Blog of an aspiring foodie

A final accounting – Valentines Day

Posted by beer_chris on 16-February-2005

Well, all in all I'd say the meal went well, although I didn't quite hit my goal of 1 hour of prep time. The main issue was really that I didn't get home until nearly 7 PM, and Jaime wasn't home yet – but there was a message on the machine from Jaime, left at about 6:00 that left it pretty unclear when she would be in, so I was a bit hesitant to start things and have food get cold.

Additionally, because I made it my personal mission to finish an entire 12 pack (OK, 11) of Shiner Bock longnecks on Sunday, I never did get the brown sauce base made – that alone took about an hour and a half. If I had been able to do that the night before like I planned, I probably could have pulled off an hour of prep.

So, if I had pre made the brown sauce, we would have been ready in an hour (sans the dessert prep time, which wasn't included in my original estimates anyway)

The pork chops were a little overcooked. I aimed for a 150 degree internal temp and prob should have done 125. They were a bit dry – the port sauce, however, was GREAT, and I slathered it on my chop – hiding any errors in cooking the pork. It was super creamy, and so rich in flavor – just like some of the best pan sauces I have made. This was the first sauce I think I've ever made with my own roux. Something about making a roux is just therapeutic to me. Looking at the recipe, it seems somewhat intimidating to have to whisk something constantly for about an hour, but as you watch the flour slowly turn from white and to yellow, then to beige and dark taupe, and then finally to brown, all the while smelling the nutty toasted flavors it lets off, time seems to melt away. Between the rich flavor of the roux and the amazingly deep beefy flavor of my homemade veal stock, the sauce was the definite centerpiece of the meal for me – it took the most work, and did it's job magnificently, bringing all of the ingredients together to make a meal.

I also went ahead and added about 1 more tbsp of heavy cream to the potatoes to rehydrate them, and they came out GREAT. Jaime had a good laugh with me, finally comfortable to admit (between mouthfuls) the confusion she had when we first got married – she had a hard time understanding how I could cook wonderful complicated meals but make such (in her opinion) awful mashed potatoes – always very dry, not creamy at all. The gruyere potatoes, at least in her eyes, completed my Phd in mashed potatoes, and she was marveling at the turnaround.

That conversation reminded me how I've built my own cooking skills off of what my mother taught me – either directly or by my watching her – just about all the fundamentals of cooking I know I learned from her, but there were some things either we didn't eat at my house, or I didn't know could be made richer and more full flavored. Mashed potatoes were one of the latter. My mother always used russet baking potatoes, and put very little milk or anything in them before serving with a little margarine or spread. I grew up with dry mashed potatoes covered in salt and pepper – and I still have a taste for them that way (Jaime's opinions notwithstanding). When I had potatoes at Jaime's parents house for the first time, I couldn't believe her mother was using red skinned new potatoes – at my house those potatoes were ONLY for roasting, never for mashed. However, those mashed potatoes were some of the best I've ever had, and I've always remembered that. I now know it has everything to do with the moisture-starch ratio in the potato. So-called waxy potatoes like new and white boiling potatoes make very good mashed, because they contain a lot of liquid relative to the starch, making them easy to puree, but not so good fried because they end up too wet and slimy. High starch potatoes like russets make great baking potatoes and french fries because they flake up when cooked – but are not so good for mashed because they end up too dry.

In any case, I like mashed potatoes just about any way, made with any potatoes, but these gruyere potatoes made with the in-between Idaho Butter Golds were just grand.

I browned the chops in butter before I put them in the oven to finish, and I almost burned the butter again – I had the same problem with my Frankenroasters last week – in fact then I had to stop cooking and clean the pan out to get the burned milk solids out so they wouldn't ruin the chicken. I'm really having a hard time getting used to this electric range, and the temperatures seem highly variable. While I was making the stock on Sunday, the liquid would alternately boil heavily and then lose a boil altogether, without my touching a thing. Perhaps a new electric range might need to get on the strategic capital investment plan sometime soon. I REALLY miss my gas range.

The Nickel and Nickel 2000 Cab was simply fantastic. What an amazingly complex wine – it went so well with the port sauce and the sharp gruyere potatoes. It was just as good as I remembered it, but with the sweetness of the port sauce all kinds of cherry and fruit notes were coming out – I remembered much more of the deeper, richer oak flavors when we had it at Bren's b-day at the steak place, so it was like drinking a different wine this time. Jaime and I savored every sip, and had that bottle downed in less then an hour. The wine was so well aged – the tannin astringency and alco-phenolic dryness were just there, underneath the flavors, reinforcing them instead of dominating them. Fantastic, fantastic wine.

I can't reinforce enough how glad I am I dropped crazy money on that wine. How else would I have even known there was this almost other world of wines to enjoy? The N&N was so far above anything else I've ever had in terms of complexity and taste it's hard to even index it in my mind. I'll be buying something similar again for another meal, I'm sure of it.

Whether it was the great wine or the late evening, the failure of the dessert didn't seem like a big deal. By the time I cleaned up the dinner mess and had everything ready for preparing the dessert, it was well after 11PM. Jaime made the buttermilk cream filling, and I tried to mess with the apples – but my lack of a mandoline and the starchy apples I picked (Braeburn) turned out to be killer. The slices that weren't turning into starchy mush when I tried to bend them were much too thick. Jaime went ahead and set up the tart with apples just laid on top of it, and it was really, really good. The buttermilk cream tasted something like a mix between whipped cream and buttermilk waffle batter.

So much better then going out.

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