Saturday, October 31, 2009

Libby's Pumpkin Pie

There is just something about Libby's Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe- right off the can- that makes it feel like fall and the Holidays are here. Most people probably wait until Thanksgiving to ring in the pumpkin pie, I feel the week of Halloween is fair game.
It is one of the easiest dessert/comfort food recipes of all time. Especially if you use a Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust! (I swear by them)
If you haven't made your first pie yet this season, perhaps its time! (Hint: Add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of Bourbon to the filling.)
Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Parsnip Puree

It took me a while to settle on the very first fall Sunday dinner menu. I actually started with a side dish idea- I've made Tyler Florence's parsnip puree a dozen times at least and its absolutely delicious. I pulled it up on and found a recipe for braised short ribs alongside it. I'd never made short ribs before and braising something low and slow all day sounded like the perfect excuse to laze around the house... so it was decided. Tripp and Luci were coming for dinner and the menu would be as follows: A Cheddar Tasting Plate (Wisconsin, New York and Vermont) with Garlic and Herb Crackers Braised Beef Short Ribs with Parsnip Puree Butter Lettuce Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Goat Cheese Pear Tart I asked for 8 short ribs at the meat counter at Whole Foods- I figured two per person. It rounded out to 3.6 lbs which was plenty though I saw later that Tyler suggested 4 lbs. (We're on a first name basis.) Tyler grills them before braising however I decided to sear them quickly (1 minute per side) in my dutch oven to avoid the chilly back porch (sad given it was almost 60 degrees). I seared four at a time to avoid crowding the pot then set them aside while I made the braising mixture.
Tyler makes a "pulp" if you will of the vegetables which I thought was interesting. The homogenous texture seemed to help all of the flavors meld together more quickly than a chunky stew of vegetables would have.
I followed the recipe exactly, though I started with the bit of fat rendered from the ribs in the pot. I first toasted my fresh rosemary and thyme slightly, added the vegetable mixture to cook for 10 mins, (I didn't have a fresh tomato on hand so I used 1/3 cup of canned crushed tomatoes instead), lastly went in the beef stock and red wine. I wanted a full bodied wine so I went with a 2008 Tilia Malbec from Argentina that I found at Whole Foods.
I checked the ribs at 2 1/2 hours and they weren't quite tender. I checked again at 3 hrs and decided to let them keep going over the very low heat for about 3.5 hours. The braising liquid by this point smelled like HEAVEN although the ribs still weren't really "falling off the bones" as promised. Some pieces came off with a little nudge, other required a fork and knife as we ate them -though the meat was still delicious and not at all tough to chew. I'm not sure if my cooking temp was off or if perhaps they needed to go even longer.. I'll have to do some reading.
While the ribs were braising, I made the parsnips. I peeled about 1.5 lbs of parsnips and cut them into 1" pieces. Per the recipe I covered them with milk in a saucepan and simmered over medium heat with garlic and thyme (I was out of bay leaves) until they were fork tender (15 mins). I then pureed them with about half of the cooking liquid and 1/2 stick of melted butter in the food processor until smooth and creamy, similar to whipped potatoes in texture. (Tyler calls for a whole stick of butter but for 4 servings, I don't think its entirely necessary.) If you've never had whipped parsnips, they have a delicious sweetness, similar to a carrot with almost a nutmeg-ish flavor to them. I actually add a TINY pinch of nutmeg to the cooking liquid to enhance it. Do try this recipe if you're curious, I swear it will outshine your average mashed potatoes as a go-to fall side dish.
At the very last minute, I ladled about two cups of the braising sauce into a strainer to remove the pulpiness and cooked it down in a saucepan for about 10 minutes or until slightly reduced. I took it off the heat and swirled in two tablespoons of butter to add an extra silkiness to it. I poured some over the ribs on each plate and then passed the rest of it in a small pitcher at the table.
Tyler of course made this plate look far more professional with some fresh parsley for garnish and a world class food photographer at his side- sadly, I left parsley off of my grocery list and my pocket size cannon powershot is doing the very best it can. Take my word for it though, this dish served with a side salad and a crusty whole wheat baguette was a pretty great combo.
Entirely by coincidence, Tripp and Luci brought along a 2008 Malbec from Argentina too! We sipped on both bottles with dinner and I determined the the Alamos was a bit more my speed- perhpas a little less fruit to it. Both were very good though.
I'll save the Pear Tart for my next post!

