Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Musings

Why do all of my cooking ingredients -- like spices, salt, brown sugar, etc. -- seem to run out at the same time, just like light bulbs around the house?

When will the fennel fad be over?  I am so tired of seeing fennel on the menus of restaurants, messing up a entree choice I might want.

Feedback from last week's posts:

Christine responded to last Wednesday's post on Lamb with Mayo "Protection" :

"FYI... mayo is what Howard uses on his smoked turkey too! It does work. There is an old Alaska Halibut recipe that uses mayo too! "

Also, I pleasantly surprised by the positive response to Tom's Veal Stew recipe.  I was hesitant to post a veal recipe, as many people are opposed to using veal. 

Announcing the Brownie Bake-off :

Over the last year, McJane and I have been exchanging emails about how to make a good homemade brownie.  So, I have decided to take on the challenge and do some testing of various recipes. 

The current line - up is
1.  Brownies on the current cover of Bon Appetit
2.  Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten's recipe which is the one Cheri says she uses for her decadent brownies
3.  Cook's Illustrated recipe from last year which McJane sent in
4.  Jesse's ultimate brownie
5.  a Farmstand brownie recipe I clipped a while back

If you have a recommendation for the brownie bake-off, please email it to me.  The more the merrier.

First up is the Bon Appetit brownies.  I made them a couple of days ago and gave them out for people to taste.  Once I get feedback, I will post the recipe.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Black Beans with Sundried Tomatoes

Black Beans with Sun-dried Tomatoes

Black beans are a tradition for us on New Year's Day.  In the afternoon, I make a sofrito, add the beans, and let them simmer all afternoon.  Some times I add beer, other times I make them very spicy, but this year I made a variation that I really liked --- I added sun-dried tomatoes.   What a yummy combination!

Black Beans with Sun-dried Tomatoes
(adapted from Sarah Leah Chase's Open House Cookbook)

1 large onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
lots of garlic, chopped or minced
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
jarred chopped sun-dried tomatoes, about 1/2 cup
1 can black beans, drained well or 2 cans if you prefer
2 T. tomato paste
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
1 T. ground cumin
1 can of chicken broth or 1/2 bottle of beer

In a 2 quart saucepan, saute together the onion, pepper, garlic and jalapeno in a little olive oil until they begin to soften. 
Add the can of  drained beans, sun-dried tomatoes, seasonings, vinegar, tomato paste and chicken stock.  You can add two cans of beans if you prefer.  The vinegar is key.  Let them simmer until the flavors marry and the liquid thickens.

New Year's Day we served them with Tom's Whiskey Pork Tenderloin. 

They were even better the second day when we served them with a pork chop and fluffy basmati rice, mixed with fresh cilantro.

These beans would be good any time of year -- for Superbowl weekend, or as a side with grilled meat or fish in the summer.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Veal Stew by Tom

Tom's Veal Stew

Last Friday we had dubbed as International Foods Night.  So while Barbara was looking through Mexican, Chinese and Japanese cookbooks for genuine international ideas, I turned to "San Francisco Flavors", which was done by the Junior League of San Francisco back in 1999.  My logic was that San Francisco has a very ethnically diverse population, so maybe something good to make and eat could be found.  And sure enough, I found this veal stew recipe.

Actually the recipe was not exactly for veal stew, but our ingredients search led me to this variation.  Instead of the veal shanks that the recipe called for, I used veal chunks and beef bones to enrich the broth.  That was Barbara's idea since there were no veal shanks at our Wegman's that day.

So not atypical of most of my recipes this is an adaptation of a "San Francisco Flavors" recipe.  It turned out even better than the recipe in the book, or at least that is my story and I am sticking to it!


Makes 4-6 servings

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large sweet onions chopped
2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, about 4 cloves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 pound fresh mushrooms
3 large red potatoes, cut into 1/2" pieces
~2 pounds of veal cut into stew-sized pieces
2-3 beef bones (optional, but adds flavor depth to the broth)
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour for coating the veal before braising
1 cup good dry red wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Start by soaking the dried mushrooms in the boiling water for at least 30 minutes.  Once they have soaked, remove from the soaking liquid, but retain the liquid.  It will go into the stew for flavoring.  Chop the mushrooms once rehydrated and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  This is a slow cooking method which results in very tender veal pieces.

Chop the onions and potatoes.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add half, or ~2 tablespoons, of the olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft but not browned.

I did this concurrently, but you can do this after you have done all of the vegetable sauteing. 

