Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Celebrate the New Year with Yvette!

As I prepare for a retro New Year's Eve celebration, with Rumaki, a mountain of crab legs, and Seven Layer Jello, I wanted to share some ideas to spruce up your cocktails! You can always pick up a bottle of the delicious French raspberry liqueur Chambord and mix 1/2 ounce with 4 ounces of your favorite Champagne, garnish with raspberries or a lemon twist for a "Kir Royale," or as I prefer to call it, a "Cham-Cham!" Or, you can go ultra-retro by picking up a bottle of once defunct Creme Yvette to make "The Stratosphere!" 

Creme Yvette is a berry and violet liqueur that was originally produced in the late 19th century in Connecticut by the Sheffield Company. Over time, it's popularity dwindled and was taken out of production in 1969. It was the base for such classic cocktails like the Aviation and Blue Moon. However, after an onslaught of requests from cocktail experts, Charles Jacquin et Cie bought the recipe and re-released it in 2009. The original Creme Yvette supposedly had a more purple color, while the new version (made in France with dried violet petals from Provence and berries from Burgundy) has a more reddish hue. So I'm not so sure how blue your Blue Moon would be? Maybe pink? Anyway, whether you are hosting or attending a New Year soiree, why not pick up a bottle that is guaranteed to impress even your most savvy cocktail-loving friends! Only one question remains, who was Yvette? Bonne Annee!


The Stratosphere

Serves 1

Ingredients:
Glass of Champagne
3/4 ounce Creme Yvette
Lemon twist (I prefer raspberries!)

Directions:
In a chilled champagne flute, add the Creme Yvette and top with Champagne. Garnish as desired and serve! Fantastique!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Glamorous Gougeres

Gougeres (goo-zhairs) are a classic French appetizer made with "pate a choux" dough (see Mon Petit Chou) and flavored with cheese, traditionally Gruyere, Comte, or Parmesan. Gougeres originated from the Burgundy region in France where they are frequently served at wine tastings. How posh! Although they may appear to be some feat of magic, they are quite simple to make. In addition, they can even be made ahead, refrigerated or frozen to be reheated just before serving. Perfect for the holidays! 

Feel free to play with the seasonings, e.g., Gruyere and a pinch of cayenne or finely chopped thyme, Roquefort and finely chopped toasted walnuts, Manchego and freshly ground black pepper, and following my Texan sensibilities, sharp cheddar and finely chopped green chiles! (I hear French people crying, "Oh la vache!") If you choose the traditional version, you can serve them alongside soup for an elegant accompaniment, cut them in half and fill them with salmon or foie gras mousse, or even make them larger and fill them with Waldorf salad, or serve them with steak as a holder for your steak sauce like bordelaise, hollandaise, or bernaise. The possibilities are truly endless! You must add these babies to your culinary repertoire! You can thank me later!


Gougeres

Makes approximately 50 bite-size gougeres or 8 large ones.

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup flour
4 large eggs
pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyere cheese

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, butter, sugar, cayenne, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir in the flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.


The mixture will become a big ball. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Transfer the blob to the bowl of a stand mixer, or large mixing bowl. Starting with the lowest setting, beat in the eggs, one at a time.


Don't add the next egg until the previous one has been incorporated. Beat until smooth and velvety. Stir in the Gruyere.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

Using a pastry bag or two spoons, pipe or drop approximately 1" balls onto the sheet.


Using your finger dipped into a little milk, pat down the tips from piping, if necessary.




Bake for 25-30 minutes (or approximately 45 minutes for 8 large ones), or until puffed, medium-golden brown, and dry on the outside. (You need to keep and eye on them, and can check to make sure they are fully cooked by cutting one open.) When done, remove to a cooling rack and serve warm. (Some people recommend piercing each one with a skewer or toothpick to allow steam to escape.) 



*If making ahead, allow them to cool completely. Once cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container, refrigerated, or even frozen. To reheat gougeres, bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or 15 minutes if unthawed frozen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

EAT MOR CHIKIN!

The Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich was invented by S. Truett Cathy at his first restaurant in Atlanta called The Dwarf Grill in 1946. The chicken sandwich, which was based on his mother's recipe, became so popular that in 1967 Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant in Atlanta. The company now operates thousands of restaurants in 41 states, raking in more than $5 billion in annual sales. Chick-fil-A is known for their strong Christian values, remaining closed on Sundays as well as controversial views on gay marriage, which sparked protests across the country. S. Truett Cathy passed away in September, but rest assured his son, Dan Cathy, has the chicken empire well under control. 

