Thursday, December 29, 2011

Braised Bourgignon-Style Short Ribs

There is nothing cozier on a cold winter night than a big bowl of this... 

A bottle of great red wine and a fire in the fireplace... That is exactly how John and I kicked off Christmas weekend last Thursday night.  Like most inexpensive cuts of beef, short ribs require a low-slow (3 hrs) cooking method but the result is fall-right-off-the-bone tenderness and a gravy that will make you lick your bowl clean.

Ingredients:   Serves 4 with leftovers

3 1/2 pounds bone in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2 inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 of a 750 ml bottle of dry red wine
8 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
3 cups of beef stock (low salt)

3 slices of bacon
1 large shallot- chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 package cremini or baby bella mushrooms, halved/quartered
2 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
2 tablespoons of brandy or dry vermouth
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large cast iron dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high/high heat.  Season the ribs generously with kosher salt and black pepper.  In two batches, brown the meat on all sides - roughly 2 minutes per side.    Don't disturb them except for to rotate after 2 minutes.  This allows them to develop a nice crust.  Remove and drain on a papertowel.

Pour the fat out of the pan (do not rinse) and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil back to the pot.  Lower heat to medium.  Add the onion, celery and carrots.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees at this point.

Add the flour to the pot, toss to coat the vegetables and cook for 2 minutes before adding the wine.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all of the bits with the help of the wine.  Add the ribs back to the pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the wine has reduced a bit.

Add the beef stock, garlic and fresh herbs (whole on the stems is fine).  Cover the pot and place in the oven.  Cook for nearly 3 hours or until the bone can be easily pulled out of the meat.

While the ribs are in the oven- prepare the vegetables for the garnish.  This is where the bourgignon style bit comes in... Render the bacon in a saute pan over medium heat.  Remove the bacon once crispy.  Add one teaspoon of olive oil, the shallot, carrot and mushrooms to the pan and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown.  Add the thyme leaves for the last minute.

Add the vermouth/brandy and cook (or flambe if you like drama of a flame) until the liquid has evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Now back to the ribs... remove the ribs from the pot and set in a separate dish.  Strain the gravy through a sieve to remove the remaining vegetables, herbs, etc.  Return the ribs to the pan and pour the gravy over.  Gently fold in the garnish mixture and fresh parsley.

Serve over your favorite whipped potatoes (I like to whip half boiled potatoes and half boiled parsnips with butter and thyme and garlic infused cream) or buttered egg noodles with crusty bread for dipping.  You can crumble the bacon over the top as well.  I served a baby kale salad with balsamic vinaigrette, parmesan and pomegranate seeds on the side. 

While the recipe has numerous steps and takes 4 hours total, I assure you it is simple and the active time is minimal-  perfect for a Sunday or Saturday afternoon.  These are great for entertaining too as the short ribs can be made up to a day ahead of time and reheated before serving.  Add the parsley at the very last minute.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Qunioa with Fennel and Pomegranate Seeds

If your Christmas week was half as decadent as mine was (and I have a few more recipes along those lines coming)- you're probably looking for a couple of healthy meals in this lull before New Year's Eve parties.  I personally struggle with making the transition from the decadence back to nutritious because the taste buds are still amped so I try to pack the flavor in where ever possible.   Lemon, tangy vinaigrette and fresh herbs are a great way to do so.

Inspired by a recipe in the January issue of Bon Appetite magazine (not yet published to this quinoa dish is great warm or at room temperature - as a side dish or a standalone meatless dinner or lunch.  You can make a big batch and enjoy it for a couple of days...


1 cup quinoa
1 medium fennel bulb- diced
1 small onion- diced
3 cloves of garlic- minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
generous 1/2 cup freshly chopped herbs (I used parsley, dill and mint)
zest and juice of 1lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
pomegranate seeds for garnish

Saute the fennel and onion in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat until just starting to caramelize, 10-12 minutes.  Season with a pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper.  Add the garlic and cumin and cook one minute more.  Add the balsamic vinegar and cook until the liquid is evaporated, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let sit while you prepare the quinoa.

Cook 1 cup of raw quinoa according to package instructions.  This typically requires rinsing the grain, simmering in boiling water for 10 minutes and draining.  Make sure you strain any left over cooking liquid.  While the quinoa cooks- chop your herbs and juice/zest the lemon...

Combine the cooked quinoa with the vegetable mixture, the herbs, lemon zest, juice and olive oil.  Toss gently to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish the dish with pomegranate seeds.  Look for these at your grocery store by the grapefruit segments in the refrigerated produce section- Pom brand is selling them now.   You can remove the seeds by hand from the whole fruit if you can't find them.

