Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Hubs Loves his Lamb

If I want to make my husband very happy, all I have to do is suggest lamb for dinner.  We had bought a rack of lamb from Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago and tossed it into the freezer.  I had kind of even forgot we bought it until Thursday evening when I was poking around in the freezer trying to determine what I was going to make for dinner.  I set it in the fridge to thaw, and told the hubs the good news that lamb would be on the menu for us on Friday night.  That with a nice big Cabernet Sauvignon from California made for a good Friday night at home date.

Rack of Lamb with Onion Jam and Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

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Look, Ma! I Made a Dessert Tart!

One of my goals this year was  to start cooking things outside of my normal comfort zone.  A big area outside of my comfort zone is desserts, specifically desserts with a homemade crust.  I can remember being the “fill-in” baker at a restaurant once and had to make 6 banana cream pies one day, all of which were supposed to have a “light, flaky crust.”  The banana cream turned out awesome, but at one point, after several failed crust attempts, in my anger and frustration, I had a break-down and threw the last dough against the wall.  Luckily, a seasoned prep cook took pity on me and helped make the dough and also helped me get out of my “dark place.”

Lime Tart with Blueberries

Well, look at me now!  I have already done several sweet things this year, and now, with this Lime Tart with Blueberries,  I can add a press-in dough to my list!  Not that this is that big of an accomplishment, as there is no reason I should be “scared” of doughs/crusts, but I feel like having just one success in an area where you feel trepidation can give you a big self-confidence boost, and the next thing you know, doing that thing actually becomes part of your comfort zone.  Before you know it, maybe I’ll be an expert in crust!  Continue reading

Tacos, Tacos, Tacos!

I had been itching to make these flank steak tacos ever since buying some roasted jalapenos at a farmer’s market a few weekends ago.  I had just been waiting for a half-way nice day out to fire up the grill.  We ended up marinating the steak for about 5 hours and we were happy with the results, but I think it would have been even better if it had gotten to marinate over night.  I go back and forth on if I prefer corn or flour tortillas, and usually just end up with whatever strikes my fancy at the time – this day it was corn.  For the guacamole, I usually add tomatoes, onions, and cilantro to it, but I decided to go simpler this time.  I wanted the flavor of the avocado to add to the overall flavor of the dish, but not overwhelm it – I wanted the meat and jalapenos to be more of the star.  I  guess really it’s more of just an avocado spread rather than actual guacamole.  I’ll have to do a recipe for my normal guacamole soon.  Also, I normally would have added cilantro somewhere to this dish as I’m a big fan of it, but I did not have any on hand.  For the side of beans, I just sautéed some onions and green and red bell peppers and then added a can of black beans, some orange juice, and a little ancho chili powder.

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A Lovely Little Quiche

In my town, St. Patrick’s day is a pretty big deal.  On the Saturday closest to St. Pat’s, there is a large parade downtown, streets are blocked off, and drinking in the streets is encouraged.  It’s quite the party with upwards of 10,000 people (often drunkenly) celebrating. Naturally, I’m always a participant in the revelry.  And, knowing I’ll have a busy day of drinking ahead of me, I like to make sure I have a big breakfast to start the day right.  For the Noon parade, I often have a few friends over for breakfast, Bailey’s and coffee, and Bloody Mary’s around 10 am to begin the festivities.  This years breakfast included a green onion and sun-dried tomato quiche, sausage, bacon, roasted potatoes, and cinnamon rolls.

Green Onion and Sun Dried Tomato Quiche

  • 1 pre-made frozen deep pie shell
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 bunch green onions, white and some of the green part, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Melt butter over medium heat in pan on stove.  Add green onions and sun dried tomatoes and saute about 5 minutes, or until nicely cooked down.  Season with some salt and pepper.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream, and cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add tomato-green onion mixture to frozen pie crust and spread evenly over bottom of crust.  Pour egg mixture into pie shell.

Set pie shell on sheet pan and place in oven.  Cook about 35 minutes or until golden brown and quiche feels fairly firm in the middle (no longer jiggly).

Remove from oven and let sit at least 10 minutes to allow it to finish setting up.

My notes:

  • Yes, I use frozen pie shells.  I feel like I don’t make very good pie crusts, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs.  It takes a pretty special occasion for me to make one from scratch…and I can’t think of anything in about 5 years that I deemed special enough to make one.
  • For the cheese for this recipe, I just used what was in my fridge, which ended up being Parmesan and Pecorino Romano.  If I would of had cheddar or Swiss, I probably would have thrown that in, too.