Whether you love Chick-fil-A or hate them, they do know how to make a damn good chicken sandwich! The not-so-secret secret to Chick-fil-A's success is pickle juice! Yes, that's right, pickle juice. Besides making a terrific marinade to ensure tender, juicy chicken, pickle juice has many uses you may not know. Pickle juice is used by many athletes to relieve muscle cramps and restore electrolytes. There is even a sports drink called Pickle Juice Sport. In addition, pickle juice is touted as a hangover cure, a cure for menstrual cramps and heartburn, and may even stop hiccups! So stop throwing out your pickle juice and start adding it to your dressings, BBQ sauce, or anywhere you would add vinegar. Don't believe me? Why not try this fantastic copycat recipe that's floating around all over the internet for the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich! Cows everywhere will thank you!


Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich

Serves 2-4 (The coating is ample for 2 and just enough for 4 chicken cutlets.)

*Waffle fries make the perfect accompaniment!

Ingredients:
1-2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness and then cut in half, or 2-4 chicken cutlets (Chicken cutlets are sold at most grocers.)
1/4 cup dill pickle juice
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Oil for frying
2-4 buns, buttered and toasted
Pickle slices (2 per sandwich)
Optional: Mayonnaise, cheese slices, lettuce, and tomato

Directions:
Marinate the chicken in the pickle juice in a quart-size freezer bag for 30 minutes to 1 hour.


Beat the egg with the milk in a bowl. Combine the flour, sugar, paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, celery salt, dried basil, and cayenne in another bowl.


Dip the chicken cutlets in the egg mixture and then coat in the flour on both sides.


Heat the oil in a skillet (1/2-inch deep) to about 345-350. (I don't bother with a thermometer, instead if you drop a small piece of bread in the oil and it immediately starts to bubble, it's ready.) Fry each cutlet for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through.


Drain the chicken on a rack over paper towels.


To serve authentically, place 2 pickle slices on the bottom bun, top with the chicken, and then the top bun. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Aztec Chocolate Skulls

The cacao tree, which yields the berries, or "beans," that are the basis of chocolate, first appeared somewhere between Mexico and South America; but, the processing and culinary use of cacao was first developed in what is now Mexico. Mexican chocolate (which also refers to the foamy drink) is the round, flat disks of cinnamon-scented chocolate. The word "cacao" can be traced back to the Olmec inhabitants of Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, and parts of Central America, and was passed on to the lowland Maya who succeeded them in this territory. The Maya, who flourished for eight centuries before the Spanish arrived, used their beloved chocolate in rituals such as wedding ceremonies. The Aztecs, who later came to dominate central Mexico, believed that chocolate symbolized power and glory, and used it as part of their rituals by giving the drink to human offerings in order to bless the sacrifice. Creepy! 

With Halloween and Day of the Dead almost here, I wanted to share this delightfully spooky, super easy recipe for "Aztec Chocolate Skulls." I used commercially available silicone skull molds (mine were made by Wilton and designated for ice cubes), Ibarra Mexican chocolate, milk chocolate chips, rice krispies, and edible gold flakes (purchased from Sur la Table). The combination makes an exotically delicious treat, perfect for the Aztec Gods! 


Aztec Chocolate Skulls

Makes 15 skulls, depending on the size of your mold.

Ingredients:

1 disk Ibarra Mexican chocolate
5 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup rice krispies
Edible gold flakes (optional)

Directions:

Sprinkle the mold with gold flakes, set aside. Bash the disk of Ibarra (still in it's package) against a cutting board, to break it up a bit. (It's hard as a rock!) Open the package, and drop the Ibarra and half the milk chocolate chips into a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. (See Gadgets, for "No Double Boiler?") 


With a spoon, keep turning and squashing the chunks of Ibarra until it is completely softened and mixed with the milk chocolate. 


Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining milk chocolate until completely melted. Stir in the rice krispies. With a spoon, spoon the chocolate evenly in the mold, pressing down with your fingers.


Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Pop them out of their molds and serve!

Thanks to Karen Hursh Graber for the background on Mexican chocolate via Mexconnect.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Witch Finders Direct


*Apparently BBC has blocked this video. What a shame.*

If you enjoyed that, you'll definitely enjoy these Chocolate-Hazelnut Smooches, or as my kids like to call them, "Witch Hat Cookies"!


Witch Hat Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup orange sprinkles, or orange sugar
1 (9-ounce) package of chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped (Hershey's)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl (or stand mixer), place the chocolate hazelnut spread, butter, and both sugars. Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer), cream the ingredients together, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and blend until incorporated. Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.

Shape the cookie dough into walnut-sized balls. Roll the balls in the orange sprinkles or orange sugar, pressing to adhere. Place the cookies on a heavy cookie sheet about 4 inches apart. (I put 8 cookies per sheet.) Bake for 6-8 minutes. (6 for softer cookies and 8 for crispier cookies.) Meanwhile, unwrap as many kisses as you need. Remove the cookies from the oven. Quickly place a chocolate kiss in the middle of each cookie and slightly press down, the puffed edges will crack. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for another 2 minutes. Cool the cookies on a wire rack. Yum!

