Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

151. Deviled Eggs p.27

The recipe

The next few recipes are from a cocktail party we held in honour of a friend’s thesis defense. We invited her to celebrate her accomplishment, and be called Doctor a lot, at an intimate soirée at our place. I was planning a menu around her favourite dishes, and counting on eight to ten people. The day before the party, I was informed that it was going to be more like thirty, and possibly up to fifty people, and that I knew almost none of them. My first reaction was to start dusting.

Most of the time I’m pretty relaxed about the state of the apartment, and the mounting pile of dishes bothers me not at all. The second I hear that company’s coming though, I start channeling my mother. I worked myself up into a right state, gave up on the food, and decided that the best I could do would be to provide an empty and clean space for these hoards to descend upon. Then I thought that even if I wasn’t providing any food, I should really have ice, lemons, and limes on hand. From there I sold myself on baking a congratulatory cake, and decided reprising a couple of the great appetizers from The Project wouldn’t be too hard. The day of I convinced myself that adding a (soon to be blogged) dip would be in the realm of the reasonable. Once the guests had arrived I remembered that we had eggs in the fridge, and couldn’t think of a good reason not to devil them. I spent a good chunk of the evening in the kitchen cooking, but that worked out well as it wasn’t really my party. My dining companion and our newest doctor of philosophy entertained the twenty or so people who showed up, and I catered in the background.

This was a by the book deviled egg recipe, no fancy flourishes, just straight to business. First you hard boil a bunch of eggs, cool them, peel them, and halve them lengthwise, then you remove the yolks mash them up with mayo, Dijon, and cayenne, and pipe them back into the waiting egg whites. You may then garnish with smoked paprika and fresh chives.

Since this was a last minute hors d’oeuvre, I decided to skip the pretty star tip, and just pipe them with a ziplock minus a corner. Chives are lovely with deviled eggs, but the vegetable drawer had run dry, so no chives for you. All in all these were some pretty messy slapdash deviled eggs on my part, but they were devoured before anyone had a chance to notice. As is almost always the case with deviled eggs, they didn’t garner much praise, but they disappeared. If I’d asked people to tell me what they ate, they’d probably have forgotten to mention the eggs, but there was a peculiarly disappointed look that crossed the faces of our guests when they scanned the table and found the tray empty.

Are deviled eggs hopelessly outdated? probably, but who cares? They’re awesome, and I know I’m pleased to see a plate of these on a buffet table. The recipe was very standard, but totally solid. It’s very comforting to know that with a dozen eggs and a jar of mayonnaise I can put out a universal crowd pleaser with only slightly more effort than making an egg salad sandwich.

Sauces and Salsas The Book

134. Mayonnaise p.886

Surprisingly there’s no recipe on Epicurious for plain old mayonnaise.

This is The Book’s basic mayonnaise recipe, there are 7 other dressed up mayonnaises which use this recipe as a starting point, so I’ll be making it a bunch of times. As with most of the basic recipes in the book, it’s solid, but not exciting. However, that’s not a bad thing. I made the mayo recipe from the ’76 edition of The Joy of Cooking, and it was a disaster. Joy is often considered the home cook’s go to source for no-fail basic recipes, and you’d think they’d have a rock solid mayo method, but no. Mayonnaise is made by whisking an egg yolk with oil a drop at a time to get an emulsion started, then pouring in a staggering amount of oil in a slow stream while whisking madly. Once the mayo is thickened and the emulsion is no longer at risk of breaking, you can add extra flavourings. The crazy Joy method would have you add mustard, salt, cayenne, lemon juice, and confectioners sugar before you start the emulsion at all. The mustard is a common addition because it helps the emulsion form, but adding the lemon juice is just stupidity. The acid fights the emulsion you’re working so hard to build, why would you put it in there? I whisked for about 20 minutes before I could get a thin soupy consistency. It was an OK salad dressing, but a horrific mayo. The Book’s method is much more logical, and worked very well.

In this recipe an egg yolk is whisked together with Dijon and salt, then 3/4 of a cup of oil are added first by drops then in a slow stream. Once the mixture starts to thicken to the point that it’s getting difficult to whisk, and the emulsion is solid, you add a bit of white wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Then the remainder of the oil is added in a stream, and salt and white pepper are stirred in.

The mayo wasn’t quite as thick as I would have liked. You’d be better applying this with a spoon than a knife. But, it was silky smooth, and nicely glossy. I might have cut 1/2 a teaspoon of liquid somewhere to keep the mayo thicker. The flavour was pretty good, it had the eggy richness I look for in a mayonnaise, with a little bite from the vinegar and lemon juice, and a background body from the mustard. It was very nice spread on a sandwich, and quite a bit better than the the stuff that comes from a jar.