Pear Tart

I have been on quite the pear kick lately- 'tis the season I guess- so I decided on a pear dessert for Sunday dinner. I absolutely love pear and apple crumbles in the fall so that was my first idea. I thought I remembered a recipe from one in one of my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks but while flipping through the latest "Back to Basics" book, I bumped into Ina's French Apple Tart Recipe and decided to run with that instead. Not up for making my own pastry, I used one sheet of frozen puff pastry for the crust. I rolled it out to 10 x 12 inches or so as Ina suggested, transferred it to a cookie sheet lined with parchment and put it back in the fridge while I did the pears. I used red bartlett pears that I got from Whole Foods, they are SUPER sweet and seem to maintain a nice firm texture- yet they are still juicier that the bosc variety. I peeled three of them, removed the center core with a melon baller and the stem at either end with a paring knife. I set them flat side down on the cutting board and sliced them fairly thinly (about 1/4 inch). I squeezed a bit of lemon over them in hopes they wouldn't start to brown while I was arranging them over the pastry.
I arranged them like so, sprinkled generously with sugar and a VERY light dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg, and then put into the oven preheated to 400 degrees. I baked the tart for 45-50 minutes, checking often to ensure it was getting brown but not burnt.
When done, I let cool for a minute on the pan. I then transferred the whole tart from the baking sheet to a rack to cool the rest of the way. I made the apricot glaze in the meantime- substituting Grand Marnier for the Calvados liquor. I brushed it over generously with a pastry brush and that was that! Very simple, very tasty, elegant presentation.

Pasta e Fagioli

There's nothing better on a cold, gray, football watching Saturday than a big pot of soup. Many people would vote for chili (which I love too) but Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup) is the Italian iteration and probably my favorite. My Mom has been making this my whole life. Either she doesn't have a recipe written down or I've just never gotten it from her- but I've created my own which I think tastes pretty similar.
4 or 5 Italian Sausage links (I use hot) 1 med onion (chopped) 1 large carrot (chopped) 3 cloves of garlic (minced) 1 or 2 celery stalks 1 med size zucchini 2 cans petite diced tomatoes 2 cans white beans 2 T tomato paste 1 container of chicken stock 1 ½ cups water 1 to 1 ½ cups ditalini or macaroni pasta (uncooked)1 tsp dried oregano 1 and ½ springs of fresh rosemary 4 springs of fresh thyme A handful of fresh basil leaves (could use dried herbs if you want to) I like to add 2/3 cup of jarred marinara (Classico Tomato Basil is great)... however you’d be fine without it. Like the tomato paste, it adds some sweetness and depth to balance the acid of the diced tomatoes. It gives it more of the slow-cooked-all-day-flavor even though you can’t do that with Pasta e Fagioli because you’ll turn your veggies and pasta to mush. I remove the sausages from the casing and put them into my 7+ quart dutch oven to brown in some olive oil- breaking the sausage apart into smaller crumbles while it cooks. Once it’s mostly brown, (you might want to remove some of the fat that renders , leave some though) I add the oregano, rosemary and thyme (I throw the sprigs in whole and then fish the stems out at the very end). Cook for 2 mins or so before adding your chopped onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Season well with salt and pepper and then cook for 8-10 minutes - until the onion is translucent. Next I add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two, stirring to incorporate into the vegetable-sausage mixture. Then I add the diced tomatoes, marinara, beans, chicken stock and water- I stir to combine and let simmer over medium to low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often. (Note: You can stop here if you want to prepare it in advance and then reheat the soup to a boil to cook the pasta just before serving.) Otherwise, you bring the soup to a boil (medium heat should do it) and you're ready to add your pasta and zucchini.
**The soup should look a little on the “liquidy” side at this point which is good. If not, add some extra water before you add the pasta. (Don't forget to bring it back up to a boil) Otherwise the pasta absorbs a lot of liquid and the soup gets too thick. The ditalini takes about 8 minutes to cook (see package instructions if you use another shaped pasta) I wait to cook my zucchini at this point because I don't like to risk it getting mushy. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, turn the heat back down to simmer until you’re ready to serve. Throw your fresh basil in at the very last minute and serve with finely grated parmesan cheese and crusty bread for dipping.
This recipe makes a big old pot. Easily serves 8-10 people or makes for a few days of left-overs.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Asian Style Snapper with Sesame Noodles and Green Beans

