Thursday, February 28, 2013

Baroque Style – Dumas, Varenne and Pork Tenderloin with the Real Sauce Robert

It will come as no surprise to those kind souls who’ve followed this blog for any amount of time (or anyone who knows me for even a little while) that I have a contrary nature.  As I child, I eschewed girly stories for pirate stories. I was crazy for Raphael Sabatini (who authored Seahawk, Captain Blood, Scaramouche).  Instead of cartoons I watched Errol Flynn movies.
I loved the swordplay, the horses, the adventure and the style that I’d found in those movies and my favorite books as a kid had the most gorgeous color plates illustrated by people like NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish and Mead Shaeffer that had been my mother’s when she was a child.  I found them digging around in the parental bookcases one lucky day and they changed my life. I fell in love with color.

The art director (Carl Jules Weyl) who did Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood used the color palette that Wyeth had used in his book illustrations –– rich, saturated Technicolors –– colors of imagination, how could he not?  Unlike the bland colors of the day-to-day world, these were colors of romance and adventure –– not the world as it was but the world as it should be.

When Mead Shaeffer (1898-1980) painted The Three Musketeers artwork he pulled out all the stops (and saturated all the colors) as did Alexandre Dumas when he wrote the tale, based on a story that he found in the Marseille library.  The story captured his imagination so completely that he never returned the book – the Marseille library kept Dumas’ never redeemed withdrawal card at the library as a treasure.  

Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan was written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (published in 1700, 27 years after the death of D’Artagnan).  Like many great adventure stories, Gatien’s tale was secondhand –– it came his way during a prison stay –– told to him by a warden who had been a friend of the real D’Artagnan.  After all, Thomas Mallory  wrote his Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Arthur while serving time in the Tower  –– something about jail lets some imaginations soar –– the colors of imagination can transform even a prison, but are especially potent in the fertile mind of a child.

All those yards of silks, those velvets and brocades, those jewels, those bare shoulders, those ringlets, those men in the wonderful boots and those fabulous feathered hats (so perfect for doffing) –– the middle of the 17th century was a time of sensual extravagance.  Look at the gowns from the 1650’s and 60’s  –– demure white to bird-of-paradise colors –– the saturated colors of romance and adventure:

Susanna Huygens 1667-9

Barbara Villiers, Wright, 1670

de Marigny by Beaubrun 1650-60

Personal items were terribly luxurious during the Baroque period –– even the cases were divine:

The knives and forks were masterfully decorated.

V & A collections 1660-90 German

The furniture was over the top as was the some of the art and architecture

V & A collections, Pier Table 1690

V & A collections, Cabinet on stand 1690

V & A collections, portrait miniature, possibly of Mmme. De Montespan 1690

And the rooms were gilded within an inch of their lives:

Versaille Gallerie des Glaces

Porcelain Dining Room

Kings Dining Room

So you would imagine the denizens of this world of excess and luxury would eat well, wouldn’t you?  And you’d be right. 

François Pierre de la Varenne

François Pierre de la Varenne (1615-1678), the author of Cuisinier François was born at just the right time to take advantage of a perfect climate for a gourmet to thrive –– and thrive he did.  He used fresh vegetables (and didn’t cook them to death), insisted on fresh meat and fish and separated his sweets and savories – making a break with the earlier style that had reigned for hundreds of years of having everything in a jumble ( you know, fish and cake together… bleh!).  He dispensed with the use of most of the exotic spices that had ruled the kitchen and used local herbs instead. He wrote the first book on pastry making and codified cooking techniques. His was the first French cookbook translated into English –– his work influenced many renowned English chefs as a result.   He started using heavenly sauces made with flour-based roux and reductions.  Although many of his dishes are innovations, he kept some classics from the French kitchen canon that he felt were good enough for inclusion –– sauce Robert was one of them.