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis.

Video from CBBC Channel!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don't Be A Devil!

Halloween is almost here, and my kids are already embracing their inner devils! Next to Christmas, Halloween is their most anticipated holiday. Perhaps it's the chill in the air, or maybe the costumes, but I'm absolutely sure it's the treats! To turn my devils into saints, I always make these awesome cupcakes by Giada De Laurentiis. They use store-bought chocolate cake mix, enhanced with orange juice and chocolate chips, then frosted with a delicious limoncello frosting (lemon juice for my kids). These are so good, you'd be a devil not to make them!


Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Limoncello Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
1 box chocolate cake mix
Orange juice (instead of water in cake mix)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 cup diced candied orange peel (optional)

Frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons limoncello (or lemon juice for kids)*
2 tablespoons orange juice*
1 orange, zested
1/4 cup finely diced candied orange peel, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

To make the cupcakes: mix the chocolate cake mix according to package instructions, substituting orange juice for the water. Toss the chocolate chips with the flour. Fold the chocolate chips and the candied orange peel into the chocolate mixture. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners. Fill and bake the cupcakes according to package instructions. Let the cupcakes cool for 1 hour on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting: combine all the ingredients except the candied orange peel in a medium bowl. Using a mixer, beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Using a small spatula, place about 1 tablespoon of frosting on top of each cupcake. Top with a small sprinkle of candied orange peel.

*I find that the frosting is a bit runny, so be careful! Start by only adding 1 tablespoon limoncello (or lemon juice) and 1 tablespoon orange juice and see how that goes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lost Your Mojo?

"Mojo" is an interesting word. It can mean different things to different people. It can mean a magic spell, hex, or charm. It can refer to a magical charm bag used in hoodoo (not be be confused with voodoo) which originated in the Mississippi Delta area by African-Americans. It can also refer to someone's sex appeal, or lack thereof. However, mojo is a sauce consisting primarily of olive oil, salt, garlic, and other spices that originated in the Canary Islands. (For more on Canary Island cuisine, see Singing Canaries and Beastly Dogs?) But in Cuba and other islands of the Caribbean, where large Canarian emigration occurred, it is a sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and a citrus juice. It is typically used as a marinade or dip.

What do I do when I lose my mojo? I make Rick Bayless's "Garlicky Linguine with Seared Shrimp, Chipotle, and Queso Anejo!" It's like a Mexican shrimp scampi or Spaghetti Aglio e Olio and it is fabulous! You will need to make a batch of Rick's "Slow-Cooked Garlic Mojo," which will require approximately an hour of baking, but once you have that you can store it in the refrigerator for up to three months. (Just make sure the garlic is always covered with some olive oil.) As long as you have your mojo, this recipe takes mere minutes to complete! You've got to try it! I like to serve it with a simple salad, plenty of crusty bread, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.


Garlicky Linguine with Seared Shrimp, Chipotle, and Queso Anejo

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
For the Slow-Cooked Garlic Mojo (FYI: You can make half a batch, if you prefer, and still have plenty for this recipe!)
4 large heads of garlic
2 cups fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (Not the junk in a bottle!)

For the Shrimp and Pasta
2/3 cup Slow-Cooked Garlic Mojo (stir before measuring)
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt
1-3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, seeded and finely chopped (I use 3!)
1 pound dried linguine
2-3 tablespoons coarsely chopped watercress, parsley, or cilantro (I use parsley.)
3/4 cup grated Mexican queso anejo, Parmesan, or Romano (I use cotija cheese, which is like Mexican Parmesan and is easier for me to locate.)

Directions:
For the Mojo
Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Break the heads of garlic apart, then mash each clove with the side of a knife to release the clove from the papery skin. Stir together the garlic, oil, and salt in an 8x8-inch pan (make sure all the garlic is submerged), slide it into the oven and bake until the garlic is soft and lightly brown, about 45-55 minutes. Add the lime juice and return to the oven for 20 minutes for the garlic to absorb the lime and turn golden brown.

Using an old-fashioned potato masher or fork, mash the garlic into a coarse puree. Pour the mixture into a wide-mouth storage container and refrigerate it until you're ready to enjoy some deliciousness. It will keep in the refrigerator for up the three months as long as there's enough oil to keep the garlic covered.


For the Shrimp and Pasta
Fill a large (6-8 quart) pot about 2/3 full of water. Add 2 tablespoons salt, cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, spoon 2 tablespoons of the oil from the mojo into a very large (12-inch) skillet. (I use my non-stick one, see Gadgets.) Set over medium-high heat. Pat the shrimp dry, sprinkle with salt and, when the oil is hot and looks shimmery, lay them in the skillet. Cook until the shrimp just lose their transclucency in the center, about 1 minute per side. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the chopped chiles and the rest of the mojo.

Slide the pasta into the boiling water, stir, then let boil until al dente according to package directions.