Crepes, Sweet and Savory

I had been wanting to make crepes for some time, but I kept putting it off, thinking,  I suppose, that it would be too difficult (they would stick, they would not flip right, the batter would be complicated, etc.) I finally took the plunge and was pleased to see  I was wrong.  Not too tough at all!  I don’t think in the past I had been very excited about crepes, but I had one this past summer at a crepe stand at a farmers’ market in St. Louis, and had been thinking about them since.  After reading through several recipes, I found one to try and decided to make half the batter for savory and the other half more sweet.  I do think next time I make them, I’m going to cut back the amount of egg and just increase the milk; though I was happy with mine, I felt they were just a tad bit too “eggy”.

Basic Crepe batter

From Alton Brown from the Food Network

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • Butter, for coating the pan

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to the cutting board. Lay them out flat so they can cool. Continue until all batter is gone. After they have cooled you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.

I finished my savory crepes with an aged balsamic vinegar

Crepes with Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, Mushrooms, Onions, and Fresh Mozzarella

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 of above listed crepe batter
  • Parsley

Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast on  a sheet pan in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

In the meantime, saute mushrooms and onions in pan on stove with olive oil on medium to medium high heat for about 5-8 minutes.  Add bag of spinach (add just half at a time if necessary to allow it to fit into pan) and let wilt down.  Season.

Remove pan from heat and toss mushroom onion mixture with potatoes and mozzarella.

Chop parsley and add to crepe batter with salt and pepper.  Cook crepes according to directions above.

Fill cooked crepes with spinach-sweet potato-mozzarella filling.  Roll up crepe to make them look pretty.

Crepes with strawberries, chocolate sauce, and whip cream

  • 1 pound strawberries, de-stemmed and cut into quarters
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 of crepe batter recipe

Toss strawberries with 1 tablespoon sugar.  Let stand to allow them to get nice and juicy.

Melt chocolate chips with 1/4 cup of heavy cream in microwave.  Stir until smooth.  Add more heavy cream if needed to reach desired consistency for sauce.

With a mixer, whip the remaining heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and vanilla.  Whip until fairly stiff peaks form, but do not over-whip as the cream can separate and be ruined.  Just keep an eye on it as it is being whipped and you’ll be fine.

Add 1 tablespoon sugar to crepe batter and cook crepes as directed above.

To serve, fill crepes with strawberries and roll up nice and pretty.  Top with chocolate sauce and whip cream.  Wonder why you did not make this sooner.

my notes:

  • Next time, I’m going to change the recipe to 1 egg and increase milk to 1 cup.
  • I did not like making it in the blender.  Lots of un-mixed-up batter stuck to the blades and was a bit of a pain to fix.  Next time, I’ll just whisk it by hand.
  • During the course of my reading about crepes, I have read that you want the batter to be about the consistency of cream.

Saturday Morning Breakfast

I made breakfast the other morning and referred to it as “bacon hash”.  After saying that, I realized I knew what that conjured up in my mind, but I thought there might some ambiguity of what it was in others’ minds.  When I told my husband I was making bacon hash for breakfast, I heard him make some sort of grunting sound that I understood was meant to express his pleasure, but I then realized that I doubt he actually heard what I said after he heard that word “bacon”, as that word alone is enough for him to be pleased with anything that might come next.

As for me, when I think “hash“, I think small, diced up pieces of meat and potatoes, and probably some veggies, too, cooked up and browned a bit, and then kinda tied together in some way – maybe through gravy, or eggs, or a larger piece of meat – or  all three for that matter.   For Saturday morning, it meant potatoes, bacon, and onions with a couple of poached eggs.

 

Poached Eggs and Bacon Hash

Bacon Hash with Poached Eggs

  • 6 slices bacon, cut in half long-wise, and then diced into pieces
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 5-6 new (red) potatoes, diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Add bacon to pan and place pan over medium heat.  Cook bacon about 3-5 minutes.  You want the bacon to start to render some fat, but not cook all the way.

Once the bacon is sizzling pretty well, add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the potatoes to the pan and give it some seasoning with salt and pepper.

Cook hash mixture on stove top for another 5 or so minutes.  I like to allow the mixture to be spread over the pan in a somewhat thin layer and allow the mixture to brown in areas by leaving it alone for about a minute, then giving it another quick stir, and then spreading it out again.  After doing this for about 5 minutes, spread mixture out again one last time in pan and place pan in oven  for about 8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.

