March 13, 2009

In Good Company

I have no excuse for writing this almost TWO WEEKS after the fact. All I can say is that the night of this dinner it snowed and kept snowing which made me want to hole up and read and play cribbage and THEN the sun came out, WAY out and gave us almost five days of summer weather and I went outside. The good news is that I got our back yard cleaned up from the winder doldrums and rolled out 400 square feet of sod so we'll have actual grass this summer instead of wispy bits of green in a sea of dirt. The bad news is I haven't been blogging. Well, now it's snowing again. And this time, it's nasty dirty slushy snow not pretty go out and play snow, so I'm writing. Granted, Evelyn is, at this moment sitting it my lap singing "Twinkle Twinkle" and trying to keep my fingers away from the keys so she can play, but I'll give it a go.

So..... A long long time ago (two weeks this Sunday) in a galaxy far away (known as Steve and Stephanie's house up the road) we had the inaugural dinner for our new cooking club. Stephanie and I have been talking about it for months and finally set a date to get us started (thank you Stephanie for making me just DO it!) The idea was that we would get three families together, each family would bring ingredients for one course of a meal and we'd cook while the kids played. For the third family we asked our neighbors Steven and Nell and their daughter Mei Ling. Steve and Nell, besides being excellent cooks (as I know from experience, best moussaka I have EVER had!) are some of the nicest people I know so it was a great group that gathered at Stephanie's that night. Steve and Nell brought fixings for stew which Steve proceeded to cook with that professional flair you see on the food network and I can only dream of. Stephanie and Steve provided salad and bread and wine (and their house!) and Will and I brought ingredients for a blood orange curd tart.

We spent a few hours cooking and chatting and laughing and sipping wine and then sat down to a truly fantastic feast. It was, I think, the most enjoyable dinner party I've ever been to. Eating with friends is fun, cooking with friends is a riot of fun. I cant wait for the next meal!

With Steve's permission I took notes about his stew, hopefully I didn't miss anything in the midst of the wine and conversation!

Beef Stew a la Steve

3 lbs chuck steak, fat trimmed and reserved, cut into cubes
3 boxes beef stock
3.5 pounds of potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups mixed chopped carrots, onions and celery
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 bag of frozen peas
1 cup ketchup

Saute the meat in batches, rendering the fat and then removing the chunks. Steve did this in a frying pan and added the meat to a big stew pot with the stock and potatoes in it as each batch finished. In the same frying pan saute the mirepoix (veg :)) and add to the pot with the bay leaf. De glaze the pan with wine and add the liquid to the pot. stew for a bit then add mushrooms, ketchup and a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with a little warm water. just a few minutes before serving add the peas and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This was a wonderful stew! Rich without being overly heavy and perfect for a snowing late winter night.

Blood Orange Curd Tart

I got this recipe out of Nigella's How to Eat and overall it was good. I thought the tartness of the orange was a good paring with the stew. BUT If I were to make this again I think I would do half oranges and half lemon and I would use all white sugar because I felt that the brown sugar overwhelmed the flavor of the orange a little bit. Also, I make lemon curd in the microwave rather than a pan as the recipe calls and next time I would follow that procedure because I think it's faster, easier and produces a better result, but for posterity, I'll give you what I made that night. Originally the recipe called for Seville Oranges but, although it was February and theoretically the season for them, I couldn't find them and so substituted blood oranges.

3 whole eggs
2egg yolks
1/2 c white sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
juice and zest of 5 blood oranges
10 T butted cut into cubes
1 pastry shell, blind baked (I used a purchased pie crust that I baked in my tart pan. I've almost given up on making pie crusts, my hands are just too hot to get a good result)

In a sauce pan whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugars until amalgamated (Nigella's word, not mine) Be sure to scrape the sides clean as you stir. Add the juice, zest and butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Do not allow it to boil. Pour into pie crust and chill till ready to serve.

So again, I think I would do all white sugar and maybe 3 blood oranges and 3 lemons. I'm also going to include my grandmothers microwave Lemon Curd which is super easy and great on toast, scones and I would imagine, in this tart.

1/2 cup bitter
2 c sugar (white)
3 yolks
3 eggs
juice and zest of 3 lemons

Melt butter in microwave safe bowl. Stir in juice, zest and sugar until well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and yolks and slowly add to the butter/sugar mixture. Microwave for about 10 minutes, stopping every thirty seconds to a minute to stir vigorously. It will reach a jelly like consistency. Cover and chill. This looks so pretty in small jars and makes great gifts. You have to store it in the fridge since it's not processed like jam. My notes say that it keeps up to 2 months in the fridge but we generally eat it all long before that!