Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tête de Moine with Sauerkraut and Toasted Caraway Seed Vinaigrette

Before I get started, have you seen the new feature in the right-hand column? Scroll down for a sec and check out "What Else Did I Eat This Week?" which I created in response to regular emails asking how I used leftover ingredients from these dishes, as well as requests for me to share other cooking ideas. I'm keeping this blog focused on one thing -- cooking my way through The French Laundry Cookbook. But, I thought it might be fun to show you different ways I incorporate some of the elements in these dishes into my everyday eating. Plus, you'll get countless opportunities to bust my chops for the inevitable, recurring appearance of Pad Thai and coffee on the list. Everyone needs a vice. Or two.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming... the Tête de Moine with Sauerkraut and Toasted Caraway Seed Vinaigrette. I hate to say it but from the outset, this dish had three strikes against it.

Strike 1 -- Rye bread croutons. I hate rye bread and have detested it from the moment I first tasted it in third grade. Even the smell of it gives me the dry heaves. I may be exaggerating a wee bit (who, me?) but you get the gist.

Strike 2 -- Caraway seeds. Remember the Poli-Grip commercial from the 70s where they show how their denture adhesive is so strong that a little seed can't even get between your gums and your dentures? The seed they used in their demo was a caraway seed, and ever since then I've associated caraway seeds with toothless elderly people.

Strike 3 -- Cheese and sauerkraut. Bleargh. Sauerkraut is something you eat on New Year's Day, and you have it with pork chops and mashed potatoes to bring good luck in the new year. I can't imagine this is a tradition limited to my family or our PA Dutch culture. The rest of you did this too, right? Anyway. Cheese and sauerkraut? Am I wrong to have a visceral reaction to this? THANK you.

This dish took nearly a week to make; the sauerkraut is a five-day process. It all started with half a head of cabbage:

I cut the cabbage into somewhat of a chiffonade and put it in a bowl. In a saucepan, I brought to a boil some champagne vinegar, white wine, salt and sugar. After it came to a boil, I turned off the burner and let the liquid come to room temperature. The first night I did this, I ran across the street to visit my neighbors for a little while, and when I came back in the house, I was assaulted with the smell of feet. I took the shoes that had accumulated under the coffee table and threw them onto the front porch, and still the smell would not go away. I took all the dog's blankets off his bed and put them in the laundry. I ran all over the house trying to figure out what had gotten trapped and died behind a wall somewhere. And then, I walked into the kitchen and saw the liquid in the saucepan... still a little bit warm, but almost room temperature. I'm glad it wasn't a dead animal, and I'm glad I didn't have to throw away all my shoes, but I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was to be prepping something that for the next five days would smell like a 7th grader's gym locker.

Once the liquid came to room temp, I poured it over the cabbage in a bowl:

I covered it with foil and refrigerated it for 24 hours. The next night, I drained the cabbage, rinsed it with cold water, put it back in the bowl, made the vinegar/wine mixture again and soaked the cabbage in it for another 24 hours. After the 5th day of repeating this process, I drained and rinsed it and put it in a baking dish.

I covered the baking dish with foil and put it in a 275-degree oven for 2 hours. When it was done, I let it cool to room temperature and put it in a container to store in the fridge for another day until the cheese arrived at my cheese shop.

Let's talk about the cheese for a minute. Tête de Moine translates as "monk's head." When I picked up the Tête de Moine, it was much smaller than I'd imagined. I had the fleeting idea that I might take the shuttle to New York and have a friend who also happens to be the only monk I know hold the cheese up next to his head to compare, but I opted not to.

To cut the cheese (HA! Clearly, I am nine), The French Laundry Cookbook recommends using a Girolle:

I opted not to buy one and went with the book's alternate suggestion of cutting the Tête de Moine into triangles. Except, I didn't really do that, either, now that I think about it. I'm getting off track here. You'll see how I cut the cheese (sorry, again, nine here) at the end of the post.

Where were we? Oh yes, the sauerkraut is done and the cheese is here. The last thing I had to do was make the caraway vinaigrette. I chopped half an onion and simmered it in water for ten minutes to soften it. When it was done cooking, I drained it and put the onion into my blender. I added sherry vinegar, dry mustard, salt, sugar and white wine vinegar. I puréed the mixture for about a minute, then slowly poured in some olive oil. I then added toasted caraway seeds and blended the vinaigrette until the seeds had been sufficiently ground. I strained the dressing into a small bowl and got ready to plate. I ignored the book's directions to serve this with a rye bread crouton. No can do. I made croutons out of a baguette instead.