Every once in a while, I walk into the grocery store after work with absolutely no idea what we're having for dinner that night. I walk through the produce section, back to the fish and meat counter and hope to find some inspiration between the two. Yesterday, I first snagged a big handful of beautifully bright green beans and then found some lovely wild caught red snapper. I walked back through the produce and next to the wonton wrappers and tofu I noticed some fresh asian style noodles that I'd never seen before. Just beside those I snagged some fresh cremini mushrooms. The rest I'd have to make up once I got home, but I was headed in an Asian direction. I first cleaned my green beans. Next I put some boiling water on to blanch them, meanwhile slicing about 6 cremini mushrooms and one small shallot -very thinly. I made a dressing of 4 Tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 Tablespoons sesame oil, 1 Tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium), 1 tsp of bottled, grated ginger, 1/2 tsp coriander, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a small squeeze of honey. I tossed the mushrooms and shallots with the dressing and let it sit while I worked on the rest.
I next seared the snapper in some olive oil, about 3 mins per side over med-high heat. The filets were quite thick, about an inch and a half. I set the fish aside on a plate and tented it with foil while I made the beans and noodles.
I blanched approx 1 lb of beans for 4 minutes, pulled them out with a skimmer and then transferred them to a hot skillet with about 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil and one clove of garlic (minced). While that sizzled and popped, I sprinkled some sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and soy sauce in with the beans and them continue to cook for 5 or 6 minutes- tasting often to be sure they didn't get too soft. I dunked the Asian style noodles into the same boiling water in which I blanched the green beans and cooked them for 3 minutes per the package instructions. I poured the noodles into a strainer and then immediately added about one Tablespoon of sesame oil into the hot pot (turning the heat down to medium). I then added one bag of baby spinach- some salt and pepper- and stirred it until just wilted. I tossed the noodles back in with the sesame sauteed spinach and added a generous swirl of soy sauce for added seasoning. I sprinkled a few more sesame seeds in for crunch as well. SO... while it sounds like a number of steps, each is super quick and easy. Provided you knock them out in the right order, it really doesn't take but 30 minutes start to finish. Starving at this point, I first piled a generous heap noodles on the plate, next to that I placed the snapper filet (removed the skin after it was cooked) smothered in the mushroom-shallot-vinaigrette. Lastly, a large scoop of the garlicky-sesame green beans. I don't cook much Asian food- what I attempt is fairly "Americanized." I like to stir fry vegetables with shrimp or chicken from time to time so the following ingredients are now staples in my kitchen: *Low Sodium Soy Sauce *Rice Vinegar *Toasted Sesame Oil *Maggi Sweet Chili Sauce *bottled, minced ginger *sesame seeds Mix them together or in any combination and you really can't go wrong. You can whip up some delicious veggies, rice, marinades, or dressings in a hurry. To sip on we had some of the Trivento Torrentes Argentinian white wine that I mentioned a few months back on the blog. It is very light and crisp (and goes down quickly!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Seared Salmon Salad with Pears, Goat Cheese Hazelnuts and Cranberries

Another great quick and easy weeknight dinner for you... We actually had this the night before driving up to Kentucky for the wedding and I think it took me about 18 minutes total to pull it together. I seasoned two salmon filets (about 1/3 lb each) with salt and pepper and cooked in a skillet over med-high heat for about 3 minutes per side. (You can sear it with the skin on and then once its cooked, the skin peels off really easily. I like to remove the skin before setting the filet on the salad because it tastes fishier.)
While the salmon cooled slightly, I prepared the salad. I started with a big pile of baby spinach on each dinner plate and topped that with a sprinkle of dried cranberries, slices of DELICIOUSLY sweet red bartlett pear, crumbled goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts.
I made one of my go-to vinaigrettes of champagne vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, honey, minced shallot, salt and pepper which I drizzled over the salmon and the salad. It was the perfect mix of sweet, tart, and savory- satisfying but light and healthy too. It beats take-out or pizza on a busy packing night!