When I began my series on sauces HERE, I knew I wanted to make Sauce Robert –– a sauce with a rich history that stretched back for centuries.   It was a sauce that was so well-known that it made its way into literature, mentioned in Rabelais’ Pantagruel as well as in a remarkably amusing play bursting with fine food entitled La Condemnacion de Banquet   from 1507 that has an exchange that involves Sauce Robert (not unusual since the whole thing is about food) as it waxes eloquent on sauces and dishes to delight:

Madame honnorée,
Veez-en cy de trop plus parfaictes,
Que cyve, ne galimaffré:
Tout premier, vous sera donnée,
Saulce Robert, et cameline,
Le saupiquet, la cretonne,
La haricot, la salemine,
Le blanc manger, la galantine,
Le grave sentant comme basme,
Boussac, monté avec dodine
Caulhurner, et saulce madame
Even further back there is a mention of it (but no recipe) in the mother of all French cookbooks, Taillevant‘s  1310-95) Le Viandier .  A 1583 cookbook said to make Sauce Barbe Robert, one should:

“Take small onions fried in lard (or butter according to the day), verjuice, vinegar, mustard, Small spices [grains of paradise, cloves and long pepper] and salt.  Boil everything together.”

But what about the name?  In 1877, E. S. Dallas' Kettner’s Book of the Table said that Sauce Robert came from the English cook’s Roebroth or Roebrewit (a stew of roebuck with a special sauce).  He postulated that Taillevent didn’t understand the word so he made it Sauce Robert and that it has remained –– well sort of.   The original was onions and mustard and vinegar.  Today it still has onion but is brown and not as sprightly.  Julia Child made it with onions, white wine, brown sauce and mustard in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking –– the brown sauce addition goes back at least to Carême.  Kettner's author Dallas decried the sad state that Sauce Robert had gotten to –– fallen from it’s oniony heights:

“But ask for the Sauce Robert at clubs or restaurants, whether in Paris or London: it is impossible to recognize it in the liquid which is now served under its name.  Yet great chefs cannot rest content with the simplicity of the old receipt.  They glory in high art and all the wonders of science; and they have improved upon the sauce until its fine gusto is lost in a weak civilization.  The Sauce Robert was bountiful in its onions –– indeed, illimitable.  In the sauce of the modern Boulevards, the quantity is reduced; onions are not polite enough –– and sometimes they are intermingled with chopped gherkins.  In the Sauce Robert there was not thought of wine or ketchup, nor any thought of vinegar beyond the little tarragon vinegar involved in French mustard…. If they want a Sauce Robert, they surely ought to get it in the simplicity of the old receipt, which is perfect in its way.”

A masterful full history of sauce Robert can be found at Peter Hertzmann’s blog, a la carte HERE.

I wanted to try the old version and found a recipe for a Pork Loin with Sauce Robert in La Varenne.  This was my idea of a perfect use for the sauce and I had beautiful Berkshire pork tenderloins from my friends at D’Artagnan for the dish.  Seems only good and right that the D’Artagnan company has a role in this dish since it was inspired by The Three Musketeers (Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno –  one for all, all for one!).  They always have what you need to make great meals from this century or any other.

I took the liberty of adding a bit of fat, since the tenderloin has none. I liked the idea of a combination of butter and pork fat (as the 1583 recipe suggested) and the result was superb. Also, since the roasting method would produce more juices on a whole loin, I added some demi-glace to get the rich flavor the original would have had and reduced it to a chutney consistency –– you can reduce it less if you would like.  The original would have had more fat and might have been more liquid.  This would be great with pork chops and sausages as well –– you may want to double the recipe and save some because it is that good.

Light the candles, perfume your room, close your eyes and pretend you are sharing it with your 17th century paramour done up in silks and satins.  Imagination (and great flavor) can take you anywhere you want to go, can’t it?

Loin of Pork with a sauce Robert

Lard it with great lard, then roast it, and baste it with verjuice and vinegar, and a bundle of sage.  After the fat is fallen, take for to fry an onion with, which being fried, you shall put under the loin with the sauce wherewith you have basted it.  All being a little stoved [stewed or heated] together, lest it may harden, serve.  This sauce is called sauce Robert.

Pork Tenderloin with Sauce Robert, serves 4

2 pork tenderloins (Get D’Artagnans HERE)
1 T lard or butter (you could use more fat to be more like the original - perhaps 1/4 c)
1 large onion chopped 2 T butter
½ t salt and ½ t pepper*
pinch ground cloves
¾ c verjuice + ¼ c white wine vinegar OR ½ c white wine and ½ c white wine vinegar
2 Small bunches sage leaves
½ c demi-glace from D'Atagnan HERE
2 T grainy mustard

Heat the butter in a skillet and add the onions and one of the sage bunches.  Cook at low heat for about ½ an hour till soft and sweet.

Preheat oven to 425º

Put the lard or butter in the heated pan, salt and pepper the tenderloins and put in the skillet and brown the meat over high heat for a minute or 2 on each side.  Put them in the oven for 10 -15 minutes or until the internal temperature is 145º.  Remove from the oven and tent while you finish the sauce.

