Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thomas Jefferson and Macaroni and Cheese!

Well, it's official, my kids are out of school for the summer. Good bye running errands alone. Good bye peace and quiet. Good bye clean house. But, it's not all bad! Hello not having to make school lunches! Hello not having to run around like a maniac every morning! Hello having help in the kitchen! Hello getting to play games and watch movies whenever we want! Awesome! So, for my little "angels," I wanted to make their favorite meals on the last day of school. For my oldest, Pork Meatball Banh Mi, and for my youngest, classic American-style Macaroni and Cheese!

Macaroni and Cheese is generally credited to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who supposedly came up with combining these two foods. It was first recorded in an English cookbook in the 14th century, known as "makerouns." In the late 18th century, it was quite chic in Paris, where Thomas Jefferson encountered it, as well as in northern Italy, and was considered only for the upper class. Jefferson was a huge fan! So much so, that in 1793, he commissioned American ambassador, William Short, to buy a macaroni machine! Apparently, a bad purchase, because he soon started importing Italian macaroni and Parmesan cheese for use at his Monticello home. In 1802, he even served it at a state dinner! In 1824, it appeared in The Virginia Housewife cookbook, by Mary Randolph, Jefferson's cousin! Since then, it has become extremely popular in America, and is a staple along-side barbecue, soul food, and with the invention of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in 1937, a favorite of children everywhere! This recipe for "Macaroni and Cheese" is extremely creamy and delicious! It is so good, that sometimes I even serve it baked in individual dishes as a main course, along with a simple green salad. Tres chic! I'm sure Jefferson would approve!


Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8, as a main course, and 10-12, as a side

Ingredients:
For the crumb topping, optional
6 ounces Panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons melted butter

For the mac and cheese
1 pound large elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk
8 ounces (2 cups) Monterey Jack cheese, freshly shredded; or, to be fancy, substitute equal amount Gouda! *and a drizzle of white truffle oil at the end, wouldn't hurt, either!
8 ounces (2 cups) sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Directions:
For the crumb topping (optional)
Mix together the Panko and butter in a small bowl. Set aside.

For the mac and cheese
Bring a large pot of water and the salt to a boil. Cook the pasta until tender, according to package directions. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In the pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne, and whisk constantly for about 1 minute, to remove the flour taste. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Once it has reached a full boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 3-5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheeses, the 1 teaspoon salt, and white pepper. Add the pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 3-5 minutes. You can serve it now, if you like.


Preheat your broiler, and transfer the mac and cheese to a broiler safe 9"x13" baking dish, or individual containers. Sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping. Broil until the crumbs are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes, depending on your broiler. (You may want to keep your eye on it!) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Yummy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Life's a Peach! Part 2

Concluding my Yard Work Menu, which consisted of a refreshing Retro Wedge Salad, and succulent, Tom's Tri-Tip with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette, I must refer to an older post for "Texas Hill-Country Peach Cobbler." This dessert is so simple and utterly delicious! It is a personal favorite of mine, near and dear to my heart! After all, it comes from where I was born! In addition, with peaches just coming into season, it's an obvious choice, and a good one!


Check it out!
Just click the link below!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Introducing, The One And Only, Tri-Tip!

I am so excited to share an excellent recipe for "Tom's Tri-Tip with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette!" After working in my garden all day, my sweet husband made me dinner! While he grilled away, I sat taking notes and asking questions to pin down his secrets to grilling an excellent Tri-Tip! The "Tri-Tip" is a triangle shaped roast, cut from the bottom sirloin. It is boneless, gristle-free, and will have a 1/2" layer of fat on one side. When grilling a Tri-Tip, you can trim some of the excess fat away; however, you should leave some on to ensure it remains moist.

The Tri-Tip was first sold as a separate cut of meat, (instead of being cut up for stew meat or ground beef), in California in the 1950s, where it has become known as "Santa Maria Tri-Tip Roast." It is also called Sirloin Bottom Butt, Triangle-Tip Roast, Aiguillette de rumsteck (French), Huftespitze (German), Punta di scamone (Italian), Tapilla (Spain), and Folha de Alcatra (Portuguese). It is more readily available in the western US, but is becoming popular in other markets. So, try to find this fantastic cut of beef, which has an amazing beefy flavor, and with the Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette, is absolutely delicious! Served with a Retro Wedge Salad and a glass bottle of red wine, it makes a fine meal, indeed! *Don't forget to check back for the dessert!