Remove 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then pour the pasta into a colander set in a sink. Return the pasta and the 1/2 cup water to the pot. Scrape in the shrimp mixture, sprinkle with the chopped watercress, parsley, or cilantro, toss together and divide among warm plates. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve without hesitation.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Tin Pot, a Coffee Sack, and a Bag of Seeds

John Chapman was born in Massachusetts in 1774. He served in the Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. After ending his military service, he apprenticed at a nursery in Pennsylvania, where he would pick apple seeds from the pomace produced by a local cider mill. While apples grown from seed are most likely too unpalatable to eat, they are perfect to make cider. John realized a great opportunity. He packed up his seeds and headed west in a hollowed out log, barefoot, donning his tin pot on his head, and wearing a coffee sack as a shirt! He would stop along uninhabited places along the river banks, plant some of the seeds, and hire a local boy to maintain and sell the trees to future new settlers, who no doubt would be eager for some hard cider! John, who became known as "Johnny Appleseed," would then travel further west, planting his apple nurseries along the way. 

In addition to his love of apples, John was a missionary for The New Church. He would offer to tell stories and read the church doctrine in exchange for a place to sleep, if the weather dictated. According to The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan (one of my favorite books ever!), John preferred the company of children and Native Americans. In fact, it is rumored that he'd once been engaged to marry a ten-year-old girl, but she broke his heart. (Creepy!) According to Robert Price, who wrote a biography about John in 1954, he "had the thick bark of queerness on him." And finally from Pollan, "By the 1830s, John was operating a chain of nurseries that reached all the way from western Pennsylvania through central Ohio and into Indiana. It was in Fort Wayne that Chapman died in 1845-wearing the infamous coffee sack, some say, yet leaving an estate that included some 1,200 acres of prime real estate. The barefoot crank died a wealthy man."

So in honor of John's apples, and the fact that apple cider is now available in stores, I want to share this wonderful recipe for "Cider and Sage Pork!" Not only is this recipe quite delicious, it's easy and quick! Basically, you slice a pork tenderloin into medallions, sear them, set them aside, and make a sauce of shallots, sage, sherry vinegar, mustard, apple cider, and a splash of cream, all in the same pan! Done! I like to serve it with green beans (but without the pecans and basil) and whipped sweet potatoes (substituting pure maple syrup for the chipotle). It makes a beautiful fall dish that is as interesting as Johnny Appleseed!


Cider and Sage Pork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and silver skin removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup apple cider (not hard cider, usually in the produce area of the grocery)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
Fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Cut the pork tenderloin into 12 pieces. (Tip: Cut the tenderloin in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each of those into three pieces. Voila!) 


Sprinkle both sides of the pork medallions with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pork from pan; cover to keep warm.

Add remaining oil, shallots, and chopped sage; cook 2 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Whisk broth, cider, mustard, and cornstarch together. Add the mixture to the pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cream. Serve with the pork and garnish with sage leaves, if desired.

Recipe slightly adapted from CookingLight.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bon Appetit, Ya'll!

I love checking out cookbooks from my local library. It keeps my bookshelves from overflowing and allows me to try some of the recipes before I may decide to purchase the book. When I saw Bon Appetit, Ya'll: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, I just had to check it out! I tried many recipes in the book, including the one for Jambalaya (which does have an error in it), but the recipe I keep going back to is a simple one for "Toasted-Pecan Green Beans." 

When we think of southern style green beans, we assume it's the meltingly tender ones that are slow cooked, usually with some type of pork product and onion. Although I love them, my green bean-phobic husband does not...but he loves these! This simple recipe is like a southern version of green beans amandine, where the green beans are blanched first, then sauteed with buttery toasted pecans, minced garlic, and a dash of fresh basil. The result is perfectly cooked green beans that taste absolutely amazing! In addition, this technique (which works well with other types of vegetables, see Spring Vegetable Tumble) allows you to blanch the beans ahead of time, freeing your focus to the main course, and gives you a beautiful side dish that takes only minutes to put together! Thanks Virginia, for giving me my green beans back!


Toasted-Pecan Green Beans

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds haricots verts, trimmed (Sadly, I am finding it harder to locate haricots verts in my area, so I used regular green beans and blanched them for 5 minutes.)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 garlic clove, very finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. (5 minutes for regular green beans.) Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with beans in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the beans are submerged. (I just dump the beans in the ice-water bath, then drain them before finishing the dish.)

In the same pot (I use a large saute pan), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pecans and cook until toasted, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and basil; cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.


Drain the beans, shaking off the excess water, and return them to the pot. Toss to combine with the pecan mixture. (Keep tossing until the beans are reheated.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beef. It's What's For Dinner.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is a trade association designed to support and promote U.S. cattle and beef producers. In 1992, under contract by the Beef Checkoff, they launched their advertising campaign through television, radio, and print ads touting "Beef. It's What's For Dinner." The ads have featured actors Robert Mitchum, Sam Elliott, and in 2008, Mathew McConaughey. McConaughey reminds me of that eccentric relative everyone has, who can't help but make you smile!

