The second installment of “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving”
Our dinner at the French Laundry wasn’t the first dining experience my husband and I had at a Thomas Keller restaurant.
We hadn’t been married more than a year when we spent a spontaneous three-day weekend in Vegas. The trip was a blast — we saw a Cirque du Soleil show, had a fancy dinner at Mario Batali’s B&B Ristorante and even took a rather hilarious gondola ride through the Venetian hotel. You’ll notice the one thing we didn’t do — gamble.
Neither of us is really into casinos and the only chips we put down were the two free ones we got from the front desk when we checked in. The trip — like our lives — focused on food, ending in a fantastically elegant meal at Bouchon a few hours before we left town.
Seared Striploin, Orange-Parsley Chimichurri with Roasted Beets and Carrots.
As you all may know, I’ve been participating in the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse. The refined-sugar-and flour-free eating plan has resulted in several dreams involving fudge and bread but so far I’ve managed to make it through without a single cheat. Of course, it’s fairly easy to stick to a cleanse that involves (at least a little) red meat.
Yes, this beautiful steak dinner was still part of the 2014 FLC and it was so satisfying it nearly made me forget about wanting a beer. Nearly.
The recipe was Hanger steak with Orange Oregano Chimichurri but I made a few substitutions. The first issue was that I hadn’t bought hanger steaks from work and trying to find them at the nearest grocery store was totally unsuccessful. I turned instead to another steak known for its leanness, the striploin. In the chimichurri, I used some home-dried thyme instead of dried oregano because that’s what I had on hand. I also added a bit of mint because I live on the edge.
Similar to how nose to tail eating utilizes all the parts of an animal, this luscious citrusy cake uses the whole orange, rind and all. Okay, okay, the seeds aren’t used but everything else is. And when the peel and pith come together with enough butter and sugar, magic is made. I promise.
I stumbled upon the recipe for this cake in an old issue of Sunset magazine that my mom gave me (apparently hoarding magazines runs in the family). I was lured in because it sounded easy to put together on a work night — puree, blend, bake — and because it was described as being “not too sweet.”
Despite my weakness for hard candy, I tend to prefer tart and tangy desserts over super sweet ones. And since I was craving something bright and summery in flavor, this recipe wasn’t in my hands for longer than a week before I baked it up.
I followed the directions, even managing not to make a single substitution, and it turned out like a ring of sunshine…
The Background: It seems silly to do a long post about granola — lots of people make it and it’s so versatile that any recipe you have can be tweaked one way or another depending on your personal taste. And yet, this recipe in particular called out for me to do a post about it. Why? Because of this ingredient: candied orange peel.
I not only love homemade candied citrus peels, but I happen to have some leftover from Christmas and had never thought to use them in granola. It seemed like such a stroke of genius, though I was worried the candied part might make the granola too sweet. Thus, the recipe needed testing!
A couple of weeks ago I was on a Meyer lemon kick and every recipe that contained even regular lemons got pulled out of my recipe binder to be examined. I saw one from Cooking Light that caught my eye, this Baked Pasta with Spinach, Lemon and Cheese, but when I read the reviews online, everyone seemed to hate it. There were complaints about how long it took to make, coupled with numerous comments about how bland it was. This was by far my favorite comment because you really got a feel for how bitter this person was after making a dinner that sucked: “We just had the ritual burning of the recipe. Now we’re making sandwiches so we’re not hungry the rest of the night.”
Now since I’ve had years of experience cooking professionally, I have to admit my first thought was to blame the cooks and not the recipe. If you keep tasting while you cook, you should end up with something fairly decent. I have also learned to add copious amounts of salt, as well as extra cheese, to Cooking Light recipes to avoid working hard at a meal just to find it severely lacking in flavor when you sit down to eat it.
So I thought, screw it, I’m a good enough cook to make this pasta dish and have it turn out fabulous. Oh, I was so wrong…I did everything from upping the garlic and lemon tremendously to even making a little more bechamel so the final dish was creamier. Nope. It sucked. The flavor was terribly bland — it was only after squeezing two lemons over the pasta that I found it palatable. The main problem was the spinach. It turned into a gross mush. Ugh. I can’t even express my sadness over this dinner, but I will tell you my lesson in humility was also a lesson in perseverance.
Since I was still craving pasta with lemon I decided to take Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Baked Lemon Pasta out for a spin. I started with fresh pasta which I was a little nervous about, but the chive linguini I had in my fridge coupled with sour cream and lemon sounded too good to pass up. Optimistically I pushed the thought of the failure from the night before out of my head and got started.
So a few years back my friend DB brought me a bag of delicious homemade candied orange peels as a birthday present. They were the perfect gift — sweet yet tart, chewy but still tender and dipped in chocolate because, … Continue reading →