Remove the sage, add the verjuice and vinegar and begin reducing over medium low heat.  Add the demi-glace and stir till you have a thick sauce. Pour any juices from the pan (after removing excess fat) and pour any accumulated juices from the plate into the sauce. Add the salt and pepper and cloves.

Taste for seasoning and then add the mustard.  Serve with the sliced tenderloin garnished with the rest of the sage.

* originally long peppers and grains of paradise would be used… they are great so use them if you have them –– they have grains of paradise at Whole Foods

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Princess Grace of Monaco Lunches on Lamb with the Kennedys

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about an event we had both attended years ago. We discovered we both had very different memories of it even though both of us thought we remembered it clearly. We had a good laugh about it.

For me, the incident was a perfect illustration that history is not always “facts”. Our records of the past are a collection of recollections that have often been shaded or even compromised by emotion or a point of view. Sometimes it’s a blindered, narrow view (attention so focused on some element that the larger picture eludes them entirely) or a Cinemascope, ultra-wide view of the event (so wide the details are lost). It can happen to the best of us.

Grace in her green dress that President Kennedy recognized as Givenchy

Why am I am telling you this? Because when I discovered the Jacqueline Kennedy White House menus on Pink Pillbox a few weeks ago (when looking for a famous use of Sauce Chasseur that I wrote about HERE), I found myself irresistibly drawn to investigate the luncheon given at the White House for Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. 

I got the Kennedy White House chef Rene Verdon’s The White House chef cookbook to check out the recipes for the food and guess what? He remembered the dinner wrong! He had everything else right including the wine vintages but not the main dish. He remembered serving Princess Grace a crisply breaded chicken breast with spinach and mushrooms –– Supreme de Volaille Gismonda (delicious, if I may say –– I made it last week using some of my frozen Sauce Espagnole) –– but that's not what they ate. 

According to the original, dripped-upon menu from the event (that the Master of Menus, Henry Voight of the indispensible menu blog The American Menu, was kind enough to share with me) the group of 11 dined on soft shelled crabs, “Spring Lamb à la Broche aux Primeurs” (skewered Lamb with Spring vegetables), Salade Mimosa (made with greens and finely chopped egg) and Strawberries Romanoff (strawberries with orange liqueur, ice cream and cream garnished with candied violets) with Petit-fours sec and Demi-tasse to finish –– Lamb, not “ Supreme de Volaille Gismonda” was the main course even though Verdon says in his own cookbook, “ I recall the occasion when I first prepared Supreme de Volaille Gismonda at the White House. It was a luncheon for Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, in May of 1961.” 

This was long before people could do quick internet searches but you would imagine that Jackie, Grace and Letitia who were very much alive in 1967 might have gone, hmmm, really (Letitia wrote about the event and gave recipes for the menu in her 1996 book, In the Kennedy Style: Magical Evenings in the Kennedy White House)? 

I tracked down an interview that Princess Grace gave to Paul Gallico at the Kennedy Library in 1965 that Henry tipped me off about (the interview is much longer –– I have just given you a selection). In it she speaks of the President and of the 1961 luncheon at the White House:

GALLICO: Do you happen to recall what was served at the luncheon?

GRACE: Yes, I do. For I kept the menu. I’m one of those people who keep everything. We had soft-shelled crabs and spring lamb and strawberries Romanov.

GALLICO: And what happened after the luncheon?

GRACE: The President and Mrs. Kennedy took us around the White House and showed us many of the rooms….

GALLICO: Was this the first time that you had met the President?

GRACE: Actually, no. The first time was before he became the President, during that year he was in the hospital in New York with his back. I had been to a dinner party where I had met Mrs. Kennedy and her sister [Lee Bouvier] for the first time. They asked me to go to the hospital with them to pay a visit and help cheer him up. They wanted me to go into his room and say I was the new night nurse.

GALLICO: That was a quaint idea. Did you?

GRACE: Well I hesitated! I was terribly embarrassed. Eventually I was sort of pushed into his room by the two girls. I introduced myself, but he had recognized me at once and couldn’t have been sweeter or more quick to put me at ease.