Nicked this funny picture from popwatch.ew.com! Ha! Ha!

However, McConaughey's beefy Texas drawl has been silenced (gasp!), to be replaced by Garrett Hedlund, in hopes of appealing to a younger audience. Hedlund is best known for his roles in "stellar" movies (cough, cough) such as Troy, Tron Legacy, and the debacle Country Strong. Why? I don't remember Mitchum or Elliott being any spring chickens? So, while we will miss our favorite bongo boy buddy promoting lean cuts of beef as part of a heart-healthy diet, I do have an excellent recipe for "Maple-Balsamic Marinated Steak with Grilled Pear Salad" from you know who, The National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

This simple recipe is one of my new favorites! Strip steaks, pears, and red onion are marinated in a flavorful mix of maple syrup, balsamic vinaigrette, thyme, and black pepper. The vinaigrette helps give a lot of smokey flavor by causing flare-ups on the grill. (Remember to keep it covered so they won't burn!) The steaks are then sliced and served along side the smokey pear and red onion salad, complete with leafy greens, toasted pecans, and creamy goat cheese! Fantastic! I'm sure McConaughey would approve, and yes, please come to dinner!

Maple-Balsamic Marinated Steak with Grilled Pear Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 boneless beef top loin (strip) steaks, cut 1-inch thick (about 8-10 ounces each)
2 Bartlett or red Anjou pears, halved and cored
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges large enough that they can be skewered for grilling
8 cups mixed salad greens or arugula
1/4 cup toasted and chopped pecans*
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese*
Kosher salt, to taste

*Walnuts and blue cheese would be another option, if preferred.

For the Marinade
1 cup reduced fat or regular balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

Directions:
Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup marinade for dressing the salad. Place beef steaks and 1/3 cup marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steaks to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in the refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours. Reserve remaining marinade for brushing the pears and onion.


Soak two 10-inch bamboo skewers in water 10 minutes; drain. (I just used some metal skewers.) Thread the onion wedges onto the skewers. Brush onions and cut sides of pears with half the reserved marinade.

Remove the steaks from the marinade; discard marinade. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals; arrange onions and pears around the steaks. Grill steaks, covered, 11-14 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 11-15 minutes) for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium doneness (160 degrees), turning occasionally. Grill onions 12-15 minutes (13-16 minutes for gas) and pears 8-10 minutes (gas grill times remain the same) or until tender, turning occasionally and brushing steak, onions, and pears with remaining reserved marinade.


Remove onions from skewers., Chop onions and pears into bite-size pieces. Combine greens, pears, onions, cheese, nuts, and reserved 1/2 cup marinade; toss gently to combine. Carve steaks into slices; season with salt, as desired. Serve with salad mixture.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eat Like an Empress! (or Emperor)

"Crab imperial" is a classic American dish popular along the east coast. Although it's not the healthiest of dishes, it is luxurious and I love it! The original crab imperial was created in the late 19th century at Thompson's Sea Girt House, located in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a gratin of back-fin lump crab in a mixture of diced onions, green bell pepper, and pimiento, all bound together in a thick cream sauce (bechamel) and topped with a slather of mayonnaise. This version remained very popular until the opening of Crisfield's Seafood Restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1945. It was then that Lillian Landis (matriarch of the family) created Crisfield's version, called "Imperial Crab," which remains popular to this day. After Lillian complained that the original version of crab imperial was too heavy and that the other ingredients masked the gently sweet flavor of the crab, she created her version which consists of back-fin lump crab lightly bound together with Hellman's mayonnaise, flecked with minced green bell pepper, minced onion, and a topping of fresh bread crumbs. Although I have yet to visit Crisfield's, I plan on popping in the next time I'm in the area to check out the old-timey decor and try their Imperial Crab. FYI: I've heard their crab cakes are awful, referred to as tasting like sawdust!

Until then, I can always make my own version of crab imperial! Like Crisfield's, I like the crab meat to be the star, so I don't use green bell pepper, pimiento, or even add any onion. Instead, I gently fold together the crab with a seasoned mixture of Hellman's mayonnaise and spices, then instead of stuffing the mixture into crab shells or baking dishes, I mound the mixture on large portobello mushroom caps, top each with buttered bread crumbs and bake until golden. Delicious! I serve each with a lemon wedge and a small spinach salad on the side. (A glass of Champagne is also nice!) The result is a simple and luscious meal that, thanks to the portobello and spinach, somehow seems healthier and more modern. This is an excellent recipe for company, to be reserved only for people you really like!

