Friday, October 29, 2010

Lamb Tenderloins with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Sauteed Spinach

"Lamb tenderloins??" You might be scratching your head as I realize these aren't something you see at your average Kroger meat counter. So allow me to let you in on a little secret... we're talking about the most tender, delicate, delicious morsels of lamb you will ever experience. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, lamb was the most popular of proteins, therefore my mom was able to get these on a regular basis. I'm convinced that the Saudi Royal Family must have some secret deal with the U.S. Government that says all lamb tenderloins will be exported for their exclusive dining pleasure because they truly are hard to find. There was actually a small butcher shop in Charleston that carried them but even they were most often sold out. I finally asked what the deal was and they told me there was an older (I'm envisioning wealthy) woman out on Wadamalaw Island that called in every week to buy every last one of them as they came in. So imagine my surprise (and delight) when I spotted them at Fresh Market a few weeks ago!!There are a little pricey (I think $14/lb?) but WORTH.IT. Marinated simply in the following marinade (1 hour is sufficient), a quick grilling or pan searing of these babies is all you need for what I assure you is a super special meal... Lamb Marinade: 2 large cloves of garlic, minced 1/4 cup olive oil juice of 1 lemon 1 teaspoon of salt 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper 1 generous teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped *This was just enough for one pound of lamb. Similarly, I dressed my cleaned, halved fingerling potatoes with a mixture of: 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil 1 teaspoon of kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper 2 cloves of garlic, minced 1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary *I had a bag of fingerlings from the store, roughly two pounds, maybe not quite... I tossed the potatoes in the mixture and then roasted them at 425 degrees for approximately 35 minutes total. I started them cut side down and then flipped them half way through. Just as I put the potatoes in for the second half of bake time (post flip), I cooked my lamb. I removed the lamb tenderloins from the marinade and seared them over high heat- in a drizzle of olive oil- for barely 2 minutes per side. They were perfectly caramelized on the outside and a lovely medium/medium rare inside. I let them rest, tented loosely with tin foil while I quickly sauteed one bag of baby spinach in the same pan. I thinly sliced two garlic cloves to add in with a drizzle of oil, salt and pepper. It cooks down almost immediately over medium heat. (I take it off the heat before the last of the leaves have wilted to ensure it doesn't get too soft.)
A classic "steak house" dinner made even more special by way of lamb. Just as with chicken, pork or beef, the lamb tenderloins are melt-in-your mouth tender and juicy. You MUST keep your eyes peeled for them... you'll thank me!

This meal serves 4 however I would use 2 bags of spinach.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing says fall like butternut squash. As soon as the weather cools down, around mid-late October, you start to see it everywhere you go. I was in search of a nutritious and delicious weeknight dinner, preferably one that would not require a trip to the grocery store... and this roasted butternut squash soup was the perfect answer. Ingredients: one butternut squash, peeled and cubed half of a large onion, diced half of a red bell pepper, diced one large stalk of celery, diced half of one teaspoon dried thyme half of one teaspoon dried, rubbed sage one teaspoon kosher salt half of one teaspoon cracked black pepper three to four cups of chicken stock two or three tablespoons of cup heavy cream (optional) two tablespoons of butter five fresh sage leaves, sliced I peeled the squash with a vegetable peeler and then cut it into quarters, using a spoon to scoop out the seeds and strings from the bottom half. I then cut it into 3/4 inch slices and then into cubes. I tossed the squahs in a bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt and some pepper before spreading it on a large rimmed baking sheet. I roasted the squash at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes (until it was tender but before it became mushy), flipping the pieces around after 20 minutes. Meanwhile I prepped my other vegetables... As soon as the squash came out of the oven, I started a heavy bottomed soup pot on the stove over medium heat. I sauteed the onion, pepper and celery in a bit of olive oil for 7 or 8 minutes until everything was tender. Next I added the salt, pepper, thyme and sage, stirring everything together before adding the roasted squash to the pot. I gave the veggies another quick toss together and then added the stock. I started with approximately 4 cups of liquid and let it simmer together for 15 minutes or so over low heat to bring all of the flavors together. I then used an immersion blender to puree the vegetables into a smooth and velvety soup. (You could also use a blender.) I added more stock, a few splashes at a time, to thin the soup to the desired consistency. You could also finish it with a few splashes of heavy cream for richness at the very end if you'd like. For a garnish and some extra flavor, I gently melted two tablespoons of butter in a small pan over medium heat- letting it cook until it was barely golden brown before adding the fresh sage. I cooked it for one minute and then removed it from the heat. Spooning a few of the crispy leaves and a drizzle of the butter over the top of the soup as I served it. Brown butter, sage and butternut squash might be one of the most perfect flavor combinations of all time. Soup and Salad would not typically be John's first choice for dinner, but this creamy, sweet and savory soup paired with my favorite hearty fall salad didn't get any complaints from the peanut gallery... For the salad- I use mixed greens, baby spinach, or whatever lettuce I have on hand. I start with a handful of greens on each plate. I then top it with some freshly diced apple (honeycrisp or pink lady are my favorites), a sprinkle of dried cranberries, a spoonful of crumbled blue/gorgonzola/goat cheese, and a sprinkle of nuts if I have some handy. (Candied pecans or lightly toasted almonds are both yummy.) I drizzle the salad with a quick of vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard and honey. (2 tablespoons each of oil and vinegar, 1 teaspoon each dijon and honey). Its the perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, and tangy. Somehow, I never get tired of it. (John claims he's not sick of it yet either but my bet is that he's getting close.) A healthy dinner I assure you was plenty satisfying as it was delicious.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Martha's Mac and Cheese