Tom's Tri-Tip with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
For the Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste


For the Tri-Tip
1, 3 1/2 lb Tri-Tip Roast
1 teaspoon garlic powder, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
Handful of wood chips (oak and mesquite, or whatever you like)

Directions:
For the Vinaigrette
In a food processor or blender, blend the thyme leaves, garlic cloves, oregano, and salt until finely chopped. With the processor or blender running, gradually add the lemon juice, then the olive oil. Season to taste with pepper. Can be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

For the Tri-Tip
Mix together the garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the Tri-Tip with the olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic powder mixture, pressing to adhere. This can be done ahead, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator at least an hour before grilling.

Soak the wood chips in enough cold water to cover for at least an hour before grilling. 

Prepare a charcoal grill to medium hot, placing the hot coals to one side, leaving the other side without coals for indirect cooking. When the coals have all acquired a nice ash coating (will look light gray), remove the wood chips from their soaking water, and throw over the coals. Next, add the Tri-Tip, fat side down and sear for about 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred. Turn the Tri-Tip over, fat side up and sear for about another 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred.


Next, place the Tri-Tip to the indirect side of the grill (without coals), cover and cook until an internal temperature of 125-130, about 30 minutes. (A thermometer, designed for grilling, makes this a lot easier! Check out my Gadgets tab to find the one I recommend!)


Remove the Tri-Tip to a cutting board, drizzle with a little of the vinaigrette, and let rest 10 minutes. (The internal temperature will rise while it rests.) Slice against the grain into 1/4" slices. Drizzle with some more of the vinaigrette and serve, with the remaining vinaigrette on the side.

Thanks, Honey!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hot and Dirty!

If you don't know, I've been working hard, trying to put my yard back together. If you're interested, check out R.I.P. Anyway, I came up with an awesome menu, exactly what you would want after a day of yard work in unseasonable heat:


I started the menu with a retro American classic, "Wedge Salad!" This could possibly be one of the easiest recipes, EVER! My husband doesn't think this salad is "blog-worthy;" however, it is so refreshing that he, and everyone I know, LOVES it! For those of you who turn your nose up to Iceberg lettuce, thinking it is void of any nutritional value, are wrong! Although the nutrients are less than other lettuces, it does have value, and has a very high water content. What's wrong with that? After all, don't we all need more water? Especially, after a hot and dirty day in the garden!


Retro Wedge Salad

Serves 6 

Ingredients
1 firm head of Iceberg lettuce 
Your favorite creamy dressing, like Blue Cheese, Buttermilk Ranch, etc. (store-bought or homemade
12 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled 
Tomato wedges, boiled egg wedges, crumbled blue cheese (optional) 

Directions
Cut the head of lettuce in half, and then each half in thirds. Place wedge-side up, drizzle generously with your dressing of choice, and sprinkle evenly with the bacon. I told you it was unbelievably simple! 

*If you want to make your own dressing, try this authentic one for "Lettuce Salad and Roquefort Dressing," from Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes, by Marion Harris Neil, published in 1916!

1916 Roquefort Dressing

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoonful dry mustard
1 saltspoonful salt (1/4 teaspoon)
1 saltspoonful paprika (1/4 teaspoon)
3 tablespoons vinegar
Olive oil
3 tablespoonfuls Roquefort cheese
2 hard-cooked eggs

Directions:
Mix together the mustard, salt, paprika, vinegar, and beat in olive oil until thick; then gradually add the cheese and the hard-cooked yolks of eggs rubbed through a sieve. Pour over lettuce and serve garnished with the whites of eggs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

You may or may not know that I am an incurable romantic and an old movie buff. There is nothing I like better than to open a bottle of wine, grab a box of tissues, and pop-in an old romantic movie, like one of my favorites, Casablanca. If you haven't seen this classic film, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical American expat, living in Nazi-occupied Casablanca in 1941. He runs an upscale nightclub and gambling den, known as "Rick's Cafe Americain." Rick secretly has two "letters of transit," which grant the bearers freedom to leave German-control to neutral Portugal. All is well, until one time love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) shows up with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), previously thought to have died in the war. I won't ruin the story for you, but in the end, out of love, all must make sacrifices for the greater good. No wonder it consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time!


Well, even if you don't see this romantic masterpiece, you can experience the exotic flavors of Morocco, by making Laura Calder's, "Halibut with Brown Butter, Crushed Chickpeas with Olives and Roasted Cumin Carrots." Although the combination of ingredients may seem unusual to some, it is refreshingly unique, surprisingly delicious, and exceedingly romantic, just the kind of thing you would expect at Rick's Cafe Americain! Follow with Ginger, Lemon, and Mint Granita, for the perfect finale!


