Cooking Salade D’Onglet (Sorta)

I really enjoy reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook because the recipes sounds really interesting and I’m a fan of Bourdain’s. However, there’s a lot in there that isn’t super practical when trying to figure out what to make in any given week. Still, I try looking around stumbled upon a recipe for Salade D’Onglet (page 123) that I didn’t quite nail, but think will make for a good dish to work on moving forward.

Ingredients wise, the list is pretty basic, mostly things I was able to find at my grocery store. I didn’t have dark veal or chicken stock around (need to make some more chicken stock), so I used the stuff I had from the store. The real problem, though was that I could not find onglet or hanger steak at my grocery store. I probably could have asked the butcher, but I’m kind of on a time crunch when I get our food, so I wound up settling for a beef round Swiss braising steak. I have no idea how close that was to what I was supposed to get.

I also didn’t quite get the timing down for this one. Things have been a little crazy around here lately so, I didn’t get the meat marinating over night, but I did get four or five good hours in which he said would work. Aside from that, though, this is a pretty simple and easy meal to put together, it just has a fair amount of working parts when you take into account the marinating, sauce and dressing making and putting everything together. Still, it’s pretty easy.

I think I might have cooked my sauce a little too long or added too much soy sauce in one of the steps because the finished product turned out a little salty. Not, spit everything out on the plate salty, but still maybe a little too salty. Like I said, I’ve got some work to do to really nail this the next time, but I’m willing to try again.

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My Brand New Knife

I feel kind of bad that I can’t remember when I got my first real knife. I can’t remember if it was when I first learned to cook in college or if it was around the wedding. I believe it was the former and a gift from my parents, but I know we got a few more when my wife and I got hitched. And, frankly, we’ve got some damn good knives. We’ve got a serrated, Santoku and paring knife from Wusthof along with a few others you can see in the picture below. They’re all housed in this great knife block we got from Bed, Bath & Beyond called the Kapoosh Universal Cutlery Block that allows for a wide variety of different knives, which, as you can tell, is great for us. Instead of having designated slots, the body of the block is made up of tightly packed bristles that allow for whatever arrangement that works best for you. You can either pull it out and wash it, which I clearly need to do in the near future.

Even with a good variety of knives, though, I’ve been thinking about picking a new one up. In the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he sets aside a mini-chapter about knife care and selection. He says it doesn’t really matter how big or expensive the knife is, but that it feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want something so big and unwieldy that you’ll be lopping off a finger or two. He also said you should wash them when you’re done, dry immediately and not put them through the dishwasher. Also, sharpen before every use.Like a lot of things I’ve read from Bourdain, I took this to heart and realized that I haven’t been treating my knives well. They still work, though they’re definitely looking worse for wear. There’s also maybe some dullness that I only recently realized. With that in mind, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled every time we go to a Marshall’s, TJ Maxx or Home Goods for an affordable knife that will work for me. Some of those nice Wusthof knives I mentioned before were actually purchased at those places for short money.Two weekends back, we were at a mega TJ Maxx/Home Goods in Poughkeepsie and I saw a 7-inch Santoku that I liked. There was also a chef’s knife, but it was even bigger, I think 8-inches or so. I walked away to look for a food mill in that gigantic place (no luck there) and then caught up with Em and Lu. The knife had lodged itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. And, hey, it was around $15, so I wound up buying it.

Cut eggplant

Of course, the next week (last week) wound up not involving any cooking because of scheduling problems, so I didn’t really get to put it to use until a few days back when I made pasta sauce and botched some eggplant, but at least I got to use it! Every time I do the dishes, I scrub the knife down with soap and water, wipe it down with a towel and after I know it’s all the way dry, I sharpen it and then return it to the block. I’m not taking any chances with this one!

Cooking Boeuf a la Ficelle

As I mentioned earlier today, Anthony Bourdain warned me in the intro to his Les Halles Cookbook not to worry about screwing up when it comes to trying these recipes. His words echoed in my head by the time I finished making Boeuf a la Ficelle (Les Halles Cookbook page 122), a dish that boils carrots, onions, turnips and leeks before inserting a hunk of meat and then making a sauce out of the broth. It seemed really simple, but turned out to be a bit difficult, mostly because I bonered a few ingredients while shopping.