Now, there has been much said that Jackie and Grace were not chummy. It was said that it was a put-down that the Prince and Princess of Monaco were given a luncheon and not a dinner. Letitia Baldrige said Jackie’s decision to make the change to a less formal luncheon may have been “a bit of jealousy perhaps”. I wonder, was Jackie worried that Grace may have pulled out the crown and jewels and out-shown her at a formal dinner or did it have something to do with the rumor that there had been a brief romance years before between Grace Kelly and Jack Kennedy? If the mini-feud’s true, nothing of the sort came through in the 1965 interview on the Princess’s side. Grace was incredibly gracious.

GRACE: President Kennedy’s youthfulness and vitality appealed so strongly to my husband [Rainier III, Prince of Monaco] and myself.

GALLICO: Yes, it would, of course.

GRACE: We felt somehow that at last the United States had a leader who, from the point of view of age, appearance, and dynamic personality, genuinely reflected his era. My husband often remarked what a pity it was that a great country like America, which in Europe is still regarded as such a young nation, should be represented seemingly only by old or infirm men—I don’t mean this as any reflection upon past presidents, but then all countries mostly have older men at their head, with the younger ones so rarely given a chance.

GALLICO: Until Mr. Kennedy.

GRACE: Yes, he was almost too good to be true—he was just like the All-American boy, wasn’t he, handsome, a fighter, witty, full of charm....

GALLICO: Your highness, you mentioned before your spiritual as well as emotional involvement. What did you mean by spiritual?

GRACE: I was thinking of the background of Irish Catholicism of both of our families, as well as the fact that Monaco is a Catholic country. This was another bond between us and brought him closer to us here, perhaps, more than any other president and made his death an even greater blow—to lose such a man and such a mind.

GALLICO: And when we most needed him.

GRACE: And he and his wife made such an appealing and attractive young married couple, too. We all identified with them. I think for the first time the White House was brought so much closer. People began to read about it and take an interest in it almost as they did in their own homes. When Jacqueline Kennedy [Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy] redecorated it, every young housewife was decorating it with her.

Wonderful words, wouldn’t you say?

The seating plan as prepared by White House calligrapher, Sanford Fox 

This recipe was a happy discovery for me because my Cooking Crew is getting together again this month and our topic is meat and potatoes and this certainly qualifies… in a deconstructed, elegant way. I used a bit of Verdon’s recipe and some of Letitia, especially her marvelous technique with the vegetables which I am assuming was something done by Verdon (although it wasn’t in his cookbook). The sherry glaze is brilliant. The dish reminded me of my mother who went through a real affair with pearl onions and mushroom caps. I can see why now, you will too. It’s all simple to make and terribly good with lots of flavor and not too many calories!

Spring Lamb à la Broche aux Primeurs serves 4

1½ pounds lamb loin or trimmed leg cut in 1” cubes (make them larger if you want them rare)
¼ c olive oil
juice of 1 lemon 
1 bay leaf
2 T each fresh rosemary, parsley and thyme
1 clove minced garlic
12 - 24 mushroom caps (I used creminis, you could you the more classic white mushrooms)
¼ c Mint or Herb jelly (optional)
12 each baby carrots, tiny turnips or other baby vegetables **** small new potatoes, unpeeled or potatoes carved into small pieces (I used my favorite purple potatoes), pearl onions, peeled
1T butter
2 c chicken stock
3 T demi-glace (optional)
1 bay leaf
¼ t salt and pepper
18 green beans or asparagus
1 c peas
1/2 c sherry

Stir together the oil, lemon, herbs and garlic. Toss with the lamb and marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Put the lamb and mushrooms on skewers (if you don’t have metal, soak wooden skewers for at least 15 minutes before using. Coat liberally with the marinade.

Peel and trim the vegetables. Put the butter and stock in a pan and simmer 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and onions and your other root vegetables. 

Cook for about 10 minutes, covered, until cooked but still firm, tossing the vegetables once or twice. Add the beans or asparagus and peas and cook through (my peas were frozen so I just put them in for a minute).

Remove the vegetables from the pan and reduce the liquid till thickened. Add the sherry and boil till reduced to glaze. Return the vegetables to the pan and coat in the glaze.

Broil the meat for about 3 minutes, brush with jelly and cook 2 minutes longer (you might want to do a test with your broiler for this to get it right)

Place the vegetables and meat on a platter or on individual plates and serve.