When it comes to classics like macaroni and cheese, Ms. Martha Stewart will not steer you wrong. You can guarantee that you won't get an abbreviated, low-cal, low-fat or monkeyed around with variation of the dish... you'll get the.real.thing. And boy did I ever with this mac and cheese recipe.
I will admit to you that twice before I attempted to make mac and cheese, both times failing miserably. I think I subconsciously told myself "surely skim milk or whole wheat pasta will do" or "we don't need quite that much cheese"... wrong. If you're going to do it- you must do it right. Martha's Macaroni and Cheese: (adapted from
1 cup of panko bread crumbs 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter at room temperature 5 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 5-6 dashes of hot sauce (I like Texas Pete) 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese 1 pound elbow macaroni *I promised you that I wouldn't monkey with this but I used panko instead of the cubed white bread Martha calls for. Also, while I used all six and a half cups of the cheese, I used a few different kinds based on what was in my refrigerator. It was some combination of sharp cheddar, gruyere and an Italian blend of cheeses. **NOTE: This recipe makes a BOAT LOAD of macaroni and cheese. From this one recipe, I was able to make one 9 x 13 baking dish full to take to a pot luck and a second smaller dish that I saved at home for dinner the next night. John and I could barely finish it.... 1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the panko bread crumbs in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, melt 2 tablespoons butter in the microwave. Pour the melted butter into the panko, and toss. Set aside. 2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. (I actually boiled my pasta first and then used the same pot to make the cheese sauce.) When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. 3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes. 4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside. 5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce. 6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the panko over the top. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Crazy Good Carrot Cake