Grilled Brie and Bacon Sandwiches with fresh Figs and Apples

My apologies, dear readers, for the lack of posting activity over these past weeks. John and I were up in Kentucky for almost a week for my baby sister's wedding festivities! She was the most beautiful bride in the whole wide world... It is hard to believe its over, after over a year of planning, it sure goes by fast... but we're back home now and we seem to have brought some rainy fall weather home with us. Rainy fall weather just happens to be my favorite for cooking -its the perfect setting for decadent comfort food. Last night, I made some oozy, melty grilled brie sandwiches that were incredibly tasty. I melted some butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and then in went the bread. I had three (smallish) pieces of sourdough bread to make three sandwiches. I piled the bread with slices of brie cheese (about 1/4 inch think), slices of cooked bacon broken in half, a layer of thinly sliced apple, (Honeycrisp apples are in season right now and they are AMAZING), and a couple of slices of fresh Turkish fig. I was shocked to see fresh figs in the grocery so I had to buy a couple. They are great in salads with goat cheese or wrapped in prosciutto and roasted as an appetizer. However, if I didn't have fresh figs for this sandwich, I would have used the jarred fig jam that I buy at Whole Foods (in the cheese section) instead Anyways, I layered the sandwiches, toasted them on both sides until the cheese started to ooze and then served them alongside an arugula salad with champagne-dijon vinaigrette and a glass of crisp pinot grigio. So delicious... I could definitely make a habit out of these!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Bacon-Brussels Sprout Hash

John is working on a research project this month which means he's at home most of the day. This is fantastic for a number of reasons... 1. The alarm clock doesn't go off at 4:30am 2. He is around to help run errands, play with the cats, etc. and 3. Thursday I was treated to an AMAZING home cooked dinner!
John made three delicious Tyler Florence recipes: Chicken Cordon Blue
All of the dishes were phenomenal! The chicken stuffed with gruyere and prosciutto with the savory crispy crunch coating was let me tell you. Your traditional deli ham and swiss version cannot hold a candle to this combo. The roasted chicken jus was an absolutely decadent touch poured over the chicken and the vegetables (you're probably noticing a brussels sprouts and potato theme this week) browned in bacon drippings (yum yum yum) were the perfect accompaniment.
Since I wasn't at all a part of the preparation, I decided to get some insight from the other Chef Lacy for you...
M:What inspired you to try this menu?
J: I saw Tyler Florence make it last Saturday on Food TV and it looked good. I've wanted to do some more cooking lately.
M: How long did it take you from start to finish?
J: Not sure. I did some prep earlier in the day. First I made the chicken- pounding it out and filling it with the prosciutto and gruyere. (He had the chicken breasts rolled and in the fridge. He then coated, breaded and baked them just before dinner.) That took me about 30 minutes. Then I did about 30 more minutes of prep for the hash and the jus. I had to go back and watch the show again to get the recipe for the pan roasted jus and the vegetables because it wasn't on with chicken recipe.
M: Hmm... I found the recipes on there- I just posted them to the blog.
J: Oh...
(silly boy)
M: Was the chicken hard to assemble?
J: No, I've got skills. It could have been really difficult if I hadn't seen Tyler do it on TV. Using saran wrap is key for rolling it up. M: What was in the crumb coating on the chicken? It was incredible.
J: The panko was nice and crispy and the thyme and grated garlic added extra flavor. There was butter in there too. I had some extra gruyere so I added some finely grated cheese in there as well. M: Did you do anything else different from the recipe that we should know?
J: I used frozen white pearl onions instead of red pearl onions and red new potatoes instead of fingerlings because that's what was available at the grocery.
M: What was the delicious smell with I came in from work?
J: That was the jus. I timed it where I'd be cooking the jus close to when we were ready to eat. You have to be sure you cut the vegetables into big rustic pieces to cook with the chicken wings. I used a pack of 8 wings (it was only $3), 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, a handful of parsley, a handful of thyme, and a lot of love. (aww)
M: Would you do anything differently next time?
J: I prefer roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts like we normally make- I'd roast the "hash" next time. The steamed/braised way wasn't quite as good although I really liked the pearl onions in there. M: How did you pick the wine? It was a perfect compliment.
J: I wanted French wine to pair with the meal. I remembered the Chateau Greysac Medoc label when I saw it at Harris Teeter. I think Tripp may have brought it over one night.
($20 Bordeaux 90 pts wine enthusiast)
M: What dish or menu might you attempt next?
J: I want to do something Hungarian next. Possibly chicken paprikash, goulash or cabbage rolls.
Well Johnboy, we'll be looking forward to that!!! Though this is dinner will be a tough act to follow.

Nice apron.