Monday, May 7, 2007

Michael, Will You Marinate Me?

(That's just plain silly, but it is Wedding Week on the Food Network.)

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

Engagement Party

Harlequin Soup
Very Green Broccoli Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Roasted Winter Squash
"His and Hers" Surf and Turf

To get the recipes:
Click here

Michael is celebrating the engagements of various friends by throwing a dinner party. He starts with 2 soups which are poured side by side. I don't even want to say how long I've been doing that. Ok, I'll tell you. It was from the moment The New Basics was published - a mere 18 years ago. Actually, that WAS the best recipe in the book. It was a beet vichyssoise (add a beet to any old vichyssoise recipe... awesome) and a pea soup (add frozen peas and chicken stock to sautéed onions) and serve them side by side. It's stunning. Anyway, MC is making a "Harlequin of 2 soups".

Sorry to get off the topic, again, but the cutest thing I have EVER seen is a Harlequin Great Dane (did you know they were called that? - the ones with with the big black and white spots) and a Dalmatian, walking down the street side by side. I LOVE THAT.

Michael's first soup, is a roasted butternut squash soup, which is prepared in his signature "Agrodolce" (sweet and sour) way. He starts it in brown butter and adds sage, telling us that "parsley gets all the glory, but sage has all the flavor." I wouldn't say parsley is exactly the General Patton of the herb world, but it is true that fresh sage doesn't get used here as much as in Italy.

MC is also preparing a toasted spice rub for the butternut squash, which will add sensational flavor. The squash is being treated with all kinds of exciting elements. Balsamic vinegar, molasses and sugar get added, in addition to the sage. "This is the whole agrodulce thing". Then the spice rub goes in. He mixes it in well and he passes my own personal test for what to do next - cook on low heat for 2 minutes. Okay, he says medium low for ONE to 2 minutes, but close enough. You MUST do that or you will have a raw un-rounded flavor which will threaten the integrity of your butternut soup.

If you're new to this concept, this is the situation: whenever you're sautéing an ingredient in oil or butter and adding spices, such as chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander or the like (the warm spices), you should stir them around on a low heat for 3 minutes to develop their flavor. Even if a recipe skips this step, do it anyway, because we know better. NEVER go on to the next step of adding liquid, without cooking your spices first. Thank you for your attention.

He gets the butternut mixture hot and then he puts it in a baking dish and continues cooking it in the oven. That is an excellent tip. By getting it hot BEFORE it goes into the oven, you're saving precious time AND energy. That's a good plan.

Now he starts on the other half of the harlequin soup - the broccoli soup. He chops plenty of celery and onion. Don't bother de-stringing the celery, because it's getting puréed. He cooks them in oil and butter and garlic, but only until softened not brown. You want a steamy mass of sweet veggies with no color. The way to do that - he doesn't spell it out in the recipe - is to get a little sizzle going (make sure you add a bit of salt), cover the pot and turn it down low, low, low. Cook it as long as you have time, but AT LEAST 10 minutes. The longer the better.

Michael trims up the broccoli. He's using the stems as well. Mike, OVER HERE, I do that too. I think we were meant to be together...After the florets come off, you just trim up the stem until you're basically left with a squared-off pillar, which you can cut any way you wish. Here it doesn't matter, because it's going into the blender. But if you're stir frying, cut them into a julienne and you have the delight of broccoli florets AND julienned green thingies that noone has to know are the lowly stem. And they're gooooood. He adds the stems and stock first and then the florets of the broc to the completely softened - also called sweated - vegetables.

Okay, this is getting a bit complicated. The broccoli soup is what I just mentioned - the onion and celery, broccoli and stock. NOW he's beginning the base for the other soup. He softens carrots, onion and celery and adds chicken stock and then the roasted butternut squash. Back to the broccoli soup. That goes into a blender and so do spinach leaves, which just get whipped out with no explanation. Ok fine, I guess he wants this to be greener-than-green, but he could have given us some warning. Lemon zest is also added at some point.

He tells us that when something hot goes into the blender, start off REALLY slowly. I have another tip. This is the single best place to use those space age silicone pot holders. Before you turn on the blender, cover the lid with one, and even if it does spray up a bit, you're protected from the heat by the rubber AND you can just rinse it off...This soup looks spectacularly green. He really deserves the title Chef.

He finishes up the butternut soup with a bit of cream and blends that too. He keep it hot on top of the stove.

He's off to the butcher. Of course, they do the manly-man handshake thing with the all-knowing nod. They acknowledge what he's come for. MEAT, beautiful MEAT, as only one man can give it to another. OKAY WAIT! I'm talking about beef, cows...FOOD!

He returns to the kitchen with Filet Mignon. He peppers and salts BOTH sides. "You have both the tongue and roof of your mouth. You want everything seasoned and happy." Oh, I can think of a way to make me happy and it doesn't involve meat. Ok, there you go know what I mean...He reminds us to start with room temperature meat. "It really kind of opens up the pores and allows the heat to come in so you can cook a perfect medium rare from end to end. That's the trick." I'm not sure I know what he's talking about, but I don't really care. He's so darned cute.

He puts the filets in the pan. Don't crowd the meat, give it plenty of elbow room. "Just when I begin to see some of this juice pushing up through the meat, that's when I want to turn it over." He finishes them in the oven, his "silent sous-chef." That's sweet...I feel quite fondly towards my oven too.

He moves on to the shrimp part of the Surf and Turf. He tells us to season them PLENTY, because half of it will fall off. He sautés them for about 2 minutes on each side and removes them from the pan. He deglazes the hot pan with Chardonnay, and quite a lot...the recipe says one cup. Ah, but he's reducing it by a half, adding 3 tablespoons of butter to make a delightful beurre blanc. How could I have doubted him? He IS impeccable. He adds chives and seasoning and the sauce for the shrimp is done.

The filet sauce is next. He removes the meat from the oven and takes it out of the pan it was cooking in. He reminds us that it continues to cook. Butter goes into the pan and Michael browns shallots and adds thyme and red wine and chicken stock that he's reduced by half. The recipe says to reduce it AFTER you've added it. Good plan. Do that. He finishes the sauce with butter.

The harlequin soup is readied. On the show, he spoons first one soup then the other into opposite sides of the bowl. He drags a skewer through to make a pretty design. The recipe says to pour the soups into pitchers and pour them simultaneously into the bowl. That's how I've always done it and it works very well. One thing he neglects to mention - both soups should be the same thickness, or the thicker one will take over more of the bowl. Just add a bit of stock to the thicker one, if you need to.

This show was a masterly demonstration of many little steps adding up to several great dishes, which were deceptive in their simplicity. MC is the perfect example of working with an efficient time-plan. While he's waiting for one thing to finish, he always goes on to something else. That's why he often has 3 pans going at once, plus something in the oven.

He plates the Surf and Turf family style and serves the soup. The women want to keep the two soups separate. The groom stirs them both together. I'm sure there's a lesson here, and if you figure it out, let me know.

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