In the meantime, bring a pan with water and the 1 Tablespoon of vinegar (the vinegar helps the egg whites stay together) to just about simmering.  If the water starts boiling, and becomes too vigorous (lots and lots of bubbles bursting on surface), turn it down.  To poach eggs, you want the water just simmering.  I use a wide, flat pan (has about 3 inch sides) and fill it about 2/3 full of water.

Working one egg at a time, crack your egg into a small cup or ramekin.  Bring your cup to the surface of the water, and gently slide your egg into the pan.  Using  a slotted spoon, gently coax the egg whites closer to the yolk, as this will provide more contained, even cooking.  (I have read that some people use the lid (ring) of a mason jar turned upside down in the cooking pan to allow the egg to “settle” into the ring to cook.  I have not tried this, but I suppose this idea seems quite reasonable.  I’ll have to try it and see how it goes.)

Go ahead and repeat this process with each egg until its cooked.  I let my poached eggs cook about 3-4 minutes.  I usually only work 2 eggs in the pan at one time, otherwise things get a little too hectic and they don’t turn out quite as well as I would like.

When your egg is done, remove it from the water with a slotted spoon.  Hold the egg over the water for a few seconds to allow it to drain.

Place some hash on a plate, and top with your poached eggs.  We also had toast with some of the Truffle butter we had picked up at the farmer’s  market a few weeks ago.  Truffle butter + egg yolks + bacon = happiness.

 

Yolky goodness for sopping up with my Truffle butter toast

my notes:

  • I served my eggs right away.  If you need to cook several in advance, place them in  bowl of cold water after cooking them.  They won’t stick together, and they hold well in the water.  To warm them before use, gently place them in the pan of just barely simmering water for 1-2 minutes to warm them.  Drain and serve.
  • To make cutting bacon easier, place it in the freezer for about 20 minutes.  The bacon becomes firm and less greasy and becomes much easier (and safer) to cut up.
  • I used a cast iron pan to cook up the hash, but use whatever you like.  Just make sure your pan is oven-safe.

A Night Out at the Steakhouse

I’ve never liked the idea of going out to dinner for a good steak.  When I go out for a nice dinner, I like to get things that are more difficult to prepare at home, or I may not have access to easily at home –  which in my mind is definitely not steak.  Quality meat already has amazing flavor.  You just have to make sure you season and cook it right.  If you have access to a good butcher shop with quality meats  (In Springfield we are lucky to have Country Market), you have all you need to make a “steakhouse quality” meal at home.  And if you really want to go for it and impress guests, throw in some roasted mushrooms and a red wine sauce.  Just remember: the meat is the star of the show, everything else on the plate is just there to support it in all its meat glory.

Fillet Mignon with Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus with Red Wine Sauce and Roasted Wild Mushrooms

Serves 2

Asparagus

  • 1 Bunch Asparagus
  • ½ Tablespoon Olive Oil

Blanch asparagus in salted, boiling water.  Cook just a couple minutes, until the asparagus is a bright, fresh green and has lost its raw crunch.  Drain quickly and plunge into an ice bath to shock it and stop the cooking process.

Once cooled, drain asparagus.  Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Heat quickly in a sauté pan right before you want to serve.

Fingerling Potatoes

  • 1/2Pound Fingerling Potatoes
  • 5-8 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Halve potatoes long-wise.  Toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Heat a cast iron pan on the stove over medium high heat.  Add potatoes, cut side down, in a single layer in the pan.  Add thyme on top of potatoes.  Let cook about 3-5 minutes.

Giving the fingerlings a nice brown crust before they go into the oven

Transfer pan to oven and let cook about 5 minutes.  Pull out pan and give pan a good stirring.  The bottoms of the potatoes should be a deep, rich brown.  It’s ok if they look almost burned.  They’re not, just nice and browned and full of good flavor.  Let cook another 5 minutes or so, depending on the size of your potatoes, until they are cooked through.  Pull out the springs of thyme and discard.

(At this point, I transfer my potatoes to another pan to keep warm in because I want to cook my steaks in the cast iron pan, and I only have one cast iron.)

Roasted Wild Mushrooms

  • 1 pound assorted mushrooms (I used some from Ozark Forest – see my last post), cut/torn into various sizes
  • ½ Tablespoon Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Heat a pan (I just used a regular sauté pan, not cast iron, but either would work) over medium high to high heat.  Add butter and oil to pan and heat until butter melts and starts to bubble/froth.