Halibut with Brown Butter, Crushed Chickpeas with Olives and Roasted Cumin Carrots

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the carrots
8 slender carrots, with tops
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for drizzling


For the chickpeas
1, 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Handful of chopped fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the halibut
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4, 4-ounce halibut fillets, skinned and deboned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

For the carrots
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice the carrots lengthwise, leaving a bit of green top attached, for looks. Toss on a baking sheet with the olive oil, crushed cumin seeds, and salt and pepper, to taste. Roast until tender, slightly crinkly, and golden-edged, about 30 minutes, depending on their size.


For the chickpeas
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saute pan, and gently fry the garlic, 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas, salt, and pepper, to taste, to heat through. Crush a bit, here and there, with a potato masher, leaving some chickpeas whole. Remove from the heat, and stir in the olives, parsley, and lemon zest. Add the lemon juice, to taste. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil to moisten, set aside.

For the halibut
Melt the butter in a saucepan, and cook until lightly brown and foaming. Remove from the heat. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan (preferably non-stick) on medium-high heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides and place in the hot pan. Fry for 4 minutes, then gently flip, and cover to finish, 4-6 minutes.

To serve
Spoon a small pile of the crushed chickpeas on each plate. Add the fish and spoon over the brown butter. Top with the roasted carrots. A sprig of parsley finishes it off beautifully!

Recipe adapted from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Amaretti Cookies and a Butternut Squash!

I hope everyone had a great Mother's Day! I did! I even scored a bag of Italian amaretti cookies! Hooray!


When I have amaretti cookies on hand, I immediately think of Giada De Laurentiis' "Butternut Squash Tortellini with Brown Butter Sauce!" It is sweet and savory, and downright elegant! All you need is a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a nice glass of wine! Yum!


Butternut Squash Tortellini with Brown Butter Sauce

Serves 6, about 36 tortellini

Ingredients:
For the Tortellini
1 butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
4 small amaretti cookies, crushed (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package of wonton wrappers

For the Brown Butter Sauce
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 tablespoons torn fresh sage leaves
1/2 cups toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried cherries, or a mixture of both
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
For the Tortellini
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a foil-lined baking sheet, toss together the butternut squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. 


Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat and cook the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butternut squash mixture, the shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the crushed amaretti cookies, the nutmeg, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. The tortellini filling can be made one day ahead.

To make the tortellini, lay out 6 wonton skins, keeping the remaining skins inside the package and under a very lightly dampened paper towel. Place about a tablespoon of the squash mixture in the middle of each skin. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air bubbles inside. Dampen the two bottom corners of the longest side of the triangle and gently bring them together, pressing lightly to secure.


Place the formed tortellini on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Before laying out another 6 wonton skins, be careful to dry the work surface. This will help keep the tortellini from sticking to the baking sheet. Continue until all the butternut squash mixture is used. Place the baking sheet in the freezer to freeze the tortellini. (The tortellini can be formed, frozen on the baking sheet, transferred to a tightly sealed plastic bag or container and stored for up to six months! To cook, simply toss the frozen ravioli into salted boiling water for 4 minutes!)

Finishing the Dish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the sage, walnuts, and cranberries to the butter, and let cook until the butter starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and season with salt and pepper.

Gently place the frozen tortellini in the boiling water and gently stir. When they begin to float they are done, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently spoon the tortellini onto a serving platter or bowl, and top with the brown butter sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and serve.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

R.I.P.

Wonder where I've been? I've been in my garden! After a most upsetting incident where our ignorant ex-lawn maintenance company sprayed herbicides not just on our grass, but in ALL my flowerbeds, resulting in EVERYTHING dying, I've been toiling away ripping out the dead plants and replanting new ones. I'm still working on it, and I think it's going to take me at least a year to fix everything! The worst part is that my beloved fuchsia azaleas have died (RIP) and are unavailable until NEXT Spring! ****! ****! ****! 

My azaleas before,
and
after! (Sniff! Sniff!)

My only saving grace during this hot and dirty work is many glasses of "Agua de Jamaica." Agua de Jamaica is Mexican hibiscus tea, pronounced "ha-mica." Many countries enjoy this medicinal tea under different names, such as "sorrel" in the Carribean, "rosella" in Australia, and "bissap" or "wonjo" in Africa, just to name a few. In addition, not only is Agua de Jamaica fantastic for you, containing vitamin C, minerals, and a natural antihypertensive, it is dirt cheap! You make a concentrate, which can be stored in your fridge for at least 3 months, then to make a pitcher, you dilute 1 cup concentrate to 3 cups water and voila! My entire family loves it! It is always gone within a week! So, although I'm slaving away, at least I've got my delicious ice-cold Agua de Jamaica to make me feel better, literally!


