Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sunday in the back yard

We invited Brian, Tara and the kids over this past weekend for a little cook-out and hanging out in the back yard. It turned out to be a nice and sunny day. Brian brought his camera, and let me tell you...he knows how to take a picture (he did today's food photography). We simply had cheese burgers on the grill, roasted sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. I also made a salad with tomatoes, blue cheese, roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini and summer squash (grilled ahead and marinated in balsamic dressing), roasted beets and fresh basil. For dessert it was "Hot Fudge Sundae's". I made a simple hot fudge sauce by heating up 1/3 cup of corn syrup and 1 cup of heavy cream in the microwave, remove it from the microwave and add 8 oz of chopped bittersweet chocolate, let it sit for a minute then stir and its ready to go on the ice cream. We had Vanilla and Mocha Chip ice cream, chocolate sauce, homemade whipped cream, walnuts and a cherry on top.

Friday Night Bites #4

I have been making these "Bites" and we are always very full by the time dessert is ready to be served so I made one less course this week, an it was perfect. I wanted to use pearl cous-cous somehow, I wasn't sure but I pictured it being suspended in a gelatin or something. After doing some research on gelatin and reading about "aspic", I decided to do this. Aspic is a savory jelly made from clarified stock and gelatin. This "clear jelly" is used as a base for molded dishes, where you can add fish, poultry, meats or eggs. You can serve it cubes as an accompaniment relish to cold meats or fish.

Sunset Borscht Aspic with Pearl Cous-Cous and Sauteed Beet Greens

Borscht is a beet soup that can include meat but I didn't want the meat. I wanted to make a "red jelly" and suspend the pearls of cous-cous in it. I bought a bunch of red beets and a bunch of yellow beets. I roasted off the beets, separately, a day ahead (just to save time). On Friday I chopped up the beets and added just one color at a time into a sauce pan that included chopped leeks softened in olive oil and about 1-2 cups of homemade chicken stock. I cooked this mixture together with salt and pureed it up with my emursion blender, then I strained it to remove any solids ( I wanted it to look like "stained glass" when I was done). I reheated the clear red liquid and added about a tsp of gelatin that I softened in 2 Tbsp of cold water for 5 minutes. Once the gelatin dissolved into the red liquid I removed it from the heat. In 6 oiled ramekins I sprinkled in some cooked cous-cous maybe about 1-2 Tbsp in each, then I spooned in some of the red aspic. I put the ramekins in the refrigerator and chilled while I did the same exact thing with the yellow beets. About an hour later I spooned the yellow aspic over the red aspic with a bit more cous-cous and placed them in the refrigerator to harden completely. When I was ready to serve I dipped the ramekins in hot water to help dislodge the aspic from the ramekin onto the plate. I topped it with sour cream mixed with lemon juice, salt and pepper. I also sauteed some of the beet greens in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and at the end I added red wine vinegar. I called it "Sunset" because the two colors; red and yellow, looks like a sunset. This turned out to be pretty damn good.

Homemade Pork Sausage with Cannellini Beans

I planned on getting a pork shoulder for this but I saw the "country style pork chops" and they looked like they had a good amount of fat on them ( which is what you want when you make sausage, fat) so I got them. I should have gotten the shoulder. The flavor of these were great, I followed one of Emeril's recipes ( I really haven't made enough sausage mixtures to be sure of myself). Like I said the flavor was great but they were a little too dry to be considered perfect.

Grilled flank steak with homemade tortillas and cucumber kimchi
I saw some good looking flank steak at Whole Foods and thought I would do something with it. I decided to marinate it first thing in the morning and grill it on the charcoal grill later. I found a recipe for homemade flour tortilla's and made that. The problem was that I wanted it to be soft and fresh, that's why I made them from scratch, but it tuned out that when they cooled down they became crispy. They were still very good but I wanted SOFT! I kept it simple, I wanted the flank steak to be the star so I didn't do anything else but a wedge of really good blue cheese, which was the perfect thing to put there. Along side I made a cucumber kimchi. Tony loved kimchi the last time I made it with cabbage so I happened to come across a picture of cucumber kimchi in a magazine earlier in the week. I looked through a bunch of magazines trying to find it and I couldn't find it. I said, "I don't need no stinkin' recipe, I can figure this out". I had a recipe for a quick kimchi that was from a Bobby Flay show in my files, so I used that as a guide to make my own. I combined julienned cucumber in a bowl with garlic, red pepper hot sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, water and scallions. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for an hour and it's ready. I hollowed out a small section of cucumber and filled it in with the julienned cucumber mixture. I served that along side the flank steak with a radish rose garnish.