Season the veal pieces with salt and pepper, and then dredge the pieces in flour.  Heat the remaining olive oil, and once hot add the veal pieces and the beef bones in a large skillet.  Braise the meat while the vegetables are cooking.  This will take 8 - 10 minutes.
Next add the porcini mushrooms and the fresh mushrooms to the onion mixture, and cook these for another 4 minutes or so.  The fresh mushrooms should just start to soften and shrink a bit.

This is how the meat should look after braising.  Notice that there is a some amount of liquid in the skillet as a result of the braising.  You want to add this eventually to the Dutch oven, so don't drain the meat prior to transfer.

After the 4 minutes or so of cooking the mushrooms, add the red potato pieces and continue to cook for another 4 minutes.

Add the meat and pan juices to the Dutch oven, and the red wine, beef stock, reserved mushroom liquid and the lemon juice.  Stir the mixture up.

I mention in the recipe to use a good red wine.  Just like you do not want to drink bad red wine, you do not want to cook with it either.  I used a Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a very nice, deep flavor.  This is not an expensive red wine, so I felt good about using it in this dish.
Cover the dish and place in the preheated oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the veal is tender.
After the oven time, remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and place on a burner over medium-high heat.  This is the step that really consolidates the flavors.  Cook the mixture down for another 20-30 minutes until it thickens slightly..  Use your judgment on this step.  Because the liquid is hot, it will not seem as thick while cooking as it will be when it cools.  You may also need to add a little more salt and pepper during this stage, so be sure to taste your concoction for proper seasoning.
Remove the bay leaves before serving, and dish this veal stew up.  The veal pieces were incredibly tender, and the overall flavor we really liked.  Given our really cold weather, this stew was perfect for a cold winter's night.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lamb with Mayo "Protection"

Rack of Lamb with Mayo "Protection"

I have done this four or five times now and can't believe how moist it keeps the lamb when you are broiling it.

The photo above shows my first experiment.  Just a little goes a long way.  Only 1 teaspoon of mayo is needed per side.

We made a rack last Sunday when David came over to watch the football playoffs and it worked well again.

Salt and pepper the meat well.  Then smear a tsp. of mayo on each side.  Sprinkle some dried mustard on top.  Or mix some Dijon mustard with the may before you spread it.

The cooking time for the lamb depends on how far away your meat is from the broiler.  For us, it took about 5 minutes on each side.  
Instant meat thermometers come in handy for cooking lamb. 

120 degrees for rare, 140 for medium .  Let the meat rest for 10 - 15 minutes.  It will continue to cook, especially if you tent it with a piece foil.

I don't know why it works but my theory is that the egg in mayo provides an effective barrier to keep the juices in (like a egg wash is used on pie crust) while having enough fat to brown and create a crust.  At least that was my thinking when I first decided to try it. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter Mental Escape

It was -17 yesterday morning.  Yes, that is 17 below zero.  And on days like this, when winter seems like it is never going to end, I like to go on a mental vacation.

That's the value of a great vacation.  In seconds, you can take myself back to a certain spot, sitting in the warm sun, or tasting a new food.

Last year at this time we went to Key West.  It was the first time for us.  What a kooky place.

Chickens run wild.

We chose Key West because it was the farthest place south we could go and still be in the United States.  Cuba is less than 100 miles away.

There is lots of interesting architecture, military history, and lots going on a night, if that's your thing.

People ride bikes or walk everywhere.

Beautiful Pink Shrimp

And it was before the BP oil spill, so we were feasting on all of the local, fresh seafood.  I think I ate fish every day of that vacation.

Hogfish Fish Tacos

Hogfish was a new fish to us, and the locals are crazy about it.  We loved it, too.  It's a snapper.

Jimmy Buffet fans are abundant, and too many tourists embark from cruise ships, but there is also a calmer, local community of hard core Key West residents who wouldn't want to live anywhere else. They are very tan and dress very casually.  So it is a unique mix of locals and tourists, and very entertaining, if you like to people watch. 

I can feel the sun on my face as I write this.  I am reading a good book and not caring what time it is.  I am there in my mind.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lundberg Wild Rice

Lundberg Wild Rice

If you like wild rice, I highly recommend you look for Lundberg.  In our Wegman's, it's in the organic section.

It is so much better than wild rice from the regular rice section. Or any of those boxed versions. 

Lundberg rice has a nutty taste, a nice chew, and it really fills you up on a cold night.  We've been hooked on it this winter.