Crab Imperial Stuffed Portobellos with Spinach Salad

Serves 4
*This recipe can easily be halved to make a romantic dinner for 2. Prepare for kisses!*

Ingredients:
For the Crab Imperial
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for any shells or cartilage
1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Sherry wine
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (e.g., Tabasco)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (e.g., Grey Poupon)
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup minced Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Melted butter, about 1 tablespoon or enough to moisten the bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season breadcrumbs
Paprika, to sprinkle on top

For the Portobellos, Salad, and Serving
4 large portobello mushroom caps, 4-5 inches in diameter
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle on mushrooms
12 ounces baby spinach, tough stems removed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Directions:
For the Crab Imperial
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, egg, Sherry, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, flour, and parsley until smooth. With a spatula, carefully fold in the crab meat, trying not to break up the pieces. Set aside.


In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and melted butter. (I find the back of a spoon very efficient to help smoosh it together.)  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the Portobellos
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place each portobello cap, stem side up, on the baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.


Top each evenly with the crab imperial mixture. Sprinkle each stuffed portobello with some of the moistened bread crumbs. (Use as much or as little as you prefer, but remember not to let it taste like sawdust!) Sprinkle the tops with paprika, to give it some color and extra flavor.


Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbly. Remove and let sit for a few minutes before serving. It's hot!

For the Salad and Serving
Whisk together the tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss enough of the dressing to lightly coat the spinach leaves.

Place one stuffed portobello on each of four serving plates. Divide the salad evenly next to the stuffed portobellos. Add a lemon wedge and prepare for an excellent dining experience!

Friday, September 5, 2014

How French Manufacturers, a Crazy Preacher, and Hershey's will Leave You Asking for Some More

Nothing is more quintessential summer than making s'mores over an open campfire! However, without "modern" inventions, it would have never been possible. Egyptians were the first to utilize the root of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) for medicinal purposes, specifically sore throats. By extracting the sap from the root, it was then boiled in sugar syrup and dried to create a honey-sweetened confection. In the late 19th century, French manufacturers began using egg whites or gelatin mixed with corn starch to create what we now know as the modern marshmallow, no sap required.

In 1829, Graham crackers (in bread form) were invented by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, as part of his "Graham Diet." Reverend Graham believed that by adhering to a bland vegetarian diet, it would prevent people from having impure thoughts and thus prevent the act of pleasuring one's self. After all, he believed it caused blindness and insanity! Weirdo! On another note, Graham diet followers Dr. John Kellogg and brother Will Kellogg invented Kellogg's Cornflakes to adhere to Graham's doctrines. Who knew!

In 1896, Milton Hershey built a milk-processing plant in Derry Church, Pennsylvania, later renamed Hershey, Pennsylvania. After three years of experimentation, he developed the "Hershey process" used to create milk chocolate candies. In 1900, the first Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar was sold and the rest is history.

It's no wonder that these three ingredients, which are easy to pack and transport camping, had children asking for some more! In 1927, the first recipe for "Some More" was published in the Girl Scout publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. According to Merriam-Webster, the first use of the contraction "s'more" was in 1974, which eventually became "s'mores." But what if you don't have access to a campfire? Why not make these adorable "S'Mores Cupcakes," from the July 2014 issue of Real Simple. I found the recipe to be accurate, with the exception of the marshmallow topping. The recipe states to bake the marshmallows "until golden and deflated, 6 to 10 minutes." I waited 6 minutes, but they were not golden or deflated, just puffed up like eggs! I waited 10 minutes, the same thing. After about 12 minutes they appeared to be golden, so I pulled them out and let them cool. Big mistake! They were dry and chewy, not creamy like you would want. So, I baked a second batch for 6 minutes, allowed them to cool, and finished them off with my blowtorch. (Doesn't everyone have a blowtorch in the kitchen?) The result was the perfect gooey marshmallow with a hint of an open fire!


S'Mores Cupcakes

Makes 12

Ingredients:
For the Cupcakes
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from 9 crackers)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk

For the Topping
12 large marshmallows

For the Ganache
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used chips.)

Directions:
For the Cupcakes
Heat oven to 350 degrees with the racks in the middle and top positions. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar in a separate bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients and milk alternately, beginning and ending the dry ingredients and mixing well between additions. Mix until just combined.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake, on the middle rack, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-24 minutes. (Mine were done in 20 minutes.) Cool in the tin for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Make the Topping
Place the marshmallows on a parchment-lined baking sheet, 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake on the top rack until golden and deflated, 6-10 minutes. Let cool. (I baked them for 6 minutes, allowed them to cool, and gave them a little blast from my blowtorch.) 


Make the Ganache
Bring the cream to a boil in a small pot. Remove from heat, add the chocolate, and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk to combine. Let cool slightly.

