Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays

May your holidays be filled with sparkling wine, sparkling wit, loved ones, and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Hopefully the sparkling wine and strawberries will be edible, rather than ornamental.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Awesome Short Rib Ragu

I have been making this every weekend for three weeks running because short ribs have been on sale, and frankly, this is just so delicious that I don't mind that it taking 2 days to make it.
If you like slow-cooking beef, give this a try.
If you don't like slow-cooking beef... give this a try.

Step 1 - brown that meat.
Let your short ribs (about 3 lbs worth) come to room temperature, trim off any of that really thick, hard fat, season with salt, and get a good sear on the outside (use a little evoo in the pan).

Do this in batches so you don't end up steaming your meat.

Add 1 medium/large white onion, 2 celery ribs, and 3 carrots, 4 garlic cloves, all medium diced, into the bottom of the pan with all the tasty brown bits left by the meat. Season with salt.
You may need another drizzle of olive oil to get them all going.
Cook until the onions are almost translucent.

Next add a TBSP or so of tomato paste to the pot and pour in one bottle of dry red wine: tempranillo, cabernet, even a dolcetto would work.
Just make sure you like the taste of it to drink before you cook with it.
Throw in your herb bundle (use cheesecloth if you have it. I use tea bags meant for loose tea.)
Inside it should have: 1-2 bay leaves, half a sprig of fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dry), 3-4 fresh thyme stems (or 1 -2 tsp dry), 1/4 tsp ground clove, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, 5-6 crushed black peppercorns.
Allow that to simmer for about 10 minutes and then allow to cool.
Pour over browned short ribs, or place short ribs in the pot with the wine mixture, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day allow the chill to come off everything before starting to cook.
Over medium low heat on the stove, add 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 3-4 cups of beef stock. Enough to cover all the meat in the pot but not come more than 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot.
Optional addition: chopped, reconstituted porcini mushrooms.

Once up to a simmer, turn off the burner, add the lid to the pot and place in a 325º oven for 3 hrs.
If you remember, stir once or twice over the 3 hrs to move things around.

No, these are not Fig Newtons or dog treats.
By the time you remove it from the oven,  the meat should have fallen away from the bones (see above).
At this point I like to remove the meat and the bones and reduce the liquids in the pot over medium-high heat for another 40-45 minutes, or until thick.
I also shred apart the meat once it has cooled for easier consumption.

Add the meat back in and allow to set.
I prefer to let it sit overnight again, eating it on Day 3.

This goes brilliantly over most things: polenta, pasta, couscous, hearty bread... whatever you have on hand.
I was really in the mood for pappardelle, so that's what I made this time around.

As always, cook the pasta in salted boiling water, drain, and cook the final minute or two with the sauce so the flavors combine.

I gave this a sprinkle of pecorino, but it doesn't need it.
It's perfect just as it is... somewhere between a stew and a ragu.
Try it out the next time you have a laid-back weekend.
You won't be sorry.

And if you've been reading my blog for a while now, yes, this is essentially what I made for the So-Bro(nx) Dinner Party, but I have perfected it since then, so it deserved a second showing.
I think this will be showing up for Christmas Eve Dinner as well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feline Moussassin

This is what we have been entertaining ourselves with for the past week:

The smart cat has since become the destroyer of all iPad related movement... while the less-smart cat watches sans comprehension...

The Hubs has created a monster, as now both cats prowl looking for either an iPad or an iPhone to attack, even when there are no virtual mice running across them.
But they sure are cute when they tucker themselves out:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mahi Mahi with Orange Beurre Blanc Sauce

I saw this recipe by Robert Irvine on the Food Network's website and decided it tweak it to my preferences, and availability. And it was REALLY tasty.
And actually rather easy.

Step one: marinate your fish. You could use just about any firm-fleshed fish (but not tuna) in this dish.  As so often happens, I was using what was on special that week.
I squeezed the juice of one lemon, mixed with about 2-3 TBSP of tequila (silver), and poured that over my 2 portions of fish with a pinch of salt.
You don't want them to marinate too long or the acids will start to cook the fish itself, so I would do this right as you start to make your beurre blanc.

Beurre blanc is a decadent butter sauce that can be made any number of ways, but the base needs to be acidic for the emulsification to work. You can use vinegar, wine, a citrus juice, or a combination thereof. I used 3/4 cup of orange juice with 3/4 cup white wine for my base, as I thought both white wine and orange would go nicely with the fish..
Bring this to boil and allow to reduce by half.
If you like, add some finely chopped shallot while reducing. They will retain much of their onion-y flavor without being too powerful.

