Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lentil salad

Long time no blog! No excuses really -- just being slow and lazy. We've been eating a lot of good winter foods: beans, soups etc., despite the fact that it has only just recently gotten cold here.

One of my all-time favorite light lunches (or sides) is lentil salad. I recently found some gorgeous lentils I've never seen before that I'm enjoying playing around with: black beluga lentils. They really do look like giant pearls of caviar and they have a nice buttery flavor and bite. I make them in my favorite kitchen gadget: the rice cooker. Yes, this might seem like a completely unnecessary item but it's actually much more versatile and helpful than the name would suggest. I use it less often for rice than I do for beans, lentils, and, amazingly, oatmeal. It always cooks everything just right and you don't have to hover over the stove to make sure you're not scorching or creating mushy food. Lentils in particular come out just right every time.

I usually cook lentils for 40 minutes in chicken stock, adding salt and pepper once cooked. I remove the lentils while still warm and stir in olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste – usually a couple of tablespoons for ¾ cup uncooked lentils. The lentils soak up the liquids and the flavor permeates every pearl (or seed to be technical). I then season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and mix in chopped vegetables (whatever is on hand). My favorites are diced red onion, cucumber, red or orange pepper, and carrot. I usually like to add crumbled or cubed French feta and occasionally avocado (particularly if I think it will get eaten in one sitting). I finish with some finely chopped flat leaf parsley and adjust seasonings when done.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Beef bourguignon

Happy new year all!

We rang in the new year with a quiet dinner. I decided it was time to attack Bouchon's beef bourguignon (patiently waiting on my “to cook” list). We’ve both been under the weather and huddling in but the local grocery store will shop and deliver so I figured if all the ingredients walked in the door I’d be up for slowly and lazily cooking everything. I called in the ingredients and they showed up an hour later. I started cooking the day before to break the recipe up into manageable steps.

The whole process was similar to coq au vin in that it involved making a red wine reduction out of wine seasoned with leeks, onions, carrots, bay leaves, black peppercorns, thyme, parsley, celery and garlic, browning the meat and then braising it in the reduction and beef broth, and then cooking a series of “garnishes” (red and white pearl onions, mushrooms, carrots, lardons and fingerling potatoes) seasoned in the same way as the wine, and combining them with the beef at the last minute. On my first, cursory read nothing seemed too complicated; just a lot of steps and attention to cooking each individual item to the right level. As I got partway through I realized that the braised beef needed to steep in its cooking liquid for at least a day and up to 3 days (argh!) so it was lucky I started early. The great thing about Keller’s version is that it uses luxurious beef short rib for the meat and because the braising liquid is continuously seasoned and clarified the broth develops into a rich, aromatic, almost silky liquid. Since the garnishes are not added until the end, each retain its own distinct color, texture and flavor and the whole dish becomes a cornucopia of wonderful, hearty flavors without becoming overly stew-y and heavy.

I’m not going to post the recipe because it was pages long; but if anyone would like it, I’m happy to bite the bullet and send it along.