This carrot cake recipe is seriously the best I've ever had. And I say that with some authority seeing as carrot cake it very possibly one of my favorites desserts (definitely my favorite cake) of all time. It comes from the Silver Palate cookbook that my mother passed down to me. She used to make this when I was growing up - my best childhood friend's mom did as well. Carrot Cake: (Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook) 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white wheat flour this time) 1.5 cups granulated sugar 1.5 cups brown sugar, packed lightly 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking soda 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1 1/4 cups corn oil 4 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1 cups pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional) 1 cup shredded coconut 1.5 cups freshly grated carrot (3-4 carrots total) 1 small can of drained crushed pineapple (approximately 1 cup) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease your baking pan of choice. (I used one 10 inch springform pan this time, you can use two 9 inch round pans if you want to do layers. I've also make this in a tube pan and in a 9 x 13 pan. This recipe can also make 18-24 cupcakes if you prefer.) First measure the dry ingredients to the standing mixer bowl and mix to combine. Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the nuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple. (Note: the Silver Palate actually uses mashed boiled carrots for this. I personally prefer to see the flecks of fresh orange carrot bits when you cut into the cake.) Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until the edges have pulled away from the sides and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 55-60 minutes in this case. (45-50 minutes for two layers, less of course for cupcakes) Cool on a wire rack for 3 hours. Fill and/or frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting. The PERFECT Cream Cheese Frosting: 1 package of cream cheese AT ROOM TEMPERATURE (I use 1/3 less fat or neufachel) 6 tablespoons (3/4 of a stick) of unsalted butter AT ROOM TEMPERATURE 3 cups of confectioner sugar (sift or whisk in a bowl first) 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, my preference) 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until well incorporated. Add sugar and extracts, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. (Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once or twice.) Transfer to a tupperware container and refrigerate until ready to serve or ice your cake. (Let it set at room temperature 20-30 minutes before frosting or serving.) Also, use sparingly between layers if you're making a tiered cake to ensure you have enough to cover the outside. You can double the frosting recipe if you want to go crazy with it. **If you try to do this with cold cream cheese- I assure you it will not work. You'll get lumps and you lose the volume- the frosting won't be fluffy and spreadable like it should be. I was having some friends into town and frankly- didn't have room in the fridge to store a tiered, iced layer cake. So I decided to bake the cake in a 10- inch springform pan. Instead of icing the cake in advance, I served the cake in slices with a large dollop of the frosting on top. I think it made for a more rustic presentation while allowing everyone to dictate his or her very own cake-frosting ratio which was ideal. (Bonus: I stored the cake covered with foil at room temperature, keeping only the frosting in the fridge.) The cake gets perfectly caramely brown on the outside yet stays moist and perfectly tender inside. The added moisture of the carrots and pineapple makes it almost impossible to dry out. YUMMY... I promise this one won't disappoint. The cake itself freezes well too if you want to enjoy one layer fresh and stash the other one away for a rainy day.

Bite Sized Brie and Apple Tarts

I am always looking for easy yet elegant appetizer ideas. Dips are great, a nice cheese plate is always a winner, but I'm trying to expand my repertoire of bite-sized snacks that require a little less "work" for my guests.... snacks you can simply grab and munch on. It is nice to weave these into a menu, especially if you're entertaining a larger group. (It keeps traffic moving and eliminates the awkwardness of waiting your turn with the cheese knife for example.) Puff pastry is the perfect vehicle for this type of snack. You could top it with any variation of ingredients to create a hand held version of you favorite appetizer. In this case, I opted for a "baked brie" concept. I gently rolled one sheet of puff pastry to roughly 12 inches by 14 inches (using a bit of flour on the board- flipping it over every few rolls to ensure it wasn't sticking). I placed the pastry on a unrimmed cookie sheet sprayed lightly with nonstick spray and using a pairing knife. cut it into 20 squares (making 4 lengthwise cuts and 5 cuts horizontally). They don't have to be perfect nor the exact same size- there is nothing wrong with a "rustic" look. Next, I used the pairing knife to score the squares, creating a border of half an inch on each piece. The goal was to cut through approximately half the thickness of the pastry, careful not to cut it all the way through. I then pricked the inner square generously with a fork. This allows the outer edge of the square to puff up to its full potential while leaving the inner square at about "half puff" status- creating the perfect pocket for the filling. I baked the pastry per the package directions- 15 minutes at 400 degrees, until lightly golden brown. (My middle squares puffed a bit more than I'd hoped so I used the back of a spoon to punch them down a bit just as they came out of the oven.) I actually did this the morning of and set the pastry aside (covered with tin foil) until just before ready to serve. Note: I would plan on 3 pieces per guest. This recipe made 20 "two bite" pieces. Filling: 6-8 ounces of your favorite Brie cheese, sliced into 1 inch squares, approx 1/4 inch thick 1/2 cup of good quality fruit preserves (my preference is apricot for this) One half of an apple- sliced thinly* (use your favorite fall variety) 1/3 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted *I sprinkled the apple slices with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon roughly 1/2 a teaspoon of apricot preserves into the center of each pastry square. Top with the brie cheese and bake for 6-7 minutes, just to warm them through and barely melt the cheese. Lastly, top each with an apple slice (cut to fit, approx 1/2 of a thin slice) and a few toasted almond slices. Serve right away with cocktail napkins to catch the pastry crumbs and a nice Chardonnay. (Sparkling wine would be good too.) No time to fuss with pastry? I've made a similar variation of this using store bought filo dough cups. You can find them from time to time in the freezer section wtih the pastry and filo doughs. Layer the apricot preserves, a cube of brie and a few almond slices before warming in the oven for 6-7 minutes at 350.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Polenta with Sausage and Mushrooms