Once the liquids have reduced by half, remove the pot from the heat and start adding cubes of butter, whisking them each in one at a time. Occasionally put back over the heat for a moment to keep things warm.
(When making this for 2 people, I used about half a stick of butter. More will make a really rich sauce. Too rich for me. But go with what makes your dish happy.)
The finished product should be glossy and moderately thick.

Once the sauce is finished allow it to sit and thicken up a bit while you cook your fish.
In a non-stick pan on medium-high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and the other half of your (optional) shallot and place your fish filets skin-side down.
Flip after 2-4 minutes, once the skin is crisp.
Cook another 4-5 minutes, or until firm and opaque.

Transfer your fish to a plate and pour the rich beurre blanc sauce over the top.
I served this simply with a side of peas as it was a light dinner (well... except for the half stick of butter...) but this would also go nicely with a bed of pasta or couscous as well.

Voila! A fancy-sounding dinner in under 30 minutes. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-Style

There were two 12 lb turkeys, mashed potatoes made w/ ricotta, corn w/ butter, stuffing a la my great-aunt's recipe, and possibly the best gravy my mother has made in years.

Queen Of Turkey Rides Again
It was very similar to last year... with a few exceptions:

Get up under that turkey skin w/ the softened herb butter!
My mother checked the liquor cabinet before I arrived and thought the open bottle of Apple Jack would work in place of regular brandy this year. She might have been right.

Make sure the alcohol you use to deglaze the bacon fat has not been open for more than a decade (or 4), as you will end up with more water than booze in the pan, and not only does that not add flavor, it will spit at you like a dozen flaming ornery llamas.

Remember to roast the neck for added richness in your gravy,
as well as a snack while the bird rests!
Additionally, try not to have the element in your electric oven suddenly glow white-hot and crack, dripping molten metal onto your oven floor. That puts a kink in ones' cooking marathon.

Luckily my parents have two stacked wall ovens, so with careful planning everything got made on time, and the above pale yet promising turkey (note the flecks from the bacon drippings) turned into:

...the golden number you see above.
Once more: Bacon, Brandy, Butter, and 12 minutes/pound at 325º
Make sure your bird is completely defrosted before cooking, and weigh your bird once defrosted for best accuracy.

Save the skin from bird #1 and in the last 10 minutes of cooking bird #2, lay the foil w/ skin over bird #2's breast, baste the extra skin, and you will have extra cracklings to serve.

After resting for 45 minutes, I carved the bird (without mishap) and we all sat down to one of the most pleasant Thanksgivings we have passed in the last decade.

I hope the same can be said about yours.
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fennel-Braised Chicken Legs

I love Autumn weather as it inspires weekend after weekend of slow-cooked, satisfying foods in my kitchen. I have been braising things left and right, but as there has been a lot of red meat lately, I tried to lighten it up with some chicken this time around.
Sadly, I didn't find this (Michael Symon recipe) to be the most enjoyable dish as the fennel flavor was a little too pronounced for my taste, but if you are a fan, try this out.

Start by browning your seasoned chicken legs in a large heavy-bottom pan with a bit of olive oil. When crisp and easy to lift, remove and set aside.

The other goodies: one whole fennel bulb, one medium onion, four cloves of garlic, fresh thyme, potatoes, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and one orange.
Chop the fennel, onion, and potatoes into large wedges.
Add the fennel and some of the onion to the pan drippings and allow to brown.

Add the potatoes, garlic, any remaining onion, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Season with salt.
Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of white wine, scraping up the tasty brown bits with a wooden spoon.
Then add the chicken back into the pan on top of the veggies and add chicken stock until almost halfway up the sides of the legs.

Add the bay leaf and a few more sprigs of thyme, place the lid on top and place into a 350º oven for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken to plate and add the zest and juice of the orange to the pot for a bit of brightness.
 Reduce the drippings until thickened as desired and pour over the chicken and vegetables.

Tho the chicken was tender, I found the flavors in this a bit thin in general. To combat this next time, while reducing the liquids I would add a bit of chicken glacé to make a richer sauce, and definitely use stock instead of the suggested water for the braise. I love braising chicken in cider, whether apple or pear, as it adds a sweetness to the meat once cooked. Water does nothing to help flavor chicken.
While I really like Michael Symon (his giggle kills me!) and I want to like fennel, this did not succeed in winning me over.
If you try this and come up with something delicious, pass along your tips!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Count Down to Turkey

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away, so I thought I would just relive the glory of last year repost last year's Thanksgiving post for those who are wondering what to do with their turkey this year.
Or in my family's case, with 2 turkeys.