Assemble the Cupcakes
Divide the ganache among the cupcakes. (It looks like there is way too much ganache, just keep spooning it on top carefully. You want to use it all or it won't be chocolaty enough.) Top each cupcake with a marshmallow. Let sit until the ganache is almost firm to the touch, 15-20 minutes, before serving. (These cupcakes are messy, so I did pop them in the refrigerator for a few minutes to aid in eating.)

Mmmmmmmmm!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hatch, Hatch, Hooray!

Hatch chiles have just hit the market! Yippee! These amazing chiles are only available for a short period of time, so you better run out and get some! Every year I load up, roast and freeze them to hopefully last me all year. See Roasting and Freezing Hatch Chiles. I also make Green Chile Sauce, that I freeze in ice cube trays, which I adore with scrambled eggs. The first meal I make is always my amazing Green Chile Cheeseburgers! Delicious! In fact, I'm making them tonight! I can't wait! Other fabulous recipes from my site that make the most of these addictive chiles are Chiles RellenosGreen Chile Chicken Lasagna with Goat Cheese, and Hatch Chile Macque Choux. I highly recommend any of those!

However, I have a new recipe for you to try this year! How does "Hatch Chile and Cheddar Corn Pudding" sound? Chiles and cheese - my favorite! It's the perfect side dish with grilled or roasted meats. It would also make a fine meal on it's own with a nice green salad. If you like chiles, you'll love this recipe!

 
Hatch Chile and Cheddar Corn Pudding

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
2 large hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, and chopped (See Techniques for more information on how to roast a chile.) (Can subtitute 1, 4oz can of hatch chiles, if necessary.)
4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, preferably freshly grated
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Puree 3 cups of the corn in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a large bowl, and stir in the remaining 1 cup corn, salt, scallions, chiles, flour, and 1 cup of the cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream until combined. Stir into the corn mixture.



Place butter in a 8" square baking dish (I used a 2 quart souffle dish), and place in oven until butter is melted, about 10 minutes. (Don't let the butter burn!) Pour batter into the hot baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Place a baking sheet on lower rack to catch any drips, and bake until puffed and bubbling and cheese is golden brown, 45-50 minutes. (I had no issues with any drips.) Let cool 30 minutes before serving.


Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dear Rosemary

Rosemary, the perennial herb that is native to the Mediterranean and member of the mint family, has been used since 500 B.C. for culinary and medicinal purposes. The name "rosemary" comes from the Latin words for "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus) meaning "dew of the sea." Rosemary has long been associated with aiding memory. Early Greek students would wear rosemary wreaths on their heads during exams. At funerals, sprigs of rosemary were placed as a token of remembrance. In the Middle Ages, rosemary was worn or carried at weddings as a symbol of happiness, loyalty, and love. It was also believed that if you slept with a sprig under your pillow, it would prevent nightmares. And the best one, if planted outside it would repel witches! 

Rosemary is one of the most aromatic and pungent herbs around. A little goes a long way. Rosemary is especially nice with roasted and grilled meats, particularly pork. This recipe for "Brined Pork Chops with Balsamic Glaze and Grilled Potato Fries" illustrates how a little rosemary can turn a simple meal into something magnificent! This recipe, which I nicked from weber.com, calls for brining the chops. As I've stated before, I'm not convinced that brining makes that much of a difference. However, give it a try and let me know what you think. In addition, don't skip the fries or sauce! They are absolutely delicious! In fact, even if you don't try the chops, you have to make the fries! So pop on some Foo Fighters and get grilling!

Not the best picture, but trust me it's delicious!

Brined Pork Chops with Balsamic Glaze and Grilled Potato Fries

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Brine
2 cups water
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the Pork Chops
4 pork loin chops, each 8-10 ounces and 1 1/4-1 1/2 inches thick
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves (hopefully growing in your herb garden!)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Glaze
1/2 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar

For the Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann's)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, minced (See Techniques!)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Fries
5 Yukon gold potatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds total, each cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Directions:
For the Brine
In a medium bowl, whisk the brine ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve, 2-3 minutes. Place the pork chops in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the brine. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the brine, place in a bowl, and refrigerate for 1-1 1/2 hours.

For the Pork Chops
Remove the chops from the bag and discard the brine. Pat dry with paper towels (do not rinse) and season evenly on both sides with the rosemary and pepper. (If you did not brine your chops, sprinkle both sides with Kosher salt.) Let stand at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before grilling.

For the Glaze
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, boil the balsamic vinegar until slightly thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the butter and season with salt, pepper, and sugar. Transfer to a small bowl.

For the Sauce
In a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients.

For the Fries
Cook the potato slices in a large pot of boiling salted water just until they are cooked halfway through and beginning to soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water to cool quickly. Drain again. Drizzle the potato slices with oil and season evenly with rosemary, salt, and pepper.