First off, I’ve never even tasted a turnip as far as my memory goes, so I don’t know what a good one looks or tastes like. I should have done more research. I grabbed four purple ones as they were the only my grocery store had. I also got a bag of baby carrots which I regretted as soon as I got home as they were a little slimy. The last piece that didn’t come together was the meat. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of beef tenderloin. I looked all over the meat section of my grocery store and didn’t see anything called that (again, I’m a novice, as if that needs to be explained). So I checked my phone and wound up with over 3 pounds of top round. A little more research (and with the pressure off) I realize now that that’s not even close. What I should have done was talk to the butcher, but my trips to the store with the baby can go sour fast and I wanted to get back home.

When I actually got to cooking the meal, things seemed to go pretty smoothly. I wound up using the whole bag of baby carrots, sliminess and all. I also got the bouquet garni together, which is a mix of parsley, thyme and a bay leaf wrapped in cheesecloth so you can get those flavors in whatever you’re cooking, but not deal with the herbs floating around. Then I chopped an onion in half and poured a little ground clove on it to take the place of actually studding them with cloves. Anyone know if this is a good substitute? I just kind of winged that one. Next I cleaned the leeks the way my wife taught me. Those guys get a lot of dirt between the sections, so you can soak them in a bowl of water, move them around a bit and the dirt sinks to the bottom.

With all the veggies in the pot, it was just a matter of waiting for the water to boil before inserting the meat. I realized that the extra pound of meat meant that I should have some more liquid and also that the cook time should be a few minutes longer. After boiling for about 25 minutes, I pulled the meat out, then got the veggies out. Seemed good. I even let the meat sit for a while like the recipe says, but when I cut into it was still really raw. Like purple-raw. So, I heated the broth back up to a boil and put the meat back in. Not sure how long that lasted. I pulled out again and decided to cut the slab of meat into smaller slices and then putting them back into the boiling broth. It was kind of a mess.

The meal wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. The meat was kind of tough and the vegetables not the best. Using the wrong meat surely didn’t help matters and like I said, I don’t know from turnips but my wife said I didn’t wind up with very good ones. But, it wasn’t a total wash. I learned about checking on my ingredients and doing a little more research. For lunch today, I wound up putting some of that broth in a pan, heated it up and them warmed some chopped up beef and some leftover veggies and it wound up being not half bad.

Cook Book Nook: Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain. I like his attitude, I like his outlook on food and I like how he writes. So, it should come as no surprise that I was also looking around to get his Les Halles Cookbook. My wife and I went to a closing Borders and I immediately went to the food section looking for anything of interest, but especially Bourdain books. I didn’t walk away with his cookbook, but I did get the follow up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw which I’m excited about. Then, as if by magic, Bourdain’s Les Halles book showed up on my doorstep from Amazon. I really had to think, “Did I do some late night ordering after a few beers?”

No. In fact, the book was actually my very first piece of Monkeying Around The Kitchen fan mail. My mom saw how much I enjoyed Kitchen Confidential and picked it up for me, so thanks Mom! I was really jazzed and, as I mentioned, found a recipe that didn’t involve making stock to cut my teeth on. It’s not that I don’t want to make stock–I really do–it’s just that I haven’t had the time to get the ingredients and get them simmering.

But, before I cooked, I read the intro sections and was not disappointed. Bourdain was not mellowed in any way, but his point was very clear: you CAN cook this food. You might screw up, you might throw away entire meals, but you can cook this food. It’s basically peasant food. He also stressed the importance of having a good knife, making your own stock, preparing not only a shopping list but also your cooking area and ingredients before starting and keeping a good attitude about all of this. I should also explain that Les Halles is a French restaurant in NYC that Bourdain is (I believe) still the executive chef for. He was there when her wrote Confidential and still returns every now and then when his traveling schedule for No Reservations allows.

So, how did my first experience cooking French food go? Well, you’ll just have to wait a few hours to find out. Let’s just say that I’m glad Bourdain explained how failure is a big part of the game.