To plate, I put a small spoonful of vinaigrette in the center of the plate. I put the crouton on top of that, some sauerkraut to the side, and a small wedge of cheese on the other side:

I will confess that all week my neighbors jokingly asked, "Hey, when are we having that nasty-sounding dish?" and I sort of had to agree. The thought of it was not as appetizing as prospect as some of the other dishes in this book. But I was willing to give it a taste. My tasters claimed to like it, and they finished everything on their plates, but I didn't love it. First, the croutons got a bit chewy because it's so freakin' hot and humid here this weekend. I should've quadruple-ziploc'd them. The sauerkraut was too acidic for my taste. I loved the cheese, and I didn't hate the dressing. I didn't save the leftover dressing, and I'll be delivering the leftover sauerkraut to my neighbor who claims he has a whole mess of hot dogs he wants to eat tomorrow. As for the cheese? That's staying here. It was really delicious and will make a nice afternoon snack all week long.

I wouldn't make this dish again. It wasn't completely sucky... it just isn't something I'll remember fondly.

Up Next: Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce

Cabbage and onion from Whole Foods
Tête de Moine and baguette from Arrowine
Bogle Sauvignon Blanc
Caraway seeds from TPSS Co-op
Vinegars, mustard, seasonings from my pantry

Music to Cook By: Art of Noise; (Who's Afraid of?) The Art of Noise. I used to looooove these guys back in 1984-85 and haven't thought about them much since then. For some reason this week, I remembered the title of one of their songs: "Paranoimia" and then remembered the little girl from the "Close (to the Edit)" video. Since then, I've been on an Art of Noise downloading frenzy. Because I made you sit through a post about cheese and sauerkraut, let me leave you on a positive note -- chainsaws and pianos! La, la, la indeed!


Anonymous said...

The next time you are in L.A. I am taking you to Langer's for the Best. Pastrami. Sandwich. EVER. I hated rye bread for years...that is, until I had Langer's freshly baked bread with the sandwich and I made a 180-degree turn on my opinion on rye bread. Their bread is the BEST. No joke. And don't even get me started on the pastrami.

Damn. Now I'm hungry.

Anonymous said...

We did eat kraut, pork chops and mashed potatoes, but here it isn't just a New Year's dish. I'm also sad to say that my family usually smothers it in ketchup. Sounds nasty? Yep, but it's oh so good.

Damn, now I'm hungry, too.

Jaye Joseph said...

As a full-fledged girl of the deep, deep south (and now Texas), we did not eat kraut, pork chops and mashed potatoes on New Years day. For us, it's greens (money) and black-eyed peas (luck).

I guess our "pork chop" is the ham hock for the beans and greens.

Anonymous said...

Hi - Wow! I just stumbled on your blog! I am so excited about it. I am fortunate to have eaten at both the French Laundry and per se. I have posted several photos of those dinners on my blog "Taste With The Eyes," you might find them interesting. I can't wait to read more of your posts!

Catastrophysicist said...

eff spending that much time on sauerkraut of all the godforsaken things in this world.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for making this. The cheese was the only thing that looked good to me in this recipe. I'm so with you on the rye bread and fug of feet. My best friend and I were Art of Noise addicts, thanks for the trip down memory ln.

Karen said...

Sauerkraut is something you eat on New Year's Day, and you have it with pork chops and mashed potatoes to bring good luck in the new year. I can't imagine this is a tradition limited to my family or our PA Dutch culture. The rest of you did this too, right?

I have loved sauerkraut since I was a girl, however. I used to appall my mother by eating canned sauerkraut straight from the can, and leaving the empty tins lying around my bedroom. Since I usually also had the heat turned all the way up, you can only imagine what my room smelled like.

But I digress.

I do love sauerkraut. My favorite wintertime restaurant dish is Bigos at a Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village, called Veselka. Bigos is a kind of hunter's stew, in which kielbasa and pork shoulder are braised in a wonderfully-seasoned sauerkraut.

And although I am mostly a recipe follower, the only dish I ever created successfully involves sauerkraut as well: fry up some bacon, then saute sliced shallots in the bacon fat while you crumble the strips; when the shallots are getting brown, add a bag of drained sauerkraut, a mess o' applesauce, some caraway seeds, some white wine, and some apple cider vinegar. Allow to simmer until not so liquidy, while broiling some bratwurst. Then serve the sauerkraut with the crumbled bacon and the bratwurst with a nice tart mustard. Oh, man, I'm hungry just thinking about it.

So, basically, this dish you're describing sounds a bit like heaven to me. I may have to make it myself!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Carrrr-- olllll (that sounded good in my head.. probably not so much).

I saw this and thought of you (you being hipper than me probably already have seen it)...

As to this week's recipe - well, mostly when I read your blog I think "thank God she's doing this - she's a way better cook than me and I can read about this stuff and not have to do it, because I'm not worthy".

This week (well, and the week with the sawing off of crab faces) I thought "thank God she's doing this, because this recipe gives me the HEAVES and yuck, yuck, yuck, I'd never have the stomach for it".


