Monday, June 02, 2008

Rick Bayless, eat your heart out

Catherine Wilkinson of The Dish sent me not one, but two gorgeous venison tenderloins. Have I mentioned that she is the most generous and sexy woman in the blogthing? She doesn't know it, but I have something special in store for when she breezes through Portland next month. Are you seething with jealousy? I thought so. Thank you, Catherine, so much.

Seriously, after years of turning the majority of my dad's venison into mince for Bolognese and hunter's pie (he usually gives me gnarled bits of silverskin and tendon labeled "stew meat"), it was almost unfathomable to have such perfect pieces with which to experiment. And bringing the foodie blogthing full circle, I decided to cook them for another blogger, my buddy Norm over at Eat or Die (his blog should be Drink or Die, such is his penchant and talent for pairing).

Since this was the first time I was to be cooking for Norm (and his lovely food-stylist companion Susan), I wanted to do something unique, yet familiar (it is generally perceived unwise to attempt a new recipe for a dinner party). I had a plantain and two ears of corn, and that steered me in a Meso-Americanish direction. Easy. Ideas started rolling in: roasted corn johnnycakes and fried plantains with lime crème fraîche, radish and heirloom tomato salad with cotija cheese and a cilantro vinaigrette, coffee-rubbed venison medallions with mole poblano. I have my own mole recipe that I knew would fucking kill with venison.

A dry rub on the meat of a cinnamon stick, tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp coriander seed, 1/2 tsp annato seed and 1/2 tsp pepper (toasted and ground fresh with 4 coffee beans), 3 tbsp brown sugar, fat pinches of salt and a tbsp or so of Dutch process cocoa. Fridge for a few hours, and pull the meat out two hours prior to cooking. When you're ready, just sear on all sides in a grill pan, finish at 375 for ~7 minutes or until it's medium rare to the touch (just learn the touch test, already). Rest for five minutes and slice into 3/4" thick medallions. Plate on a mudslide of mole.

My mole is pretty basic, actually - it's a couple each ancho, mulato and pasilla chiles, with one or two California pods for heat (all dried), seeded/stemmed and soaked in ~2 c hot water until softened. This time I added like a dozen dried cherries and a small handful of sundried tomatoes, to prevent the mole from being too ascerbic. Blended together, sieved scrupulously (mash that shit through your finest sieve with a rubber spatula), then puree again with a handful of pepitas (pumpkin seeds) that you've toasted with a drop of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add a couple tbsp of honey or palm sugar, and a tbsp of cocoa powder and a tsp of my Seven Spice™ (okay, it's just cinnamon, clove, mace, nutmeg, white and black cardamom and star anise, but I collected the mace/nutmeg myself in the jungles of Fiji. No, I'm not shitting you). Another different touch, this time I added about a 1/4-1/2 tsp of almond extract. Simmer and taste/correct with more salt/sweet, simmer again until the flavors are mellow and sexy. I've had moles that cloy, and don't want that, but you can figure out what tastes good on your own palate.

The salad was just some lovely heirloom tomatoes sliced and gently combined with sliced radishes (I got the pretty fuschia, purple, white and pink ones), topped with a little shaved cotija cheese and a sprinkle of cilantro. The dressing was a loose pistou of olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard (just a fingertip), shallot and cilantro. Muy fresco!

The plantains were good, too. I thought they'd go well, since I'd had some mole once that had bananas in it, and since my favorite Salvadoran place serves them con crema I thought I'd make a lime crème fraîche (literally lime zest and a drib of juice stirred into crème fraîche).

Caveat: okay, my johnnycakes didn't come out great. I spread the polenta too thin and when I toasted it in the oven (opting not to fry, for health's sake!), it just turned into hardtack. Sadface. Next time I'll just suck it up and make corn fritters. It was a good thing I had some backup: Trader Joe's homemade-looking rustic flour tortillas. Perfect soppage for the mole (I sense a new favorite snack coming on!).

Norm brought panna cotta (his entry in this month's Joust) which was a creamy delight with raspberry coulis and a little almond tuille, but more importantly, he brought amazing 2005 and 2006 Pax Syrah that went magically with the meat and all the sides. Thanks, Norm! And thank you again, Catherine, for the sublime meat (that you even killed yourself)! I can't wait to meet you next month.


glamah16 said...

