Tuesday, November 16, 2010

At Long Last... the Emergency Food Night, starring Hollandaise Sauce, and a Beet Soup Recipe

Remember the EMERGENCY Food Night, when Tyler Durden came to town? Of course you don’t. It happened in June. Heck, I barely do. BUT – via my magic picture taking machine, allow me to regale you (in as much detail as possible) with what went down at Durden’s Emergency Food Night.

As an added bonus, let’s toss in a recipe, related to said Emergency Food Night and to the WILDLY successful initial “Food Night Poll”… as seen on the right side of this interweb page. Food Night likes beets, and wants you to like them too. Beets get a bad rap I think because lots of people grew up eating icky canned beets at school lunch in 2nd grade. See, if you don’t like beets, I’m thinking perhaps you and beets just didn’t start off on the right foot. The recipe at the end of this post… is the right foot. Deets upcoming… but first… one thing I DO remember about this Food Night was that it was an absolutely EPIC evening outside…

So epic in fact, that we had a Food Night First… Course #1 was served outside, on the Food Night Mansion’s spiffy new patio furniture. This first course was a salad I learned from a cookbook that I stole got from my folks called “Cypress”. It’s the companion book from a restaurant of the same name that they enjoy visiting in Charleston, SC. I hope to make it there someday, but until then… I used the book as inspiration for this little ditty…

Very simple and elegant. Take an English cucumber to a mandolin, the long way, so you get long strips. Then just form a ring with said cuke strip, and BANG! Your salad container is ready. Toss some farmers market greens with some herbs (tarragon, dash of julienned mint, lemon thyme) and a vinaigrette. Then for the hell-of-it, I painted* a stripe on the plate to lend some added visual appeal.

*Yes, I did use an actual paint brush. No, said brush is not used for anything other than painting plates.

The “paint” was actually the next course…

BEET SOUP! Your favorite beets, lovingly roasted, and pureed into a silky soup! Only one issue with my particular execution of this soup… it was a titch* spicy. We like spice at Food Night. After all, "spice" is the spice of life, right? Or something. Anyway, spice doesn’t always play well with the wines at Food Night, so we try to strike a balance in the spice department. Obviously we don't want to demolish our uber-deece wines with too much heat, right?

*Titch = ½ of a Tad

To combat the titch of excess heat, I chilled the soup overnight, added a little sugar which tends to mellow the heat a bit, and served the soup chilled, too. This resulted in the final product being only sliiiiiightly more spicy than I intended; an acceptable result for an off the cuff Beet Soup (recipe follows).

Rounding out the lineup of dishes, was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever made. Salmon cakes with……………….. hollandaise sauce! Holy MOLY was this hollandaise fabulous, the recipe and inspiration from the ever inspiring Michael Ruhlman. I decided to take a leap of faith, and attempt this sauce for the first time live-without-a-net, during Food Night. No practice run. No backup sauce. Nada. Just… get it RIGHT… the first time. Which after some whisking… ok, a lot of whisking…

… it was not only right, it was heavenly. It was like yellow ribbons of rich lemony silky goodness enveloping the (oh by the way) French Laundry inspired salmon cakes with grilled lemon. While there would certainly be nothing wrong with this dish without the hollandaise…

... WITH the hollandaise… well, you could say the dish sounded its BARBARIC YAWP over the rooftops of the world.*

* Thanks, Uncle Walt Whitman. I had forgotten about that scene in "Dead Poets Society" until I tried to describe yummy hollandaise sauce (now there is a sentence you never thought you'd read in your life, right?!) I don't even think I knew what hollandaise sauce was when I first saw that movie. But anyway, invest the 2 minutes and check out that scene. Great stuff.

The lesson here is… make hollandaise. You can do it. You absolutely can do it. And your life will taste better as a result.

The final course was a second iteration of Sameh’s cucumber broth, this time with salmon instead of halibut, and crème fraiche with pickled tomato instead of yogurt. Not shabby.

My favorite dish? The Salmon Cakes. That hollandaise was so rewarding. But what do I want you to take from this Food Night? Beets. Yes, beets. Beets are your friend. Roast them, saute some aromatics, toss them in the pot with some wine and/or water, garnish… and you’ll have beauty in a bowl.

Beet Soup

Beets – red, one pound or more
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.
Carrot/celery – chopped (optional)
Ginger - peeled, chopped
White wine or sherry or madiera or…
Bay leaves
Guajillo chile – optional (lends spice and earthyness)
Salt, lemon juice, brown sugar; for seasoning
Crème fraiche, quality blue cheese, chives; for garnish

Line an oven going sheet pan with tin foil. Toss beets in olive oil and roast in sheet pan in a 425 degree oven, approximately 60-75 minutes, tossing the beets every 20 minutes or so, until tender. Peel (your fingers probably will want them to cool a bit), and chop into chunks.

While beets roast, sauté your onion to your desired doneness (lightly translucent, or caramelize the hell out of it… it’s a free country). Toss in the garlic, and carrot/celery if using. Saute for a bit and add the ginger toward the end. Gently salt each addition to the pot, remembering you can always add more later. Deglaze pot with wine or sherry or water and reduce.

Add peeled beet chunks, and cover by an inch or so with water, and season with salt. Add (optional)chile and bay, and simmer partially covered for at least 30 minutes. Remove chile and bay. Puree. Adjust consistency of soup as needed, by either reducing to thicken, or adding water to thin. Check for seasoning, adding salt, and lemon juice as needed. Use sugar in 1tsp increments to tame heat a bit if necessary.

Serve chilled or warm, garnished with a spot of blue cheese, crème fraiche thinned with lemon juice or water, and chives.

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