Zeppole with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam

Someone at work asked me if I ever made a zeppole. I didn't really know what it was, so no I didn't. After doing some research I found that it's just an Italian Doughnut. Recipes on the Internet were all in Italian so I found a recipe on from the show "Follow that Food", that looked like the ones I saw Italian women making on You Tube. It's a basic yeast doughnut dough. I have seen three different ways they do it. One is with a Pate Au Choux pastry dough, which is the same pastry you make a cream puff with. The second one is similar to a potato gnocchi dough with the addition of sugar and yeast in it. The last was is a sweet yeast dough, without the potato and that's what seemed to be the best way so I did that one. I fried them in some hot oil just when we were ready for dessert, so they would be fresh and hot. I coated them in a sugar and cinnamon combination when they are freshly drained out of the hot oil. I also got some fresh rhubarb from my brother-in-laws fantastic garden on a recent trip to visit my mother-in-law, so I had to make a strawberry-rhubarb jam to go with the zeppole. I just cut it open like you would a bun for a sandwich and filled it with the jam.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Friday Night Bites #3

I love to do these "bites night's", but Tony was right...again...It is more work. I don't mind more work if everything tastes as it did last night, which was excellent (if I do say so myself). The key is that you have to be organized and I already know that but I didn't have everything bought ahead so I had to go out and I left kind of late so I got started late. When that happens I am pretty much dead by 9:30 PM because there is no stopping to sit for a moment. So the other key is to cook as much as possible ahead and finish or heat through at dinner time. I didn't have ANYTHING done ahead, I started at 12:30 PM making all that you see below. I still love doing it...

Cheese Stuffed Croutons over Arugula Salad

This was really a last minute addition that took the place of something I was going to make that included Masa Harina, which I couldn't find anywhere, but when I am not looking for it I see it everywhere! I had just seen someone roll out white bread with a rolling pin and he topped it with something then cooked it, bread side down in a skillet until it got crispy. I took that same idea and made "cheese stuffed croutons" which were basically little baby grilled cheese sandwiches (about the size of a nickle). I put a slice of Swiss cheese between to slices of sourdough bread and rolled it as thin as I could and pan fried them in olive oil. I got some really peppery arugula and simply dressed it with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Topped it with three of the cheese filled croutons, it was simple but pretty good.

Fried Cheese Ravioli with Parmesan Tomato Sauce

I have been wanting to do this, I saw Giada do it on "Everyday Italian" one day, a while ago. I combined it with another idea I saw in Jamie Oliver's magazine, where he made fresh pasta and in the process of rolling it out into a sheet, he sandwiched in some fresh herbs for a pretty decoration. I made a small batch of pasta dough and layered in basil and parsley to make the pasta sheets. For the filling I got some fresh ricotta from Whole Foods and strained it out for a few hours. I mixed some of the strained ricotta with Raclette cheese (which I never had but the description said it was a good melting cheese and it was earthy and meaty, so I gave it a shot). I also mixed in salt, pepper, basil chiffinade, lemon zest and a half of a beaten egg to bind it. I assembled the ravioli by placing a dollop of the cheese mixture over the herb that is in the pasta, so when I cut the ravioli shape, I get a nice whole herb leaf in the center of the ravioli. I placed the ravioli in the refrigerator for a couple hours until I was ready to fry them. When ready I just fried them in an inch of olive oil until it turned golden. I served 2 per person with some homemade tomato sauce. I actually took the left over centers of the whole tomatoes that I used to make the "Tomato Concasee" in the next recipe (the Leek Custard) to make this sauce. I did what I would normally do for canned tomatoes but it needed to cook a little longer because of the natural water that you get from fresh tomatoes. I combined garlic and olive oil, red pepper flakes, the chopped up tomato centers, salt, sugar and pepper. I cooked it for maybe 45 minutes and when I was ready to serve it with the "Fried Ravioli" I grated some Parmesan cheese in it. Very nice! The ravioli wasn't as crispy as I expected but very interesting and Tony thought is was a good idea to fill it with something sweet and top it with confectioners sugar for a dessert.