Anonymous said...

May I say again that I respect you for trying to make every recipe, even if it sounds completely unappetizing. This is why I wouldn't be able to reproduce this challenge. If it doesn't sound good to me, I'm not cooking it. (Although once I cooked Patricia Wells' double celery soup against my better judgment and it was delish!)

We Southerners had to eat collards and black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's. Which just goes to show that New Year's is the universal holiday when your grandma foists food on you that you would never touch any other day of the year.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a country PA ex-pat and have never seen the saurkraut with pork and pototoes thing on New Years outside of Pennsyltuckey. I hear you about the ubiquitous stank foot smell. Whenever I come across cooking cabbage, I automatically reach for a bucket of Cold Duck or whatever other carbonated alcohol is around.

But anyhoo, great job with this dish even if it is something you don't normally eat. Can't wait to see the Pekin duck next.

Unknown said...

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and for us it was all about black eyed peas on New Year's day. Supposed to be good luck...and one I haven't continued since I moved away.

Unknown said...

I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and for us it was all about black eyed peas on New Year's day. Supposed to be good luck...and one I haven't continued since I moved away.

Jim said...

Sauerkraut is my enemy. The Feet Smell only confirms this.

Anonymous said...

ummm....hello out there. Aren't there any beets in Maryland at this time of year?

Unknown said...

Mmmmmmm.... sauerkraut......

It's one of those things I like much more than my "highly of Polish decent" hubby. He likes a "taste" of it with some things, while I eat a pile. And I love love love love love rye toast. So, add me to the list tha thinks this one sounds fantastic. But, I do live with someone who would turn up his nose at it!!

And, the hubby can STILL go in detail about the smells in his house when his dad would make sauerkraut from scratch when they were kids. And it is not fond memories!!

mary grimm said...

I'm with you on the cheese and sauerkraut, although I do like rye bread.
And as for the New Years pork chops and sauerkraut--we did that too--a Cleveland Slovak family, except that we added kielbasi to the mix: mmmmm.

Lyra said...

Reading all the posts about sauerkraut and black eyed peas made me laugh-my maternal grandmother is from Georgia and my paternal grandparents are PA Dutch through and through, so I grew up eating both dishes..although since my mom was the main cook, black eyed peas did win the New Years Day spot, she would always toss in a quarter and whoever got it was supposed to have a particularly good year.

I have never seen a recipe for making sauerkraut quite like the one you posted...did it taste the same as storebought?

Oh, and I love ruben sandwiches (rye bread, cheese and sauerkraut), so this recipe looked good to me.

Anonymous said...

Cleveland Czech here, and we also had the combo of pork, sauerkraut, and potatoes on New Years Day. I hated the sauerkraut and had to be coerced to eat it; supposedly the three somehow symbolized health, wealth, and happiness. I live in Hungary now and here we eat lentils on New Years. This makes more sense symbolically. Since lentils are somewhat flat and round, they look like coins, so you eat them to ensure good fortune in the following year. All I can say is that I definitely prefer New Years lentils to Christmas Crap - I mean CARP. Bleh! Tastes like breaded and fried salty mud.

the milliner said...

I have to agree with Catherine. Pastrami + rye bread is great. Even better is a Reuben sandwich: Pastrami (or smoked meat) + sauerkraut + melted swiss cheese + thousand island dressing + rye (or pumperknickle/rye marble) bread. Amazing. The sauerkraut isn't too overpowering in this combo. The sweetness of the thousand island dressing smooths everything out. I also like to add some mustard for that extra zing.

Mmmm. mmm.

Carol Blymire said...

Lyra, I hate to say it, but I prefer store-bought sauerkraut to the homemade (in this dish).

Unknown said...

Been visiting FLatH for a while (and loving it) and figured it was time to comment.
That is, on the (PA) Dutch sauerkraut/New Year's Day custom.
Me thinks it must have been (or still is) a very local custom, confined to some tiny villages, where there is no electricity or running water or any other kind of civilization.
Why do I think so ?
Coz, being a Dutchie, I've never ever heard of eating sauerkraut (I'm gonna refer to it as 'zuurkool', the proper Dutch name, from now on, mkay?) on New Year's Day for good luck or any other reason.
There is no good reason to eat zuurkool 'Dutch-style' (i.e. mashed with potatoes with smoked sausage). Hell, even bacon can't make it right !
I think us Dutch have misunderstood the Almighty when he created zuurkool. It's supposed to be a condiment ! On a hotdog or a tiny bit on a grilled sole is pure heaven. Eating zuurkool just as it is is like spooning down a jar of mustard or ketchup. Blergh.
And ryebread is indeed great, especially covered in a thick layer of butter and bacon, hmmmmmm.