Oily Rats and Size Matters

Today I spent the better part of the day reading about food, preparing food, cooking food, or cleaning up food.

This morning I was looking for something to make for the little lady today and decided to go with Saute De Boeuf A La Parisienne (Beef Saute with Cream and Mushroom Sauce) and serve it with Ratatouille.

Both recipes were from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

Remember that I don't profess to be a professional chef or even experienced home cook. I'm really just starting my education in the kitchen and trying to move beyond the routine of being able to tell you without viewing the menu that a Number 3 combo with an enchirito thrown in cost $7.44.

So knowing my lack of experience or education you can imagine the many tribulations I faced today. Even shopping for the ingredients was a chore. A number of recipes in MAoFC list cuts of meats that frankly I have never seen in the neatly packaged containers at my local grocery store. I am especially ignorant in the arena of butchery. I couldn't tell you the difference between tenderloin butt and booty call shoulder roast? So when I went to the grocery store and was looking for tenderloin butt I was more than a little lost. I found some packages that were tenderloin cuts but absolutely none that were tenderloin "in da butt, Bob. In da, butt". Since what I found was not exactly verbatim what I was looking for I panicked a little and opted for NY Strip Steak. Why?

Well, I understand that NY Strip Steak is a good cut of beef? I mean it is usually one of the more expensive items on the menu at Chili's. Right? So logically then it would be OK for me to get a better cut of steak as long as the cut I got was more expensive or from a better place on the cow. Right?

I wish meats in the grocery store were like underoos with little tags that you could mix and match.

My second dilemma was the wine (or at least the wine like substance). The recipe called for Madeira as a first choice and dry white vermouth as a second choice. My blank, lost, WTF expression could not have been more noticeable when I walked down the wine aisle. Is Madeira a wine? Or...? Do they sell that at the grocery store? I know Vermouth goes in some other drinks but do they really sell it separately? I was complete lost. I haven't had a drink of alcohol in almost two decades. I was completely lost.

If there was vermouth or Madeira at the grocery store I definitely didn't find it. We wound up going to the local liquor store and luckily the guys there were pretty helpful. They didn't have Madeira but they did have Vermouth and that is what we wound up using in the recipe.

I did, however, learn a very useful talent today. I learned how to peel, de-seed, and juice tomatoes. It only took 2 or 3 easy to find you tube videos to get me on the right track.

I, as is par for the course, started freaking out when I started cooking. I have a bunch of mismatched pots and pans. I have a very large Emeril sauce pan that is probably in the 12 inch range but is relatively shallow. When I say it is a sauce pan I mean it has straight up and down sides not graduated sides like a saute pan. Well my first panic centered around the pan I was using being too big. The amounts of oil or cooking times can be (from my experience) thrown off when the pan is anywhere from 3-5 inches bigger than the recipe calls for.

I watched a number of videos about making ratatouille. The biggest difference between the recipes in the book and the recipes online was that a number of recipes online said to make sure that cutting the eggplant was the last thing to do. In contrast, the MAoFC has me doing that first. In fact, I cut the eggplant first, salt it, and let it stand (with the cut zuchini) for 30 minutes.

The problem I ran into with cutting the eggplant first was that it turned browned very quickly (almost immediately). My wife said it was because I didn't cover the zuchini and eggplant when I let it sit but the fact is it browned before I even had a chance to finish cutting everything. I'm not sure if this always happens or if it was something about the particular eggplant I got. The recipe also called for me to peel the eggplant. That's when I made my next major discovery.

For over 40 years I have been using vegetable peelers wrong. Pull the peeler towards you and not away from you? Who knew? Apparently everyone else on the planet other than me. No wonder I hate peeling potatoes so much and no wonder it took so much time and energy.

I am realizing this post is going on way too long so I need to cut to the chase.
Here is the end results;

Despite replacing NY strip instead of tenderloin butt and using dry white vermouth instead of Madeira the steak, mushrooms, and sauce turned out very nicely. The ratatouille was a completely different story.

Thats why size matters. When you use a skillet or pan that is large (size matters) you wind up using more oil than the recipe calls for. When you are also using eggplant its important to remember that eggplant does a great job (in fact too well) of soaking up oil. Oh, and when a recipe says "more oil if needed" it is better to go with less than more. The result was a very oily ratatouille (hence oily rats). In fact, oily and slimy to the point of being unappealing and bordering on inedible. OK, inedible is a strong word. But definitely unappealing. Despite the probably 2 hour cooking time,  my wife and I barely ate more than a couple bites of the stuff. I mean I was tempted to call BP for help with the oil.

So let's recap what I learned today;

  • I know nothing about what cuts of meat can be substituted for others. 
  • Eggplant browns faster than a red headed Irishman in the Texas sun. 
  • Peeling tomatoes is easier than I ever imagined. 
  • Be sure to use the right sized pan. 
  • Eggplant should be salted (according to both the recipe I used and every single video I saw)
  • It takes 40 years for me to figure out how to properly use a vegetable peeler. 
  • Madeira is a wine but has a pretty high alcohol content. 
  • Eggplant soaks up oil better than the Bounty lumberjack on steroids. 
It was a long day in the kitchen but still fun and I am learning a little more with each dish I cook. Even if it does take me 40 years. 

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