Friday, October 10, 2008

The Family That Cooks Together...Tries Not to Stab Each Other

by Erin

As I mentioned earlier, last weekend our Aunt and Uncle came all the way from New Mexico to see Blackacre. While they may have thought they were coming to reconnect with family, relax, enjoy sunsets over the Chesapeake Bay, and perhaps take a dip in the brand new swimming pool, we had other plans for them. Yes, we figured with two more people in the kitchen, we can REALLY get cookin'.

The menu planning commenced in the days before they arrived, but much of what we chose to cook was dependent on what fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and fish were available at the markets the day of the meal. The family split into teams and hit the road. Team Mom and Gloria went to Emily's Produce and bought fruits for Gloria's dessert and veggies for the salad. Team Dad, Michael, and Xani went to the butcher (Lazar Wolf?), the baker, and the fishmonger, Kool Ice Seafood (no candlestick-maker this time!). I, unfortunately, stayed home and did schoolwork (cue violin).

Anyway, after the shopping came the prep work and the menu planning. Recipes were researched, veggies were peeled and chopped, fish were cleaned, and dessert was started. Then we had a few hours to relax around the house and the pool and catch up a bit.

Flash forward a few hours, it was time to commence cooking! In all, we prepared a five-course meal. Normal!! But first, to prepare, we of course had cocktails...

Now onto all the delicious details...

First Course: Roasted Marrow Bones and Maryland Crab Cakes

As you might remember from previous posts, we love and are always on the hunt for bone marrow. Probably the best I've ever had was at Lupa in NYC, with Blue Duck Tavern in DC being a close second. I know it may sound gross to some of you but trust us on this one -- it's damn good. We found the bones at the butcher shop in Cambridge, and found a simple recipe that included soaking the bones in water (not sure why-- it helped to defrost them, and it was a Martha Stewart recipe and you do not eff with Martha!) and then placing them on a baking sheet, and roasting them for about 25 minutes at a high temperature. We served them with toasted baguette on which to spread the deliciousness. Xani's favorite part was obviously the teeny spoons one must use to get the marrow out.

Before they were roasted

Toasted up crostini

Awaiting plating...

Alongside the bones we made Maryland-style crab cakes. "Maryland-style" meaning (a) mostly crab, not a lot of filler, and (b) awesome. BCD Dad made these using egg and a little matzo meal as binder, some homemade crab stock, Old Bay (a Maryland staple), and some other ingredients. Then he breaded the outside with panko (Japanese bread crumbs).

Then Xani fried them up and got a beautiful golden crust on all sides. That is the product of patience, folks!!

Here is the final plating:

Second Course: Oysters on the Half-Shell

Okay okay, we didn't really cook this course, but blood was shed, therefore it counts as a course. These oysters gave BCD Dad a run for his money in the struggle to open them all up. But as usual, Dad prevailed (my hero!) and we were able to enjoy these really delicious oysters. Mmmm, oceany.

Third Course: Summer Vegetable Salad

This is a little something we threw together after seeing the lovely produce at Emily's. They had some great looking green beans and cute yellow squash, along with bright red peppers just begging to be roasted. So, for this "simple" salad, Xani first cleaned all the green beans and cut the squash into green bean size pieces. She blanched the green beans and sauteed the squash up with some shallots. While both beans and squash were cooling, Dad roasted some red peppers over the gas stove, then cooled and peeled them. Then when everything was cool, she tossed all the veggies with a shallot and rice vinegar dressing, and some fresh basil.

Fourth Course: Bouillabaisse

When deciding what main course to make, we had a couple goals in mind: (1) let's try to use the great seafood we can get out on the shore, (2) let's do something super-complicated to challenge ourselves and really test Kitchen Stadium at Blackacre. With Bouillabaisse as the main course, we satisfied both goals!

We used a very traditional recipe for this classic French dish, which basically had three components: the broth, the fish, and the rouille. We started the broth pretty early in the cooking scheme since it is basically a stock. Took lots of veggies, herbs (including saffron, of course!), and the (usually) inedible fish parts (e.g., heads, tails, bones), and cooked them down into a really flavorful stock. Oh, and we also cooked a potato in there - this potato will make an appearance later in the show. After the stock had cooked for a while, we strained it through a chinois and put it back in the pan to cook down some more.

Next there was the fish. We used striped bass, flounder, clams, shrimp, and maybe some other kinds that escape me now. Kool Ice kinda slacked on the cleaning they were supposed to do, so Dad and Michael pulled out the big cleavers and knives and did some additional butchering on these fishes to make them edible. Once the broth was strained and back in the pan, Michael cooked each type of fish separately in the stock. Basically, he gently poached them in the stock, and then once they were done he used the heating shelf to keep them warm.

BCD Dad and Uncle Michael work together on the fish for the Bouillabaisse

Last there was the rouille. I personally had never even heard of this amazing condiment until we made it. Now I want to put it on everything! We took the potato from Act 1, and put it in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, parsley, basil, and some hot peppers to make a thick sauce, almost like a dip. It is essentially a super-flavorful mayonnaise.

Drizzling in oil

The final dish with all the components put together was just awesome. The fish was perfectly cooked and kept in tact by Michael's careful cooking methods. The broth had a wonderful, intense flavor from the fish and saffron and all the herbs and veggies. The rouille had great flavor, and went so well on the fish and the nice bread we bought. Put all together, it was a fabulous dish! It was really fun to make something we'd never made before that was so complicated and a classic.

Fifth Course: Peach Granita

For dessert, we put Gloria to work since she is quite amazing in this area. We have early memories of Gloria's homemade candies and cakes, and we were excited to once again enjoy one of her desserts. Using the peaches she found at Emily's, she made a granita flavored with orange juice and champagne. It was an all-day process since she had to keep stirring the granita (in the freezer) so the ice crystals that were forming wouldn't be too large. In the end it was a sweet, conforting flavor with a nice texture from the ice and the fruit itself. (Sorry, no pics, unfortunately!) We enjoyed the granita on the deck overlooking the Bay. It was a great end to a really great meal!

And that's it! That's the story of our Podolny family cooking extravaganza. See Michael's impressions of the extravaganza here. But don't worry, it certainly won't be our last! Especially since BCD Dad's birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and you know what that means: LOBSTERS!

Gellie says: Why didn't I get any Bouillabaisse?

Happy family cooking,

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