My only real complaint was the instruction to use either olive oil or vegetable oil in the recipe without further specification. Depending on your olive oil it can have a very pronounced taste, which is great for some applications, but it can make for a very weirdly flavoured mayonnaise. I made mayo at my brother’s place a few weeks back, and the only oil he had was olive, that mayo was edible, but none of us liked it much. It lacked the  mellow feeling I’m looking for in mayo, all of those grassy spicy flavours I enjoy in good olive oil where just unpleasant and distracting when they were so amplified. If you’re going to use all olive oil, I’d recommend using very mildly flavoured oil, preferably not extra virgin. I think the best tactic is to use a small amount of good olive oil for flavour, and then use a flavourless oil for the rest of it (canola, or grapeseed would be my first choices, using about 1 part olive oil to 3 parts other oil).

Mayonnaise is quite easy to make, and homemade has a definite edge over the store bought kind. I’ve always been disturbed by the fact that Hellman’s is made with real eggs, but keeps for months. Without all of the shelf-stable preservatives this mayo will only keep for two days. Since it’s really not much trouble to make, and it tastes better than the miracles of food science on the grocery shelf, I’ve been getting into the habit of making my own. This recipe uses a solid method, and it’s a jumping off point for a lot of interesting variations. It won’t blow your mind, and I’ve had better homemade mayo, but it’s worth trying at least once.

Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb The Book

104. Beef Tenderloin with Cornichon Tarragon Sauce p.416

The recipe

Some good friends were coming to dinner, and I wanted to make something a bit special. When I’m looking for dishes suitable for an occasion, beef tenderloin is frequently at the top of that list. I had frozen part of the tenderloin I used for the Twenty-First-Century Beef Wellington so it was an easy choice to make. I decided to serve the roast tenderloin with three sauces, the cornichon tarragon sauce from this recipe, a Stilton sauce, and whipped horseradish cream. This sort of a menu seems much more appropriate to the fall weather I’m writing this in, than the summer weather I cooked it in. However, it was a pleasantly warm day, and I made one important change to the recipe. I grilled my tenderloin outside instead of sticking it in a 350 degree oven. The sauces were a bit rich for summer, but that just encouraged restraint.

The sauce is made by reducing white wine, shallots and tarragon, then adding cream, thinly sliced cornichons, and a mixture of mustard whipped with butter. This was a seriously powerful sauce. The mustard, tarragon, and shallot flavours were fairly strong on their own, but the cornichons were overpowering. I picked up good quality, imported sour gherkins from France. They were mouth puckeringly sour, without too much other flavour. They were nicely crunchy, but not really my favourite pickle style. The recipe calls for a lot of these little guys, and their concentrated vinegar permeated the whole sauce. My first impression of the sauce wasn’t great, just too sour, and overpowering the somewhat subtle flavours of the tenderloin. As I ate more it grew on me though. Once I stopped making a sourpuss face the underlying flavours came out, and they were good. The sauce also mellowed over the next day, and ended up being in a better balance.

I’m not sure if this is how the recipe was intended to turn out, or I just got a batch of very sour pickles. I think it’s possible I did everything right, because my dining companion preferred this sauce to the other two choices. She agreed that it was sour, but she enjoyed the interplay of the rich creaminess, with the clear vinegar cutting across it. I won’t rush to repeat this one, and if I did I’d try a different brand of pickle, or cut back on them. This sauce had to struggle to get over a bad first impression, but it did redeem itself after a few bites.

Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb The Book

8. Steak Diane p. 427

I can’t find a recipe to link to, and that’s a real shame. This dish was a knockout. The classic version uses tenderloin, here The Book calls for much more affordable sirloins. The steaks were flavourful and ended up fillet mignon tender after a pummeling with an empty wine bottle. The steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan seared. I cooked down some shallots in the fat in the pan, and added a mixture of beef broth, Worcestershire, lemon juice, Dijon, Cognac, and Sherry (I used port). I reduced the sauce, and finished with butter and parsley.

The only change I’d make to this one would be to leave the parsley out of the sauce, it wilted kind of unattractively. I’d leave it out all together, but a bit in a chiffonade over the steaks would look nice.

This took all of 20 minutes to put together and it blew me away. I’m a sucker for a pan sauce because they rescue so much of the goodness you left behind in the pan, and can add complimentary flavours and complexity. In this case the sauce was exceptionally well balanced, and enhanced the flavour of the steaks without covering anything up. I loved that this took no time to prepare (dicing a whole cup of shallots was the most irritating part), didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and left a big impression with my guests. Traditionally the cognac is added right at the end of the dish and ignited table side, the recipe doesn’t call for it but big flames can do wonders to liven up a dinner party.

This was so good I’ve awarded it the first 5 mushroom rating of the project. Well done Steak Diane, well done.