lime Juice
1 Tsp Coarse Kosher or Sea Salt
1 Large Sweet Onion, diced
3 Tbsp Scallions, chopped
4 Medium Tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Medium Sweet Bell Peppers, chopped (pick your favorite colors)
1/2 Medium Green Bell Pepper, chopped
14oz Coconut Milk (equivalent 1 can)
Black Pepper and Hot Sauce to Taste
Serve over rice in wide shallow bowls. Suggested serving portion is 1 cup of rice per bowl.
Heat the canola oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the annatto seeds and cook for 10 minutes until the oil turns bright orange. Strain and discard the seeds, then pour the oil into a small dish and set aside for plating. Start your rice and other sides you wish to serve with the stew.
Cut the fish into large pieces and put into a large bowl or dish. Add the lime juice, garlic and salt to he bowl and toss to coat the fish thoroughly. Set the bowl aside (countertop or refrigerator) to marinate while the rest of the dish is prepared.
In a large, deep skillet or saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and peppers. Sautee 3-5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook another 3 minutes, then add the hot sauce and black pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low and add the fish in a single layer. Pour the coconut milk over the fish, shaking the pan gently to make sure the liquids mingle and the fish doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Give it a gentle shake occasionally to keep things from sticking.
Plate the rice, then place a generous amount of the stew over the rice - I usually add a few spoonfuls of the coconut milk from the pan for extra goodness. Drizzle some of the annatto oil over the dish and garnish with a generous pinch of chopped scallions.
I consider this a complete meal, but it may also be served as a main entree with bread and salad. Although this is a fish dish, a hearty red wine complements the heaviness of the coconut milk and provides an interesting mix of tannins to the meal.