Leek Custard with Tomato Concasse, Tomato Water and Crispy Shallots

I happened to catch Emeril Lagasse on his show Emeril Green and he was just finishing up this leek custard. The very next day Tony was watching TV and he said ... ooohh a savory custard, that's interesting (he was watching something completely different)... That made me think of the one I saw Emeril do so I printed it and made it. But I made one change, instead of pairing it with smoked tomatoes, I made Tomato Concasse. That leads to why I thought of that, I saw Martha Stewart the same day and she made something with the concasse and said to do it over a strainer and save the tomato pulp to make "Tomato Water" it's delicious. So that's what I did, I never did that before. I fried thin sliced shallots in the same oil I used for the ravioli (above) until they were crispy and salted them after draining on paper towels. The custard was fantastic, it tasted like velvet and it paired very nicely with the tomato water and concasse and the crunchy shallots gave it a nice texture.

Skillet Fillet Mignon with Balsamic Steak Sauce and Buttermilk Mashed Potato

I almost always make a steak on the grill. This time I used my cast iron pan and started it on the stove top then into a 350 degree oven until they were done. These fillet steaks were beauties. They were at least 2 inches thick but small enough around to count as a "bite" sized portion. I brought them to room temperature about 45 minutes before cooking them so it cooks more evenly. I simply seasoned them with salt and pepper and got the pan hot over medium-high heat and cooked for 2 minutes on one side then turn over and put the pan in the oven for 8 minutes and they were absolutely perfectly medium. For the sauce simmer 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2/3 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup honey, 2 sliced shallots, 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/4 tsp allspice, salt, sugar and pepper to taste until thickened, about 15 minutes. Strain then whisk in some butter (1-2 Tbsp). I made this ahead and just heated it up. I think it would go nice with grilled chicken too. I happened to have buttermilk from another recipe so I decided to use it in the mashed potatoes. That was all a dynamite combination, how can you go wrong with meat and potatoes?

Molten Lava Cake with Earl Gray Ice Cream

This is a combination that I have been seeing in one of Martha Stewart's books. I wasn't sure about "Earl Gray Tea" as a flavor for ice cream, so I had to try it, also I pictured doing a lava cake or something similar for tonight's dessert so I had to do Martha's combination of the two. The ice cream I thought wasn't sweet enough, it was OK if you ate it with some lava chocolate cake, but not on it's own. Tony really liked the flavor of the ice cream. The lava cake called for "ring molds" which I didn't have so I made my own instead of running around trying to find some. The recipe called for 2 1/2 inches by 2 3/4 inches so I found cans at the grocery store that were that size (tomato sauce if your interested) and I removed the top and bottom of the cans and walla, 2 ring molds. The idea was to cook them in the molds and remove the molds when done and you have a perfect cylinder or tower of chocolate and when you dive into it, it oozes chocolate onto the plate. Well I think I undercooked it a bit and it didn't really "stand" on it's own, it collapsed immediately, but wicked good!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Friday Night Bites #2

This time it was more than just Tony and I. Lisa and John joined us this week and we had a great night. I did make a couple repeats though. I planned to do the small dishes again, like last week, and there were a couple things I thought Lisa and John would like (since we already tested them out and were sure they were going to be good). One was the Mushroom Bruchetta that I made on "Friday Night, Rack of Lamb" night. The other was the Salmon en Papillote, which is salmon that is cooked in (parchment) paper. I have made this but it must not have been on a Friday night since I just looked at my list of dinners and it's not posted. Actually I also made the dessert before too, which was Al Forno Apple Tart which was "Friday Night, Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken".

Mushroom Bruchetta

Check out "Friday Night, Rack of Lamb" posting.