Add mushrooms to pan.  Do NOT overcrowd pan!  This is important.  If your pan is overcrowded, it’s going to bring down the temperature of the pan, causing your mushrooms to steam rather than roast.  And we want roasty mushrooms – nicely seared and becoming deep brown, not pale and soggy from being packed into a pan.  Also, don’t mess with them much. The more you mess with it (move it around), the less of a sear it will have a chance to develop.  If it feels like it is sticking, that just means the searing process is not done yet.  Let it keep going.  Once it has completely seared, it will release itself from the pan.  If you force it before it is ready, you will just tear up whatever it is your are cooking.

Let the mushrooms sear on one side, season with some salt and pepper, turn over, and let sear on their other side.  Remove from heat, transfer mushrooms to paper towel lined plate, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Fillet Mignon with Red Wine Sauce

  • 2, 8 oz Petite Fillet Mignon Steaks (we used bacon wrapped fillets)
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped shallots (or white onion if you don’t have any shallots)
  • ¾ Cup Red Wine
  • ½ Cup Beef stock (Chicken stock or Chicken broth is fine if you don’t have beef stock)
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, chilled, cut into 4 pieces

Rub steaks with olive oil.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Heat cast iron pan over medium high to high heat.  Add steaks.  Let sear on one side about 3-4 minutes. (This again goes back to this whole “searing” idea – don’t overcrowd, don’t turn over before food is ready, let the brown colors/flavor of the sear develop).  Turn steaks over and continue searing for about 3 minutes.  Transfer pan to oven.  Let cook about 6 minutes (depending on thickness of steaks) for medium rare.  To test for doneness, either use a knife and cut just a bit into the middle of the steak to peek or just use your finger to poke the middle of the steak.  The firmer it feels, the more it is cooked.  Set steaks on a plate or cutting board to let rest 5-10 minutes.

Place pan back on stove top over medium to medium high heat.  Add shallots and cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Add red wine to deglaze pan, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any bits that have accumulated on the pan.  These bits are all part of the drippings from the steaks that will add flavor to your sauce.  Let reduce by a little over a half.  Add broth and vinegar and again reduce by a little over half.  Season with salt and pepper.  You won’t have to season a lot as the pan is going to have salty pan drippings in it from your steaks.

At this point, you need to mount the butter into the sauce.  To do this, turn the heat down to under medium.  You may even pull the pan off the heat for a moment to bring its temperature down.  Start to add in the butter, one little cube at first.  Stir in the piece of butter quickly.  As soon as it is melted in, add the next piece of butter and stir quickly until it is fully incorporated, and so on until you have used all four little nubs of butter.   If you feel the sauce needs a little warmth to help get the butter to melt, put it back over direct heat or turn the heat up, but be cautious.

The trick is to have the sauce hot enough so the butter easily incorporates itself and makes a smooth, shiny, balanced sauce, but not overly hot so that the butter breaks and does not incorporate into the sauce and instead leaves you with greasy red wine broth.  You also want to make sure your butter is fairly cold.  If the sauce looks like it is about to break (gets a greasy, grainy, un-incorporated look), remove from heat and stir very quickly. Adding one or two drops of water can also help bring it back. (For me, cussing usually helps, too.)   Be sure to taste your sauce to make sure you are happy with the seasoning.  Serve right away.

My notes:

  • Seasoning is critical!!  Not just for cooking a steak, but for everything.  I use Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper.  The only thing I use iodized table salt for is baking and seasoning  flour for frying.  I almost always use Morten’s Kosher salt in the blue box. I love it.  For pepper, I use a mix of black and white peppercorns.  I usually keep my grinder on a fairly fine grind, but for steaks, I loosen up the grinder so it gives the pepper more of a “cracked” look versus ground.  Red meat requires pretty liberal seasoning so that it really penetrates the protein.
  • Bring red meat out of the fridge in advance of cooking.  Try to get it as close to room temperature as possible before cooking it as this will provide more even cooking.
  • Don’t feel required to use fingerling potatoes.  Use whatever you prefer.  I just happen to prefer fingerlings.
  • The more you cook steaks, the more confident you will become with judging temperatures.  When in doubt, cook less rather than more as you can always put it back on for a few minutes.  The key is allowing the meat to properly rest after its cooked but before it is served.  This gives it time for its proteins to relax and its juices to flow and redistribute throughout the meat, giving you maximum meaty flavor.  I provided a link above in the recipe that provides an entire science lesson regarding resting meat.