I want to be your neighbor. What a fantastic dinner, Dont you just love blog land!I need to make some mole again.

Anonymous said...

Looks incredible! I'm picky about my venison, but this I could do:-)

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I would love to be your neighbour too! Great meal again Heather. Your preciseness in getting your mole right is unbelievable! You picked your own spices in Fiji!!!...The salad ingredients right down to the dressing had my mouth watering.

PS I hope to be passing through Portland around August/September...I'll def be bringing you and the hubs an "ozzie care package".

Cynthia said...

Absolute perfection!

peter said...

I'm trying to think of a dinner party when I didn't attempt something completely new.

Any good galleries in Portland? I smell a business trip.

Alicia Foodycat said...

You are genius! Can't wait until the next time I get my hands on some venison.

Jeff said...

Hunting season can't come quick enough. Ok not for me since I can barely sit still at work let alone in a woods for hours on hours however, for my hunting friends who hand me over lots of meat it can't come quick enough.

Awesome execution on the dish!

Anonymous said...

That's how meat should be - Rare, and with enough flavour to make a Lumberjack cry.

Great job.

Anonymous said...

Looks friggin delicious. What nice food bloggers giving food that costs a shitload to send. Really - NICE PEOPLE! Were those plantains tostones (green) or maduros (yellow - sweet)?? I can't tell from the pic.

I love that you made your own version of mole. I would never attempt to try!

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Oh I want to come to dinner. I'll do all of the dishes and bring dessert and wine!!!

That sounds like a great meal!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Nothing more to say but this is an amazing and inspired meal Heather:D Very lucky dinner guests:D

Laura Paterson said...

Can i also put a request in to be your neighbour!??!

If I ever came to a dinner party like this I'd think I'd died and gone to heaven! That meat is utterly perfect, and the mole sounds....erm.... perfect... (!)

But you can stop with the whole fiji thing already - we're already jealous enough - you get to eat it!! ;)

Thistlemoon said...

That sounds great! I can't wait to meet other food bloggers in person! This must have been a killer dinner party! Where is the group picture???

michael, claudia and sierra said...

man... i just sat there and read that post with my jaw dropped. i kinda feel so incredibly inferior. like, it was just tooooo much food brilliance. like i need to go buy a porsche to try and overcome my inadequacies...

just beautiful

Syd said...

Oh my. I may have to rethink venison.

Catherine Wilkinson said...

Holy Moly Deer Crap!
I BOW DOWN to your brillance, Heather. AWESOME COOKERY!!!!
I am honored that you respected my venison so very well. My husband will poop his pants when he sees this. He wanted to know if you had to trim very much of it...those were pretty raw field-dressed loins - he worried about it for you.
I'm bull elk hunting in October and you get the pick of the beast.

Peter M said...

Pink is my favourite colour and get your mind outta the gutter. The meat is cooked perfectly, with respect and Catherine is the bomb for sending you the carcass.

Great to see Left Coast folks meeting up too. One day, we shall feast & drink like the Gods.

Brittany said...

That meat is fucking beautiful. I am now pissed that I am only your neighbor in the state sense of the word.

Anonymous said...

I love mole! Thanks for the tips :)

Jen said...

Completely amazing dish, Heather. As usual. Sigh.

I'm not only jealous of your talent, but also of the fact that you have a Salvadoran place. We did, and it closed. I grew up with a Salvadoran friend and ate at her house frequently, so I MISS it!

Unknown said...

That meal sounds so good! Venison tenderloin with a mole sauce is a great idea!

Heather said...

Court - I wish you were my neighbor too! Blogthing is the best.

Marc - This was so fresh it would've been great sashimi.

Petah - I cannot wait to meet you in August/September! I'll make it worth the trip.

Cynthia - You flatter me. If you ever wanna do a spice-swap, I'm your girl!

Jube - I think we do have some good galleries here. We have a whole First Thursday thing (and Last Thursday, for the non-mainstream crowd). Come on by!

