Saturday, August 16, 2008

Aaron’s Great Take On Asparagus And, Yes, He Kissed a Steak…

Plus, Don’t Hate Me For THE Most Confusing Measurement Treatise You’ll Ever Read

Big Daddy's House with Aaron McCargo

Dream Dinner
Herb Potatoes au Gratin
NY Strip au Poirve(sic)
Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad
Plantains Foster

Aaron’s doing his dream dinner of steak and potatoes au gratin. He starts with the potatoes. He melts one stick of butter in a pan and stirs in 4 oz. of flour. Oh my, only 3 sentences in, and, Houston (Seattle and New York), we have a problem. But before I bother you with it, I’m going to let him get this dish into the oven.

Aaron actually adds the flour before all the butter is melted. Then he adds ½ quart milk. He says to use a cold liquid, because it allows the flour, butter and liquid to cook at the same time. There are differing opinions about that point. I do usually add COLD milk, just because I’m lazy.

BUT the classic béchamel sauce is made from milk which has been heated with the heel of an onion, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf. IF you have never done this, try it! Just add those things to your milk and heat until just below boiling, turn off the heat, cover and let the milk infuse for 5 minutes. Strain before using. It’s amazing the depth of flavor the bay leaf, in particular, gives to the finished product. It’s particularly evident in a béchamel, but it gives a great flavor to a Mornay or cheese sauce too.

Aaron cooks the sauce until thick and adds cheddar cheese AND a slice of individually wrapped American cheese food slices!!! (IF I were going to do that, I certainly wouldn’t let the camera see). He seasons it with a bit of chicken bouillon and nutmeg (not freshly grated) and black pepper. He leaves it to simmer.

He puts butter in the microwave to melt for the crumb topping.

Aaron slices 3 lbs. of baking potatoes (with the skin still on) into thick slices. He layers them in a gratin dish and pours the cheese sauce over the top. (I would have Pam-ed the dish first.) He’s not trying to mix it up, just cover the top, he says.

He adds panko to the melted butter. He likes its crunch. He adds 2 teaspoons of his best friend, smoky paprika. He likes its ”rich woodsy flavor”. If you didn’t want as pronounced a flavor here, you could always just use regular paprika and you’d get that beautiful color.

Aaron covers the dish with foil (I NEVER do that) and cooks it at 350°F for 35 – 45 minutes and then uncovers it and cooks it another 10 minutes. Why not just cook it 10 minutes less uncovered the entire time? Believe me with all that sauce on top it’s not going to dry out.

Okay, now that that’s in the oven, let’s have a little chat about flour measurements.

I’ve said before that I have this whole measurement and conversion thing pretty well figured out. I can metricate and unmetricate without too much problem. I grew up with cups and tablespoons; went to cooking school with ounces, pounds and imperial measurements with the beginnings of metric kilos and grams; and in South Africa, lived with the metric system with some ounces thrown in. It CAN get a little tricky. One big confusion is with flour.

Aaron said to use 4 oz. of flour. The website recipe says to use ½ cup. They are NOT the same thing. They would be, if they were talking sugar or butter, but not flour.

We know that 1 cup is 8 ounces. Butter, for example, measures in cups the same as it weighs in ounces. That means if you take a stick of butter – 4 oz. – and shove it into a measuring cup (or melt it) it will fill a ½ cup measure, which means its volume is the same as its weight. That’s also true for sugar: ½ a dry measuring cup of sugar is equal to 4 oz. on a scale.

HOWEVER, the situation is different for flour. Half a dry measuring cup of flour actually weighs TWO ounces and not the FOUR ounces that butter or sugar would weigh. Flour takes up approximately two times in volume what it weighs on a scale. Think of it as always having to double the weight of flour to get the volume. Have I confused you? Just remember this:
1 cup butter = 8 oz.
1 cup sugar = 8 oz.
1 cup flour = 4 oz.




Here’s another wrinkle. The truth is that the website recipe proportions are correct; what Aaron said isn’t. When you’re making a white sauce, in general, you want to add equal amounts of butter and flour BY VOLUME, not weight. So if Aaron was using 1 stick or half a cup of butter he would need ½ cup flour and NOT 4 oz.

Okay, folks, just for fun, if you weighed 3/4 of a cup of flour, how many ounces would it be? If you weighed 3/4 of a cup of sugar, how many ounces would THAT be? C’mon, you can do it.*

Okay, where was I? Aaron is starting the steak. “It’s like Christmas when I’m around meat,” Aaron enthuses about NY strip steak au poivre. He unwraps it with a huge smile on his face. He admires the marbling which gives it its juiciness and flavor. He suggests inviting the butcher over to dinner to thank him. Did he actually kiss the steak? I guess since the butcher wasn’t available…

Aaron drains a jar of green peppercorns and crushes and chops them a bit. He adds black pepper and chops some more. He rubs the mixture on both sides of the steaks. He adds a good amount of olive oil to the pan and heats it on high. He adds the steaks.

Aaron likes the sweetness of the shallot. He chops it (the proper French way). He flips the steaks, then takes them out to sit on a rack to rest. He continues cooking the rest of the steaks. They come out of the pan and the shallot goes into the remaining oil in the pan. (That’s A LOT of oil in there.) He adds flour to the pan and stirs it in. He says to measure out equal parts of fat to flour, but he didn’t. I guess Big Daddy doesn’t have to.