Turkey #2 from last year
The Three B's will not let you down:

Go forth and make awesomeness for those you love.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cauliflower & Lentil Soup

I am not a huge fan of lentils. I have to say that up front. I have memories of dark and mushy-yet-grainy lentil soup that just looked like murky mud. No thank you.
But as they are such a great source of protein, fiber, iron, and folate, I'm trying to learn to like them.

This summer my mother brought home some lentil soup from a gourmet deli that she had thought was chicken vegetable, mistaking the hunks of cauliflower for potatoes. 
She was no longer interested once she discovered her error, so I gave it a try.
It was GOOD!
It had light flavors, broth I could see thru, and was tasty while being massively healthy. So I looked online and actually found the recipe, which I have to say I made with great success... if a few tweaks.

Step one if you know you want to make this soup: you have to let your lentils soak for about 24 hrs.
So annoying for this Instant Gratification Girl, but many good things take time, so, try to plan in advance!
After 1 cup of lentils have soaked, drain and rinse them and they're ready to go.

Fine dice on 2 carrots and 2 celery stalks, as well as one onion.

With 2-3 TBSP of olive oil in the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven, start by browning 3 slices of prosciutto. (Clearly, this is not a vegetarian dish, but you could skip this step if you need to. But this is where I began to see why I liked this soup...) 
Next add the onions and allow to soften for about 4 minutes.
After that add your celery and carrots, a pinch of salt, and give a good stir.

Next throw in one whole head of cauliflower, broken down into bite-size pieces, the drained lentils, and 2 bay leaves.

The recipe called for a 14 oz can of plum tomatoes. I only had 32oz of crushed, and that was not the right consistency, so instead I diced 1 late summer heirloom tomato and added that in, as well as enough chicken stock to cover everything.
(Recipe called for vegetable stock, but I rarely have that on hand, so I just used a combination of homemade chicken stock and stock in a box. My substitution had the Hubs eating cauliflower without complaint, so do whatever works for you!)

Bring everything up to a boil and then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on. I also threw in 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme about halfway thru cooking when I went to stir everything. (I was wary of bay leaves being the only extra flavor agent.)
After 45 minutes check to see that the lentils are tender, remove the bay leaves and thyme stems, and season the soup with salt and pepper.
Remember, much like beans, lentils absorb seasonings so you might end up adding more than you would first think. Add a little/taste a little until you find the right balance.

Whether converted to a vegetarian/vegan soup or adjusted the way I made it, this soup was warm, comforting, filling, and so healthy I actually felt smug while eating it!
It can also feed an army of 10 on a really small budget.
Add a baguette, ciabatta, or crusty bread of preference and you're all set!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Eggplant, Prosciutto, & Mushroom Pizza

This could also be considered a "Leftover Pizza" but really I was just fortunate with what I had on hand that I could make something this awesomely tasty!

Raw dough left to rest and the stretched by hand got topped with some olive oil and salt and was then given about 5 minutes to pre-cook in a 475º oven.

I had some leftover eggplant that had been cooked in tomato sauce, so I used that for my base. Onto that I added some sliced mushrooms I sautéed with just a splash of olive oil and salt, some thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, some prosciutto, and some torn fresh basil.

Sprinkled with a light dusting of pecorino and it was ready for the oven.

14 minutes later this was bubbling madness, but it was delicious madness. 
Pizza is pretty much always a crowd pleaser, and a really easy way to make use of little bits and pieces of leftovers that otherwise would not make up a meal by themselves.
Get creative!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ginger Sesame Tuna Steak

So tasty and so fast. Fresh ginger gives it zing and a touch of toasted sesame oil makes it a pungent and pleasing meal.

That's about one inch of fresh ginger I grated into a bowl. 

Season your tuna steaks with salt and let a pan get nice and hot with TBSP of grapeseed oil (or olive oil) and a splash (maybe 1/2 tsp) of sesame oil.

Add your tuna in, seasoned-side down, and cook about 2 minutes per side depending on thickness. Remember you want it to finish still pink inside before you take it off the heat.
Once I had flipped the tuna I added the grated ginger to the pan so it could infuse the oil in the pan and get into the tuna.
Finish by sprinkling with sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds) and drizzle with the ginger-sesame oil.

In the background is some leftover avocado purée, as tuna & avocado are a fabulous pairing, but if you had a regular avocado, just slicing it and giving it a spritz of lime juice and a sprinkle of salt would make a nice creamy accompaniment.
This was a definitely a successful dinner to keep in mind the next time tuna steaks go on sale!