The tiny hint of cumin gives the dish a nice warmth in contrast to the tang of the reduced balsamic and lemon.  The herbs and pomegranate seeds pack in more flavor and freshness.  Don't be afraid of the fennel- if you cook it down this way, it loses virtually all of the licorice/anise taste.  However you could add any combination of sauteed or roasted veggies to this as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Butterfinger Truffles

While we're on the subject of Holiday sweet treats- I wanted to share a super simple recipe for homemade chocolate truffles.  These are extremely rich little nuggets of punch you in the tongue chocolate-ness.  Truffles are really quite easy to make but they look elegant and sophisticated- perfect to set out at a holiday cocktail party as I did or to wrap in festive packaging for hostess or office gifts.

I saw this recipe in the December issue of Bon Appetit and decided to give it a try because John is gaga for butterfingers...

10 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of butter
1 1/2 cups chopped butterfinger candy bars (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
peanuts for garnish (optional)

I used semisweet chocolate- honestly I might consider using a portion of milk chocolate in here next time.  As is, they are for the darker chocolate lover for sure..

Place the chocolate (not the butterfinger yet) and the butter in a glass bowl.  Bring the cream to a gentle boil in a saucepan and then immediately pour over the chocolate.  Let sit one minute and then whisk until smooth.  Mix in the butterfingers, cover, and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to roll (ha, get it?!)  put the cocoa powder in a shallow bowl and line an airtight container with parchment paper.  I used a 3/4 inch ice cream/cookie scoop to portion the chocolate and rolled in into balls by hand.  I recommend spraying your hands with nonstick spray to prevent excess sticking. 

Roll the balls lightly in cocoa powder and place in the storage container.  Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

You could probably roll them in powdered sugar if you prefer a different look or sweeter flavor.  Bon Appetit suggested garnishing them with peanut halves or pecans which would be cute but I'm not quite sure how you'd made them stick??

What's not to love?!   The rich smooth chocolate ganache melts in your mouth yet you have a subtle peanutbuttery crunch factor as well.  Will definitely be making these again soon...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cherry Pecan Shortbread Cookies

For seven years running- I look forward to an annual Christmas Cookie Exchange party with girlfriends.  This tradition started back in Charleston with a great group of women from my work.  When we moved to Kentucky - I decided to bring the tradition with me.  This year I had about 20 ladies and 100+ dozen cookies crowded in my dining room for sampling and swapping of our favorite holiday baked goodness.

I like to try a new recipe every year.  This year I went with a Martha Stewart classic shortbread recipe.  The simple recipe of essentially just butter, sugar and flour is fool proof and the combinations of flavors and mixins makes for an infinite number of variations.  I was also looking for a "no fuss" recipe as I was busy making appetizers and preparing to host- so the concept of having the dough waiting for me in the freezer- no rolling, scooping or shaping of dough required- was appealing.

I found some DELICIOUS dried Michigan tart cherries at Sam's club recently so I chopped some of those as well as some pecans to add to the mix.  I also dipped the ends in melted white chocolate to turn up the fancy a little bit.

Here is the basic recipe:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup dried cherries- chopped
8 oz good white or semi-sweet chocolate- chopped **don’t use chips, they don’t melt as well

1. Make the dough: In a mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, almond and vanilla extracts, and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour; mix just until a dough forms. Lastly, mix in pecans and cherries.

2. Freeze the dough: On a piece of waxed paper, form dough into a rectangular log, 12 inches long, 2 1/2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. Wrap log in the paper, and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 3 months.) If freezing longer than 1 day, wrap log again, in plastic wrap.

3. Bake the shortbread: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from freezer. (If dough has been in freezer a long time and is frozen solid, let it sit at room temperature 20 minutes so it slices without crumbling.)

4. With a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. (Keep them as close to the same thickness as possible to ensure they all cook evenly.)  Bake until edges just BARELY begin to turn golden, 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet; transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Note: I doubled the recipe above to make two logs of dough.

I dare you not to eat at least one raw cookie while you're slicing.... yummy!

5. Dip in white chocolate: put the chopped chocolate in a glass bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring after each one, until melted and smooth. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Dip the ends of each cookie into the chocolate and place on the parchment. Let sit until the chocolate dries (put in the fridge to speed up the process). Store in an airtight container.

Crispy, crumbly buttery deliciousness, I tell you.  Studded with a little chewy tang from the cherries and a toasty richness from the pecans- these are anything but boring .  The white chocolate adds another layer of creamy sweetness without overpowering the taste of the cookie. 