Pork Ball Sliders with Pickles Shallots and Brussels Sprout Slaw

Lisa doesn't like beef so much, but she does like pork. I have made meatballs before using ground pork and I think they are better than the traditional mix of ground chuck, veal and pork. I added to a mixing bowl a pound of ground pork. I cut the crust off of day old Italian bread and cut it into 1/2 inch squares, toast in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees just to dry it out a bit then add into a medium bowl. Pour milk over the bread and press it to soak the bread, once it's all absorbed just add the milk soaked bread to the pork (figure 60% pork to 40% bread). Add Saracha hot sauce to taste, 1 egg, a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste. I used a regular sized ice cream scoop (maybe 1/3 cup) to scoop out the pork balls so they are all the same size, then place them on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. While they cook make the sauce. In a sauce pan add about 1 cup of ketchup, Saracha hot sauce to taste, about 1/3 cup brown sugar, a couple table spoons of rice vinegar, about 1/2 cup of apple cider, salt and pepper. Stir and heat it over medium heat, place the pork balls into the sauce and finish cooking the balls through for about 30 minutes covered and at a gentle simmer. FYI, I didn't measure anything exactly, you really just have to taste it and see if it's how you like it. I made a simple pickled shallot to put on the slider by just slicing a shallot very thin and cover with red wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and good pinch of sugar. Let it sit in the frig for a couple hours then remove it from the pickle juice. When I was ready to assemble I cut open small dinner rolls and crisped them up in a skillet with a little butter until golden. Place a pork ball with the sauce in the bun and top with a little shallot.

We heard someone on Food TV say...Brussels sprout slaw...and that's all I needed to hear. It's a baby cabbage so why not? I shaved about 8 Brussels sprouts on a mandolin and that was plenty for 4 mini plates. I combined some mayonnaise, a dash of sugar, rice vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Mix the two together being careful not to overkill with the mayonnaise mixture. I added the slaw along side the sliders.

Salmon en Papillot

As I said above Salmon en Papillot means cooked in (parchment) paper, in the oven. You can really put anything in this package as long as it all will take about the same time to cook. I have found that it doesn't take long for fish to cook, and the "mini" piece that I served really would be fast. I assembled these ahead of time and put them in the refrigerator. So I also figured these packets are cold so I gave a couple more minutes to the time. I guessed at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and they were don't perfectly. Take a good sized piece of parchment paper and fold it in half. On one side start adding what you like. I put in shaved fennel, julienne carrots and leeks as the base (salt and pepper on the vegetables). I placed a small piece of seasoned salmon over that (3-4 oz), a tsp of butter on the salmon, 1 slice of lemon and a fennel fron over the butter. Drizzle in some white wine, I used Pernoid. Close by folding over the other half and making a series of small folds to seal as tight as possible. Place them on a sheet pan and place into the oven or refrigerate for a couple hours until you are ready to serve.

Crispy Mango Chicken with a Red Quinoa Parmesan Cake

I wanted to make a mango sauce and that is how this recipe was born. I decided to reduce mango juice (about 1 1/2 cups) by about half or until it turned thicker, so that's what I did. I tasted it and it was good but needed something so I added the juice of 1/2 an orange for brightness and a tang. I added Sambal hot sauce for the heat and I like how you can see the bits of pepper flakes, so you know it's going to be a little spicy. I minced a shallot and put that in and of course salt to taste. I just let it cook a little bit more until it had a nice consistency for topping a piece of chicken. I pounded out a chicken breast and cut 4 small portions. I seasoned with salt and pepper and coated each piece in flour, egg wash and then Panko bread crumbs. Place on a cooling rack, uncovered and in the refrigerator to let it dry out a bit (this will ensure a crispy crust). When I was ready to serve I heated a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and added about 1/4 inch of canola oil. Once hot cook the chicken on both sides until golden and cooked through.

Red Quinoa Parmesan Cake

I tried to make quinoa risotto by toasting the grain first in butter then add white wine then ladle in hot chicken stock a little at a time, just as you would aborio rice. I heard that before, that you can treat any grain as if you are making a risotto....but guess what? Not this grain. So I went to plan B which was to add some stock and cover until it cooked through (package directions). That worked just fine, but I wanted it to have the texture of risotto rice so I could form it into a cake and get it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside by cooking the "cake" just before serving in a little butter. So I added grated Parmesan cheese (it helped but needed something else). I added an egg and then some panko bread crumbs. Now we are getting somewhere, it's holding it's shape when I formed it. I added salt and pepper and some fresh chives from my garden. Mix together and I used a 1/3 cup measure to shape the "cakes". First line the measuring cup with plastic wrap, pack in the quinoa (bury a small piece of Parmesan cheese in the center) and the plastic wrap helps to get it out easily. I made 4 and put them in the refrigerator covered. When ready to serve I coated each one in some flour and in the same non-stick skillet I cooked the chicken in I cooked these "cakes" in. I added some pea shoots for a little green and that's it.

Free Form Apple Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Check out "Friday Night, Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken"