Well, tonight was our second attempt at Julia Child. We made steak au poivre and sauteed potatoes. This was in honor of the finale of ‘The Next Food Network Star.’ For the second to last episode the three remaining finalists were said to have screened ‘Julie & Julia,’ which was supposed to inspire them and help them clarify their culinary points of view. Melissa, the “frenetic mommy,” made a classic French meal that looked phenomenal and apparently tasted outstanding. I swear, a potato and bacon tart. With homemade pastry. How can that be bad? I was drooling. Writing about it again I’m drooling again. Anyway. That kind of got us in the mood for French cooking and trying Julia. Of course, I’m sure Julia Child’s books are making quite the profit this summer and I’m sure that is no accident. I’ve had ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ since Christmas, but I haven’t braved through any of it until this summer, unless, of course, you count reading through some of it. I was waiting for a special time. I don’t know exactly why, what the purpose of that was, but it just hadn’t felt right yet. This summer it finally felt right. Maybe it has something to do with feeling more organized, de-cluttering, or, maybe, just the facts that the movie is coming out, it’s been promoted on ‘TNFNS,’ from a network I love, and the fact that I love food. Maybe. Just maybe that last part.
After rather lengthy deliberations we settled on our menu for the evening. It sounded rather scrumptious and similar to the last steak au poivre recipe we made, courtesy of Alton Brown’s show ‘Good Eats.’ Thankfully not too much needed to be bought. When you think about it, steak au poivre actually is kind of a “go-to pantry” dinner. Granted, I don’t normally have steaks lying around, but there’s easy enough to obtain. Peppercorns, check; butter, check (and, hello!? it’s BUTTER); shallots, well, if not shallots, definitely some kind of onion, or just omit the onion (but that would have gone against Julia and since this was supposed to be about Julia, shallots clearly needed to be procured); and brandy, check. See, mostly things that are in my pantry and well-stocked liquor cabinet, I guess. To be fair, I really only have brandy for cooking purposes. But it’s something that can be cooked with enough of the time that it’s worth its purchase. For the side – potatoes. Well, I generally have some type of potato lying around. Indeed I had a few Yukon Golds, but since we were trying to be faithful to Julia we needed to buy Baby Dutch potatoes. Easy enough to find, at least in my store. For the record, any new potato, or Yukon Golds, would work for this recipe. Then all you needed was some butter and salt and pepper; herbs were optional, but I happened to have some parsley (gosh, I love that stuff now!) and thyme (which I truly appreciated tonight) from earlier in the week. Not too many ingredients either. Oh! I lied. I forgot about the beef stock. But beef stock – not that out of the ordinary. Of course, vegetable or chicken could probably be substituted, although the flavor wouldn’t just right. But in a pinch… Anyway, as it happened, I had beef stock on hand as well. For this occasion we bought New York Strip. In her book Julia gave quite an exhaustive list of cuts of beef that could be used. I’ve used N.Y. Strip before. That sounded good. Okay, and we’re off…to the kitchen!
First order of business – peel potatoes. Remember earlier when I mentioned that these were Baby Dutch potatoes? BABY Dutch? As in small, petite, tiny. And, boy, did these little guys live up to their name. Some of them were just like giant marbles. Imagine trying to peel a marble. And imagine how easily they roll around and can slip out of your hand. Except now you’re also using a cutting utensil at the same time. CUTTING utensil. Yeah. My weapon, er, utensil, of choice was a vegetable peeler. I wasn’t getting too far with that though, so I then employed a paring knife. Yeah, the potatoes started missing large chunks. Back to the peeler. The knife wasn’t speeding me up anyway. And you would think with taking huge chunks out of tiny vegetables… Finally I remembered the three Yukon Golds and decided that I wold follow Julia’s recommendation for if you are unable to find Baby Dutches – cut the larger potato, preferably a yellow-fleshed one (Bingo!) to mimic the size of the preferred potatoes. Score! This was working much better.