My ONLY complaint is that I was hoping the cookies would maintain their rectangular shape.  The definitely spread a little bit in the oven so they were more oval shaped in the end.  Also- once they begin to turn golden, they brown fast so keep a close eye and rotate your pans half way through if your oven bakes unevenly like mine.

Other flavor combinations to try:
*Orange zest and chopped almonds
*Lemon zest and chopped pistachios
*Hazelnut shortbread sandwiched together with nutella or jam
*Plain vanilla shortbread dipped in your favorite dark chocolate

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pork Tenderloin with Arugula, Endive and Walnut Vinaigrette

Much like I'm trying to squeeze a few healthy/lighter meals in between the holiday parties, sweet treats and other indulgences- I figured I'd offer up a quick and easy weeknight dinner salad before I post more of the goodies I have on deck for you...

This salad was hearty, winter-esque AND uber nutritional.  As I've said before, John's not a huge dinner salad kind of guy but even he was a fan.

Ingredients:     serves 2 with leftovers

1 pork tenderloin
2 Belgian endives, cut crosswise into bite sized pieces
4 cups of baby arugula
1 cup of walnuts, toasted (divided)
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of water
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
goat cheese for crumbling
optional:2 oven roasted tomatoes (could substitute 2 oil packed sun dried tomatoes)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Salt and pepper the pork tenderloin and heat a tablespoon of olive oil in an ovenproof skillet.  Sear the pork for approximately 2 minutes on all sides-  transfer the pork to the oven and roast for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

While the pork is cooking/resting, make the dressing...  in a food processor, combine 2/3 cup of the toasted walnuts, garlic, oven roasted or sun dried tomatoes (again you can leave these out, the original recipe did not call of them), vinegar, and water.  Pulse into a paste forms.  Then with the blade running, pour the olive oil in slowly until it comes together to a smooth consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the greens with 2/3 of the dressing and plate.  Garnish with additional toasted walnuts and goat cheese crumbles.  Finally lay the sliced pork over the top and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.

The endive and arugula is a great combination of crunch and peppery.  The walnuts give the vinaigrette a warm toasty flavor while also adding richness (and heart healthy omega 3's!).   The tomatoes don't add a tomato flavor per se- its really more a depth of flavor and tangy sweetness which works well.  You could omit them and toss some apples and dried cranberries to the salad as well.

Quick- easy- healthy- yummy!  Now back to the holiday indulgences...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lemon Glazed Gingerbread

Holiday baking season is here and the AS kitchen is a-bustle cooking up all kinds of Christmas cheer!  I have a huge backlog of posts for you so check back soon.  A women's group here in Lexington hosts an annual Christmas bake sale for a local charity and this year I made my mother's gingerbread recipe - a long standing favorite around the Holidays.  It is always perfectly moist with all of the soul-warming spicy gingerbread flavors.  Typically a bundt cake- she serves it as a plated dessert with a warm lemon sauce but to make it more bake-sale friendly, I opted for an easy lemon glaze to give my loaf version of the cake a hit of lemony fresh flavor.

Recipe makes 1 bundt cake, two medium size loaves or three small loaves.

1 cup of sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup melted butter (2 sticks)
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the sugar, molasses, butter and eggs.  (By hand, with a handmixer or standing mixer is fine.) 

Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the boiling water, to the sugar-egg mixture until combined.

Pour the batter into greased and floured pan(s).  Bake for 25/30/40 minutes (depending on pan size) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before loosening the cakes with a knife around the edge to remove.

Lemon Glaze:
3 cups of powdered sugar
4-6 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Whisk the lemon juice into the sugar.  Start with 4 tablespoons and add more gradually until the icing is just loose enough to pour.  Place the cake(s) on a wire rack over a cookie sheet and spoon the icing over the cakes so that it runs off all sides.  Let the icing dry completely before wrapping with plastic wrap.

Packaging of course is everything if you are gifting goodies for the Holidays (or selling them at a bake sale.)  I wrapped each loaf first in plastic wrap so that the the extra plastic was at the bottom.  I then tied a piece of burlap ribbon and a few pieces of red raffia lengthwise around the loaf so that the raffia was on top of the burlap.  I then tied it all together in a bow on top.  I found adorable hand made holiday gift tags that I tied to each of them as well.

If you want to go the plated dessert route- here is the Warm Lemon Sauce Recipe:

4 teaspoons of cornstarch
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons of butter
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Combine cornstarch through the water in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Cover and cook 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, lemon zest and lemon juice. Serve warm. Can be made ahead and reheated before serving.  Spoon over the individual gingerbread slices once on the plate.