He continues to stir and cook the roux. He pulls the pan away from the flame and adds 1 ½ cups (!!!) of brandy. It flames up nicely. He stirs in 2 cups beef stock and ½ cup heavy cream.

I like Aaron’s easy way about everything. He makes you feel that you can do anything he does. Not because it’s so elementary, but because he explains it in a very clear and simple way.

I do think that the FN made the best choice in their pick of TNFNS winner. It’s amazing in a way, because I don’t think he demonstrated this side of himself that well during the competition. Could it be that these folks actually know what they’re doing and can see the potential in someone even before he can see it in himself?

The next dish is his asparagus salad. Aaron does something VERY interesting. He cuts the thickish asparagus spears in half LENGTHWISE. He says that way they’ll have nice grill marks and the flavor of the dressing will get on the INSIDE of the asparagus. You won’t have “to struggle for where the flavor’s going to be.”

He spoons some prepared garlic and oil (a lot) over the asparagus. He adds some salt and freshly cracked black pepper (I like his expression freshly “cracked”), plus coarsely chopped thyme and rosemary. He tosses it well. Aaron tells us it’s good enough to eat just as it and you don’t even have to bother cooking it. But today he is. He grills the spears, cut side down, and saves all that good dressing in the bowl.

He quickly stirs his pepper sauce.

He turns over the asparagus spears and then takes them off the grill and puts them back into the bowl with dressing. (Of course, if you were making chicken, fish or meat, you couldn’t return the cooked food to the raw food’s marinade…unless you had cooked the marinade after the raw food left it.) Aaron juliennes sun-dried tomatoes. “I smell success.” They go in the bowl.

He removes the stems from the shitake mushroom and slices them. He adds some of the flavored oil from the asparagus to a frying pan and heats that up.

He adds the shitake mushrooms with some good advice. Do not throw them in from high up. The oil will spatter all over the place. “Get close and let them go softly.” He stirs them around.

Now here MC’s sautéing trick would come in handy. Stir the mushrooms to coat with oil and then leave them to cook undisturbed and, oh boy, they’ll get browned and crispy. Aaron gives a nice tossy toss and they look good.

Commercial. There’s really odd tip by Robin Miller on keeping your freezer organized. Does ANYONE keep a list on the outside of the refrigerator of what’s in the freezer and then cross it off? Anybody? I don’t have the courage to show you my freezer, but let’s just say it’s NOT ready for its close-up. In fact, there’s so much stuff jammed in there that you couldn’t get close even you wanted to.

Aaron puts his steaks in the oven to keep warm. He adds the mushrooms to the asparagus salad. He takes out the potatoes and then the steaks. He plates the steaks and “runs” the sauce down the middle of the plate. He serves himself a plate of everything. He’s in heaven.

He says there’s only one way to top off that meal (a little Lipitor, perhaps?). No, Plantains Foster. Okay by me.

He melts half a stick of butter in a pan. (Well, people what does that weigh? YOU’RE RIGHT! 4 oz.) He takes ice cream out of the freezer. He adds plantains to the pan and stirs them around to coat them well in the butter. Aaron adds nutmeg (ground) and ½ cup brown sugar. He pours in rum and banana liqueur, reminding us again to take the pan off the flame when adding it. It flames up BIG.

He adds 1/3 cup of OJ and a little more cold butter. It looks a little liquidy. I think I would have removed the plantains and boiled the mixture down to reduce it a bit. He spoons out the plantains into a dish. He adds some ice cream on top and digs in. He is a happy man and, despite the flour controversy, he's shown us quite a few worthwhile things on today's show.

* 3/4 of a cup of flour weighs 3 ounces. 3/4 of a cup of sugar weighs 6 ounces.


Emiline said...

Lipitor! Ha ha! Love it.
This sounds like such a rich meal. I don't think I've ever had plantains in a dessert.

Yay, I got the question right! Whew, glad I passed the test. I almost said 26.

Sue said...

That would have really bad, if you had gotten it wrong. You would have had to take remedial measuring.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the valuable volume vs weight tip.

And what was the kissing of the steak all about?

Anonymous said...

Did you see the episode today where he seasoned his ribs with a rub and other marinade and then covered the dish with plastic wrap, and aluminium foil and placed it in a hot oven for an hour. Plastic wrap in teh oven???

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Interesting bit about the bechemel. I've always been confused at using warm or cold milk. I've heard it both ways. I like the steeped onion adn bay leaf thing though. I will definitely do that for my next bechemel (and then the warm/cold debate will be solved).

Franci said...

I did look forward to what Aaron would cook on each episode at first, because after all in TNFNS he seemed to cook such interesting and delicious food. His food still does look delicious, but he does use an awful lot of oil - probably more than I would use in half a year!
One aspect of his show that I dislike immensely is that, probably in the interest of appearing comfortable with the food and casual, he can at times display very poor food handling practices. He kissed a steak; he mixed mayonnaise into a huge bowl of egg and macaroni salad meant for a picnic with his bare hands. I thought that the latter was digusting - utensils are there to reduce unnecessary handling of cooked food with the bare hands - use them.