**** Since this is the wrong season for little spring vegetables, I baked regular sized beets and carrots. I peeled and sliced them and then used small cutters to make shapes of them. I warmed them in the reduced stock

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Valentine’s Day, Passion is an Ingredient in Spiced Rose Chocolate Pudding

I was in a bleh kind of mood this week. No energy, no joie de vivre, just bleh. Nothing I read interested me. I tried watching TV and it left me cold. I made a favorite dish and it was bleh –– it wasn’t that it was bad –– it was just tasteless. I can’t say for sure if the dish really tasted off or that my taste was on a dull setting but the result was the same, BLEH.

It got me to thinking about how much of ourselves (for better or worse) we put into our cooking –– are we the je ne se quoi that transcends ingredients and brings our food out of the commonplace into the sublime (or makes them bleh)? Are we an ingredient? Once I walked down that road, there was no turning back.

When I started thinking about food that’s full of magic –– food that makes a bad mood better and turns sour faces all smiles like in Babette’s Feast (that I wrote about HERE) I started feeling less bleh. When I thought of Like Water for Chocolate, another one of my favorite food books/films, I was feeling all warm inside and the blehs had disappeared entirely. I rented the movie.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since I first read it. I think 3 friends gave me a copy when it came out, each gift accompanied with sly smiles and the universal “this book is so you.” I enjoyed the book but it was the concept of food seasoned with emotion that really got me. I really believe it’s true. You feel bleh, you cook bleh. You are madly in love –– your food is full of heavenly magic and passion.

When the main character, Tita, is given pink roses (that turn red as she holds them) by her beloved, she cooks a dinner that is so full of love that passionate spirits at the table who eat the perfumed morsels burn with it (her beloved and even her sister's passions are enflamed with each bite). Quail, roses and love –– most especially love, make for a potent meal:

Isn’t that how we wish our food would always affect our beloved?

I can’t promise you that my chocolate pudding will do this for you –– but you will be well on your way. As Tita tells a neighbor who asks for the recipe for her stuffed chilies, love is the secret ingredient.

The recipe for my pudding was a happy discovery. Its base is an ice cream recipe from the brilliant Madeleine Kamman (who I wrote about HERE). I had to make it when I saw it had hot chili in cold ice cream.

Trouble is, as it cooled and I tasted it, I loved it warm –– I mean REALLY loved it warm. The next time I made it I skipped making it into ice cream and just made pudding. It's a pudding that's rich, dark, chocolate with a warmth that caresses your throat with each spoonful. The touch of lime, hot pepper and cinnamon is very Mexican (Kamman called it Montezumas Ice Cream after all) and so appropriate for a tribute to Like Water for Chocolate.

The biggest change I’ve made is adding the scent of roses to my romantic mix made with my favorite Aftelier's Rose Absolute (but you can use rosewater) and holding it overnight for the chocolate to bloom and mature in the mix (a trick from Brillat-Savarin). Let it return to room temperature and eat (or if you can’t wait, do it earlier in the day and don’t refrigerate).

I think when you share it with your Valentine, you will have warm thoughts as well for like Tita’s cooking the dark chocolate will woo you as it too is “voluptuously, ardently fragrant and utterly sensual.” It is rich as can be, but don’t deny yourself this once. You will find this recipe is a wonderful guilty pleasure to be savored with your loved one or on your own when you watch the last episode of Downton Abbey.

Rose Chocolate Pudding (based on a recipe by Madeleine Kamman) serves 4

1 c milk
1 cup cream
5 egg yolks
¼ c plus 2 T sugar
2 ½ oz chocolate (60 to 70% is best) chopped fine
½ t cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lime
1/4 to ½ t chipotle pepper (or cayenne) to taste (I like the smokiness of the chipotle)
1 -2 drops Aftelier Rose Absolute (that you can get HERE or 1-2 t rosewater to taste
pinch of salt

Scald the milk and cream. Beat the yolks and sugar together. Add the milk and cream to the yolk mixture, stirring all the time.

Rinse out the milk saucepan and let the mixture cool a few minutes before putting it back on the heat. Thicken over medium high heat, stirring constantly. When the temperature hits 175º, remove from the heat and add the chocolate and cinnamon and pepper. Keep stirring over a low heat until the chocolate is melted.

Strain the mixture, rubbing on the chocolate ( I often put the strainer back in the mixture to moisten the remnants of the strainer. Wipe the bottom of the strainer.

Add the lime zest and salt.

Put plastic wrap over the surface of the pudding and cool to room temperature.

Whisk the pudding and add the rose just before serving.

I love this sentiment, don't you? We go on as our recipes go on.

Happy Valentines!