Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Come In, We're Closed: Steak and Stout Pie

I truly feel so lucky to have the opportunity to review so many wonderful cookbooks. As my already massive collection grows, I discover absolute gems that I simply can't wait to share with my readers. And with Christmas and Hanukkah around the corner (no really, they will be here before you know it), there's no better time to check out recently released cookbooks for your culinary-inclined friends.

Come In, We're Closed by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy is definitely one of the most exciting cookbooks I've had the privilege of reviewing recently (it was released October 2nd). With a forward written by Ferran Adria, the book definitely gets started on the right foot. Conceptually, this book goes far beyond a typical cookbook. It delves into a subject matter that is more than just cooking. It's about feeding the bellies and souls of those responsible for feeding us at some of the best restaurants in the world. I'm talking about staff or family meals.

Family meal at The Slanted Door

Twenty-five world renowned restaurants (starting with Ad Hoc and ending with WD-50) share their stories of family meals (one of my favorites involves Anita Lo's hilarious illustrated countdown of her "Top 5 Most Memorable Staff Meals!"). They have different names for the event, which range from staff meal, family meal, family, or even "rice and bones." Some restaurants have family meal once a day, some twice, some do it before service and some after, some have a set rotating menu while others are more spontaneous in their creations. There is really no rhyme or reason except that each restaurant does what works best for their staff.

I literally read the book from cover to cover (I could barely put it down), skimming through most of the recipes, but absorbing every other word of the restaurant introductions and interviews. I was totally inspired and in awe reading the backstory of each of these acclaimed restaurants, and how they feed themselves both for nourishment and social bonding with their colleagues. I loved reading how some of these restaurants stick with cuisines for their staff meals that are fitting with their restaurant style, and others sway far from what they are known for (vegetarian restaurants serving meat at family meal and vice versa, for example).

The menus and recipes shared are those that were created on the particular day that the authors visited each restaurant. While reading the book, it intrigued me to wonder how different the book may have been if the authors visited each restaurant one day, one week, or one month later. What would they have been serving then? If pizza night was on Saturday at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, Canada, what would they have served the following Monday? Tuesday? Wednesday? So much to think about. So many opportunities for a follow up book :)

Conversations with each restaurant's chef were included in the book

In addition to the great compilation of recipes, I'd like to add that the writing is absolutely stellar. I really enjoyed reading the book, not just mentally bookmarking the recipes. While the book is a great resource for behind-the-scenes recipes, it's also a beautiful book with a gorgeous layout and photos (all from actual visits to the restaurants) that can easily highlight it as an essential coffee table book for ardent foodies.

I never had the pleasure of working in a restaurant that featured this relationship-building tradition, but I do have my own stories of family meal. My very first task on my very first day as an intern at the Food Network involved making the family meal for the staff along with another intern. I was nervous, but excited to have that opportunity to impress my new colleagues. We served a light salad with Dijon vinaigrette and Kalamata olives, pasta with homemade marinara sauce, and Paella with sausage and butter-poached langoustines. Just like the chefs featured in Come In, We're Closed, we needed to use up excess ingredients in the most efficient and creative ways we could. It wasn't the most cohesive meal, but the staff loved it and I will never forget my first day at the Food Network because of it.

The meals shared in the book are sometimes a bit more elaborate, but totally doable. They are shared in more home kitchen-friendly proportions with some adjustments based on ingredient availability. There are tons of recipes, that even without their association to high end restaurants would easily be on my to do list. Dishes ranging from Japanese Beef Curry (Morimoto) to Double-Stack Cheeseburgers with Special Sauce and Beef Fat Fries (McCrady's), Fried Scallion Jeon (Annisa) to French Farmhouse Chicken and Potato Bake (Villa9Trois) were a few that made it onto my list of possibilities. And there are so many more.

Double-Stack Cheeseburgers with Special Sauce and Beef Fat Fries from McCrady's

After much consideration, I decided to adapt the Steak and Veal Kidney Pie (The Bristol) and make a traditional Steak and Stout Pie instead, omitting the kidneys and replacing the beef suet in the crust with good old-fashioned butter. The quantity of vegetables used was a bit much for the size of the pan, and even when they cooked down a bit I had to scale back the amount of liquid so it wouldn't totally bubble over the edges of the pan. I ladled a bit into another pan to simmer and then returned it back to the cast-iron skillet before baking. It all worked out in the end, but just be aware of how full the skillet gets and hold back on some veggies or liquid if you need to.

Steak and Stout Pie
Serves 6 to 8
(Adapted from Come In, We're Closed)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Ice water, as needed (I used about 10 T.)
1 large egg

1 1/2 lbs. beef top or bottom round, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T. unsalted butter
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, halved
1 turnip, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups (24 oz) Irish stout beer (such as Guinness)
2 cups beef stock (I scaled back to 1 cup based on my skillet's capacity)
2 thyme sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, and 1 bay leaf, tied together with kitchen twine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the crust: In the bowl of a food processor add the flour, salt, and butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add the ice water while pulsing until the dough just comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, flatten and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

For the filling: In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt half the butter over medium-high heat. After the foam subsides, sear the beef in batches until golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same pan, add the remaining butter, melt, and when the foam subsides add the vegetables and saute until the onion is translucent. This could take 10 minutes or longer depending on how full your skillet is and how often you need to mix the vegetables to cook them evenly. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture smells lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add the stout and scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to release any brown bits. Bring to a boil, then returns the beef to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices. Add the herb bundle and as much of the beef stock as you can without overfilling the skillet (if needed you can technically simmer some of the mixture in another pot and then merge the filling back into the cast-iron skillet once it's done cooking/reduces in volume). Bring the liquid back to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer gently until the beef is tender and the liquid is thickened to just beyond stew consistency, about 40 minutes. Season the filling to taste.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the fridge at least 15 minutes before rolling out.

Shortly before the stew is ready, roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and 14 inches in diameter. carefully wind the pastry dough around the rolling pin, then unwrap it over the skillet, allowing excess dough to fall over the sides. Pinch the crust shut around the circumference of the skillet with your fingertips to seal, but leave the overhanging crust in place to create a rustic finish.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the entire crust with the egg mixture and make several slits in the crust with a sharp knife to allow steam to vent. Bake the pie in the middle rack until the crust is golden brown and crispy, about 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes to allow the filling inside to set before serving.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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