John proclaimed this dish a recent favorite from the Accidental Syrup kitchen which was a pleasant surprise. I threw this dish together on a whim having seen a similar recipe online somewhere recently. The earthy richness of mushrooms cooked with wine and herbs gives the dish flavor you'd expect to have come from slow cooking all day... but in reality, its essentially a 30-minute meal. (Don't be mislead by the lengthy post, I was a bit wordy in describing the details.) Mushrooms and Sausage: 3 sweet Italian sausage links, removed from casings * 1 package of cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced 1/2 package of shitake mushrooms, whole if not too large 2 small/medium shallots, thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves, grated or pressed 5 sprigs of fresh thyme 1/2 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped pinch red pepper flakes 1/2 cup of dry red wine (we were drinking a Rioja so I used some of that) 1/2 cup of chicken stock salt and pepper to taste 1-2 tablespoons of butter to finish the sauce *optional In a skillet, I warmed a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium high heat. I added the sausage to the pan and cooked for 4-5 minutes until the sausage was brown on the outside and just cooked through. (Using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage as it browned.) The mushrooms and shallots went it at this point- at first it seems like a ton of mushrooms but they cook down significantly. I cooked the mixture for 6-7 minutes until the mushrooms were tender and golden brown and the shallots were soft I then added the garlic and herbs, cooking for one minute longer before adding the wine. Using the wine to deglaze the pan, I scraped all of the little bits that were sticking to the bottom to incorporate the extra flavor into the sauce. Once the wine had reduced by half, I added the chicken stock and let the sauce simmer for 8-10 minutes over medium low heat while I prepared the polenta and toasted some ciabatta bread to serve on the side (Add more stock a few tablespoons at a time if you feel you need more liquid.) *I used a locally raised Italian style pork sausage that is leaner than the average grocery store variety. If you prefer to lighten it up a bit, you can remove the sausage from the pan once brown and discard some of the rendered fat before sauteing the vegetables. The ticket to a speedy preparation is quick cooking Polenta. I personally stock up on the Delallo's brand at my local Kroger but there are other brands out there. Cooking the polenta the traditional way takes 30 minutes of nearly constant stirring whereas the "quick" variety cooks in just one minute. One package (9.2 oz) is poured slowly into 4.5 cups of boiling, lightly salted water- whisking constantly. (You might turn your heat down to medium as you do this, otherwise is starts to splatter.) Whisk the polenta mixture for another 45 or 60 seconds until the polenta is tender. (Consult the package instructions if using another brand.) I removed the polenta from the heat and added: 1/2 cup whole milk (warmed a bit in the microwave) 3 tablespoons of butter cut into cubes 1/4 cup grated parmesam 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese (could use all parmesan if you don't have it handy) *I had chicken stock open for the mushrooms and sausage saute so I used a few tablespoons to thin the polenta to the desired creaminess. The polenta resembles the texture of grits but it has a richer "corn" flavor and a creamier texture. (Alternatively, you can pour the warm polenta into a lightly greased baking sheet and refrigerate until set. It can be cut into squares, triangles, or however you like and then grilled, pan fried, etc.) At the very last minute, I finished the mushrooms and sausage with a pat of butter to add some silkiness to the sauce and then served a heap over a bed of polenta. (I recommend serving in a rimmed soup bowl to keep the sauce contained until soaked into the polenta.) A sprinkle of fresh parsley over the top would have been ideal as well. a)