Foodycat - I would love to see what you'd do with some venison. :)

Jeff - Thanks! You can prolly buy venison somewhere, yeah? Or you can wait...

GK - Lol@lumberjacks crying. :D Pink is best.

Amy - I believe that was a toston (where the hell is Ben when you need him?) - it was a beige-y green before I opened it. Mole is easy (shhh).

Judy - Maybe one day I'll get to experience my girlhood dreams of paddle-boating the Everglades, and you can cook me dinner instead. :)

Valli - I'm thinking of a little BC road trip this summer - let me know if I'm even close to your neck of the woods. It'd be so fun to break bread with you!

Kittie - Okay, the Fiji thing: I was too cheap to buy souvenirs on my honeymoon, so I picked up a bunch of nutmegs off the ground in the jungle and brought those home instead! :D

Jenn - Gah, I didn't even think to get group pictures! Make sure and get some when you meet your fellow Floridians (Judy?).

Claudia - You crack me up. You've got more talent in your lil' pinky than Rachael Ray has in her whole body. :)

Syd - Rethink it? You hunt, don'tcha? Get on it!

Catherine - I didn't have to trim a thing. I think I found one molecule of connective tissue on it - it looked like it had been cleaned by a surgeon! Thank you so much! And thank your husband for overnighting it to me. I'm keeping the little ice packs. :D

Peter the Greek - Get my mind out of the gutter? That's no fun. :D Hey, when are you gonna make me some poutin?

Brittany - Shit, girl, come on down! Shoot me an email, cuz I've got something good happening on the 21st (if you think the First Annual Birthday Pig Roast is good).

Maryann - I usually don't divulge my secret recipes, but you caught me in a good mood. ;)

Jen - Awww, I thought everyone had a Salvadoran place. :( Maybe if you look hard enough, you'll find a replacement. :)

Kevin - Your guac wraps were lookin' pretty good yerself! :D Thanks.

Unknown said...

Just so it is clear to everyone, I do realize what a wonderful chef Heather is. Dinner was great! All I can say to anyone who doesn't live close enough to be invited to dinner with the Anderson's is "it sucks to be you".
If anyone wants to get geeky on the wine I brought along check out the tasting notes from Pax Cellars

Núria said...

That was a big Party!!! Muy fresco y muy rico, girl :D

I think I should be moving to the States where everybody is meeting everybody!!!! That's what I'm jealous of!

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

I am eating my heart out! I'm not Rick Bayless though. Does that count?


Brittany said...

You have really inspired me, and I am actually looking forward to the packages my husband produces after hunting season!

Emily said...

Catherine Wilkinsons is the most generous and sexy woman in the blogging world!
What a nice piece of meat you have there, my friend. I love all of the flavor combinations you've got going on. Especially the coffee. WOW.

You two are going to tear up the town when she visits Portland.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

You got yourself the right friends there, that's for sure. I'm gonna move nextdoor.

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

LOL you tried to be healthy with the johnnycake and see what happened? No more health for you!

Venison looks good, girl. Nice and spicy. Just how I like it.

Anonymous said...

How, oh dear gravy, do I get her to send me venison like that?

Do I have to promise hunting rights on my 20 acres in Amish country to get something like that?

You did just what you ought to do with tenderloins. The only other thing I'd recommend is a bourgignon type application.

I'm jealous. Stinking, breaking the covetousness commandment jealous.

Heather said...

Norm - You're too kind, really. The pleasure was all mine. Besides, I got to eat the leftovers!

Núria - I needed some fresco to balance the rico! I wish you could come to dinner.

JS - Of course it counts! :D

Brittany - Venison doesn't hafta be gross pioneer food anymore!

Emiline - Our husbands will hold us back somewhat, but yes, we will tear some shit up.

Sketti - Oh please do! Thanks for the shout-out, btw. :)

Nikki - This is what I get for tryna be healthy. Next time, I fry!

Rebecca - I'd usually do a nice, savory mushroomy thing, but I don't usually have such perfect pieces of meat. You oughta hunt on your property!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Be careful what you wish for ;)

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Dude. What did you have to do to get TWO tenderloins? I never, ever serve them to outsiders, let alone give away two...