Grilling the Chops and Potatoes
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350-450 degrees) and high heat (450-550 degrees). Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the chops over direct high heat and the potato slices over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the chops are still slightly pink in the center and the potatoes are tender and grill marks appear, turning once or twice. The chops will take about 10 minutes and the potatoes will take 6-8 minutes. Remove from the grill as they are done. Place the potatoes in a medium bowl and toss with the parsley. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

To Serve
Place one pork chop on each of four plates. Reheat the balsamic glaze. Divide the potatoes among the plates. Drizzle the chops with the balsamic glaze. Serve the sauce on the side as a dip for the potatoes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nutella turns 50!

Everyone loves Nutella! In fact, my youngest child just might starve without it! According to mentalfloss.com, one jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds, was 3rd most "liked" in 2009 on Facebook, and even has it's own day of celebration known as "World Nutella Day" on February 5! In addition, worldwide sales of Nutella exceeds those of all brands of peanut butter combined! Wow! But where did this dreamy concoction come from? We have to thank the Piedmont region of Italy, the country's chocolate-making capital and where the most delicious and abundant hazelnuts grow.

After World War II, there were shortages of cocoa, making chocolate so expensive that most Italians couldn't afford it. As a result, in 1946, Pietro Ferrero began selling his hazelnut/cocoa creation in block form, and called it "Pasta Gianduja." In 1951, Ferrero began selling a creamy version named "Supercrema." In 1964, Ferrero's son, Michele Ferrero, revised Supercrema, renamed it "Nutella," and began selling it across Europe, and eventually the world! Thank goodness he did! However, Ferrero was not the first to create the addictive mixture of cocoa and hazelnuts.

In the beginning of the 1800s, during the Napoleonic Wars, British ships blocked the import of cocoa beans from the Americas to the Mediterranean. As a result, a clever chocolatier named Michele Prochet created the original blend of cocoa powder, milk, vanilla, and hazelnuts. In 1865, Carrafel patented his concoction and named it "Gianduiotto." The chocolate debuted at the annual carnival in Turin, Italy, under the name of Gianduja (also spelled Gianduia), an ode to the masked character that is the official representative of the city! For more, see Romancing the Tin

So, with all this talk about Nutella, I want to share this recipe sent to me by my youngest (of course!) sans title, that I am going to call "Fudgy Nutella No Bake Cookies." This recipe is super simple and is devoured as fast as I can make them! My kids go nuts for them and I'm sure you will too! Grazie Nutella!


Fudgy Nutella No Bake Cookies

Makes approximately 3 dozen, depending on size.

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup Nutella
3 cups quick Oats

Directions:

Over medium heat, bring the sugar, cocoa, milk, and butter to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla, salt, peanut butter, Nutella, and oats. Stir until combined. Using two spoons, drop heaping tablespoons on parchment or wax paper and allow to cool. Refrigerate. Eat. Repeat.
  

Monday, July 28, 2014

No Show at the Arc de Triomphe!

I guess the light show at the Arc de Triomphe was only for last year, which was the 100th Tour de France! Bummer... Well, In case you missed it, here you go! Thanks, Santiago Salcedo!



Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Turtle Shell + the Maillot Jaune = Podium Time

The Tour de France is completing their last mountain stage in the Pyrenees today, starting in the historic town of Pau, the birthplace of King Henri IV of France, who was born in the magnificent Pau Castle. The castle dates back to the 14th century and is now a museum featuring a valuable collection of tapestries, paintings, furniture, Sevres porcelain, and the turtle shell that was King Henri's cradle. Apparently, at that time, a turtle shell was believed to bring long life to bodies placed inside! Who knew?

Although it's almost certain that the Italians are taking home the maillot jaune (yellow jersey), there will no doubt be quite a show at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday. I strongly advise that you check it out! In addition, why not try this super simple and amazingly delicious recipe for "Seared Steak with Red Onions, Spinach, and Roquefort." As long as you have a cast iron pan, this chic meal takes less than 30 minutes and will transport you to a Paris bistro, just in time for the festivities! Vive le Tour!


Seared Steak with Red Onions, Spinach, and Roquefort

Serves 4
*Serve with a crusty baguette and red wine.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 strip steaks, 1 1/2" thick (Buy the best steak you can and have your butcher cut it for you.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red onion, sliced into rounds, rings separated
2, 8 ounce packages of baby spinach, thick stems discarded
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 1/2 ounces Roquefort cheese, broken into 4 pieces

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and cook until browned on one side, approximately 3 minutes. Turn the steak.


Scatter the onion rings around the steaks, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and cook for 3 minutes, turning the rings occasionally to make contact with the pan. 


Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook to desired doneness, 4-5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.


While the steaks rest, continue to saute the onions for another minute or so over medium-high heat. Add the spinach to the onions in the hot skillet. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss with the onions until the spinach is beginning to wilt, 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spinach and onions to 4 plates and drizzle with the vinegar. Slice the steaks and divide among the plates along with the Roquefort. 

Delicious!