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.