It is organic, grown in California, and is gluten free.

We've been alternating between the dark black japonica version and the wild rice mix. 

Black Japonica is a blend of medium and short grain mahogany rice.  It has a little bit of a mushroomy flavor to it.

Tom  usually cooks it in chicken broth with a dot of butter and little salt.

The wild rice mix is excellent plain, but it can also be enhanced with onions and celery; or in this version, I experimented with mushrooms, onions and apricots.

We first learned of Lundberg rice at Thanksgiving at Long Meadow Ranch many years ago, when Anne G. came to the event with bags of it to give to each family, exclaiming this is the best rice!  She was right.

Lundberg has a nice website where they talk about their history, of family farming, adopting organic practices for the rice industry, and recipes.

The only issue with wild rice is the cooking time.  It takes a good hour to prepare.  But the house smells so good while it is cooking!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Chicken Breasts on a Bed of Wild Mushrooms by Tom

Chicken Breasts on a Bed of Wild Mushrooms

As Barbara mentioned in her last post, she has been a bit under the weather for the past several weeks.  As a result, I have been doing a lot of the cooking lately, which I enjoy doing. 

Driving back from Rochester the other day I was trying to think up a good, but simple, chicken recipe.  Several came to mind, but when I got home, I thought I would check a few cookbooks to augment my thinking. 

Several intrigued me, but the one that I chose came from "The Silver Palate Cookbook".  What struck me was the clever use of mushrooms with the chicken breasts. 

I pretty much stuck to the recipe (unusual for me!) and served the dish with sauteed spinach with shallots, and a baked potato. Turned out pretty good, especially the wild mushrooms.

   serves 6

1 cup lower sodium chicken stock
1 ounce dried mushrooms - I used 1/2 ounce morels and 1/2 ounce chanterelles
1/2 pound fresh wild mushrooms (Wegman's has a good blend of different wild mushrooms already    sliced and packaged)
4 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup Port wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 boneless chicken breasts, skinned and halved

Before reconstituting the dried mushrooms, be sure to rinse them in cold water to remove any dirt.  Then bring the chicken stock to a boil and pour it over the dried mushrooms in a bowl.  Let stand for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt the butter in a skillet and then gently saute the shallots.  You want them to soften, but not to brown.  This will take about 5 minutes.

Drain the dried reconstituted mushrooms, but save the liquid.  You will use it shortly.  Chop up the reconstituted mushrooms and add those along with the fresh mushrooms to the shallots and butter mixture in the skillet.  Saute this mixture for about 10 minutes.  Saeson with salt and pepper.

Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, along with the Port wine and heavy cream.  Simmer this mixture for about 15-20 minutes until it thickens slightly and the liquid has been reduced by about a third to half.  This will intensify the flavors.

Spoon the mushroom mixture into the bottom of a shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with PAM to minimize sticking.  Place the chicken breasts on top of the mushrooms, cover, and bake until finished.  Depending on the thickness of the chicken breast, this will take anywhere from 30 - 50 minutes as you are cooking at a relatively low oven temperature.  Check the chicken with a meat thermometer.

Chef Tom's note:  Here is where I would deviate from the recipe if I was making this again, which I probably will!  I think I would brown the chicken in a skillet prior to putting it on the mushroom mixture.  The baked chicken does come out looking a little anemic.  So if for no other reason than appearance, I would brown the outside a bit.  Also it will speed up the overall cooking time in the oven.

To make the sauteed spinach I used fresh spinach.  I had about 1/8 cup of shallots left over, so I decided to use them in the spinach.  I sauteed them in about a tablespoon of butter for 4 minutes in a small skillet.  Then I added the fresh spinach carefully, and cooked it down with the cover on the skillet.  I stirred the mixture a couple of times while cooking and added some salt and pepper to taste.  Cooking spinach to a wilt only takes a few minutes, so watch carefully.

The chicken is good, but what really makes this meal are the mushrooms.  I might even find other uses for them with other meats and poultry they were that good.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy 2nd Anniversary, Feast Everyday

Sorry for the long absence.  We were away for the holidays, then I got sick with a massive head cold over New Year's and have been struggling to get back to normal ever since.  

In the meantime, Feast Everyday passed its second anniversary, can you believe it?  I can't. 

Tom has been doing the cooking while I have been sick and he has done a great job!!!   So, he has several recipes that he'd like to share. 

Tomorrow he is going to write about Chicken Breasts on a Bed of Wild Mushrooms.