Agua de Jamaica

Makes about 5 cups of concentrate

Ingredients:
8 cups water
6 ounces (about 2 cups) dried hibiscus or jamaica flowers
1 1/2 cups sugar, or more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

Directions:
In a saucepan, pour 8 cups of water and place over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the jamaica flowers, simmer at medium heat for 10-12 minutes and turn off the heat.


Let it cool down and strain into a pitcher or jar. Add the sugar and lime juice, mix well, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, dilute 1 cup concentrate with 3 cups water, or to your liking, and some ice cubes.

Recipe adapted from patismexicantable. (Love her!)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Did Someone Say, "Fiesta?"

Concluding my week of classic Mexican recipes to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I must include my favorite recipe for "Pastelitos de Boda," which translates to "Wedding Cakes." These cookies are often called "Polvorones" or "Pan de Polvo," from the Spanish word "polvo" meaning "dust," referring to the distinctive crumbly texture, or to the "dusting" of powdered sugar. However, polvorones refers to a class of sweets, in which pastelitos de boda belongs.

The origins of these little shortbread cookies is equally confusing. It is believed that these delicacies made their way to Mexico via Spain, and the region of Andalusia, in particular. However, some consider them of Middle Eastern origin. If that's not enough, they are particularly popular in the Phillipines, where they add dried milk to the mix! Ever heard of "Russian Tea Cakes?" Same thing! Ever heard of "Snowball Cookies?" Same thing! I guess they are present in cultures around the world, so who cares what you call them! I call them delicious! 
  
Individually wrapped in colored tissue paper makes them very festive indeed!

Pastelitos de Boda (Mexican Wedding Cookies):

Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and the vanilla extract, beat until well blended. Beat in the flour, then the pecans. Divide the dough in half, form each half into a ball. Wrap separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the remaining sugar and cinnamon together in a pie plate. Set aside.

Working with half of the chilled dough, roll 2 teaspoonfuls of dough between your palms into balls. Arrange on a cookie sheet, spacing 1/2" apart. 


Bake the cookies until golden brown on the bottom and just pale golden on the top, about 18 minutes. 


Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then, gently toss the warm cookies in the cinnamon sugar mixture to completely coat. 


Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies. 

To serve, place them on a round serving dish in a pyramid shape. Dust with the remaining cinnamon sugar. Delicious!

Optional: To wrap them individually, use 5"x6" rectangles of tissue paper, cut into "fringes" on the ends. 


Just roll them up and twist the ends! How cute! 

*(White paper for weddings, bright colors for parties, and red and green for Christmas!)

**Can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored airtight at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Carne de Cerdo!

I know I promised I would teach you how to make "Carnitas," and today is your lucky day! Carnitas, or "little meats," consists of chunks of meat (usually pork) that are slowly simmered until crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. They make fantastic tacos! Serve them with corn or flour tortillas, Salsa MexicanaGuacamole or Guacamole Taquero, and some crema or sour cream drizzled on top! They are truly heavenly and perfect for Cinco de Mayo! Classic fiesta food! Refried beans and/or rice make nice accompaniments. Don't forget a nice cold cerveza or La Margarita Original to wash it all down!


Pork Carnitas

Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 pound boneless pork shoulder or country-style ribs
6 cloves of garlic, halved
Zest of 1 orange, cut into strips
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, rolled in the palms of your hands (if you can't find Mexican oregano, just omit it, do not add Italian oregano as it does not taste the same)
Sea salt
1 tablespoon canola or safflower oil, if needed
12, 6-8" corn or flour tortillas, warmed


Directions:

Cut off any big pieces of fat from the pork and put them into a wide, heavy saucepan (like cast iron) or frying pan. Cut the pork into 1 1/2" cubes. Add the pork to the pan with the garlic, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Try to keep the meat in a single layer, if possible.


Next, add the orange juice and pour in enough water to barely cover the meat. Add the oregano, if using.


Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low, partially cover, and cook until the meat is fork tender, about 1 1/2 hours. At this point, you can remove the orange peel, if you like, but it will disintegrate if left in. 


Uncover the pan, raise the heat and continue cooking the pork, stirring occasionally, until all the fat is rendered and the meat is browning in the melted fat, about 15-30 minutes or so. (The time to allow the meat to become crispy depends on the size of the pan used and how much water is added. Just be patient. It's worth the wait!) There is usually enough melted fat in the pan, but if necessary, add 1 tablespoon oil. (I've never had to add oil.) When the meat is brown and crisp, using a slotted spoon, transfer it to a colander and let any excess fat drain away. (If there are any pieces of fat left, remove them, no one wants to eat that!)

Immediately transfer the pork to a warmed serving bowl. Serve with the salsa, guacamole, crema, and tortillas to let your guests make their own. Muy Bueno!