Now do you remember that clarified butter from Julia Dinner #1? The clarified butter that we ended up not needing? Well, thankfully my savvy nature showed itself that night and we refrigerated it for future use. Pulled that out and got a pan hot and ready. Four tablespoons dumped in. That ended up being one tablespoon per person if we used the correct amount of potatoes. I think it actually ended up being more like one-plus tablespoon of butter per person this evening. :\ Anyway, moving on… The recipe called for shaking the pan every couple of minutes for the firs cooking portion of the potatoes. Okay, easy enough. As long as I wasn’t supposed to do that thing where some of the food flies up into the air and the items actually get turned over. The potatoes would all end up on the floor – or in the fire – guaranteed.
While the potatoes were being peeled and put into the pan, the whole peppercorns were being crushed and pressed onto both sides of the steaks. Then they got to have a little rest, in hopes of infusing the pepper flavor into the beef. Julia recommends at least thirty minutes, but preferably two to three hours. We were on a time crunch. Thirty or so minutes it would be.
After the potatoes were shaken, not stirred, thank you very much, every two minutes for four times the heat was turned to low and they were let to go for about fifteen minutes. Again, they needed to be shaken every few minutes. They got a little more time to hang out. And, as it turned out, yes, they did need to be totally flipped over in that fancy shake the pan way that I was so fearful of. I’m proud to report that I did not spill any potatoes. I didn’t exactly flip them all over though either. But still. Some of them did, and it was totally cool… :\ After their fifteen minutes were up, the potatoes were taken off the heat, more butter swirled in, and herbs were added, if you like. I opted for parsley and thyme, but left them on the side because I wanted to get the true essence of the potato. I ended up sprinkling on some herbs. Not that they weren’t good. I just took a liking to the herbs, mind you.
Now for the main event – steak au poivre. The cast iron skillet was heated, the butter added, and then the sizzle – the steaks had hit the pan. Per Julia, three minutes each side. We weren’t quite ready for the steaks when they were ready for us, so we let them stay warm in a low oven. Well, actually, the sauce had to be made, too. Some more butter – seriously, you can’t cut corners when cooking with Julia – minced shallots, and then the stock. It smelled DIVINE. We thought a little like a French Onion soup. Next, and this was the really fun part, the brandy. “Can I light it on fire?” My response, “Be careful,” while I stepped about a foot back, looked for anything that could catch, tensed my body, held my breath, and uneasily but excitedly hoped that the brandy would catch. It did. The flames were pretty large and lasted for a bit. I was slightly concerned right at the beginning because they did seem to leap up to the microwave. My cell phone was handy nearby ready to call the Fire Department if need be. Very exciting and we even managed to get a picture. :D
Dinner was ready. Now time for the nomming.
Good. Not great. Again. I think the shallots maybe did make it taste too much like steak in a French Onion soup sauce. I would omit them the next time. Also, cream would be a good addition. I’ll have to look it up, but I think Alton used cream and it worked well. My steak seemed a little tough. I don’t know if that was due to our cooking method, the recipe, or just the meat itself. To be fair, some pieces seemed to be a little more tender. The poatoes. Oh, the potatoes. I had hopes for these little guys. Upon reading the recipe they seemed like they might be like Brabant Potatoes – essentially fried, diced potatoes, at least to me. They did not come out as such. I feel they came out similarly to when we actually followed a recipe for Brabant Potatoes awhile ago. They came out quite alike, although the previous recipes came out more like home fries. I think they needed to be turned more often and it needed to be made sure that each side of the piece of potato was browned. I blame myself. Next time, next time. This will not be the last you see of me and sauteed potatoes or Brabant potatoes. I am determined. The fresh thyme and parsley were lovely, however. We had French Bread from Pavilions on the side. Okay, but their bread has lost its lustre that it once had. A 2007 Veritas Claret rounded out the meal.
Bon apetit until next time, Julia!
August 2, 2009, Sunday
*Will try to add pictures soon! (Photos now obviously added. August 20, 2009)