Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Everybody Burns Something, Sometime

It kind of makes you think of that commercial - but it's true. I am starting to get the impression that people think I never make an error, so I thought it time to put that to end. Take this evening's dinner for example.

First, there was not a lot of food in the house, so dinner was going to be a ham sandwich. So, what makes a ham sandwich better? Cheese. Only string cheese? No problem; that won't stop me. What makes that ham and cheese sandwich better (beside mayo and mustard)? Grilled. And better yet? Panini-ed. No panini press? Big deal - I have a cast iron skillet to put on my sandwhich. Well, here I am excited about my ham and cheese panini despite the pathetic state of our fridge, and then I burn the ever loving life out of it. Great.

The moral of the story is not to get discouraged - half the fun of food is experimenting. All that burnt and smashed sanwhich needed was a bread-ectemy. Yes, you read that correctly. I replaced the charred bread, and started over with the same stuffin'. And, it wasn't half bad. Its wasn't great, but not bad. That's half of it - sometimes you learn how flavors, textures, and methods work by figuring out what doesn't work.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. (and sometimes get Taco Bell when it still doesn't work)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Macaroni & Cheese

I've had several people find my first post about macaroni and cheese, and tell me that they don't feel confident enough to try it without a more formal recipe. I am happy to help, so I have developed this recipe from my method.

Before you scoff at my adding mustard to this, it brings out the cheesinesses of the sauce, and guarantees you'll love it. Plus, over the summer I was at the Taste of Madison, and a comfort food style restaurant there was serving macaroni and cheese. It was amazing - oh, and tasted exactly like mine. Not only that, they had used the same pasta that I have come to use, cavatappi. But don't worry if you don't have that, any short pasta will do.

Mac & Cheese
1 lb short pasta
½ small yellow onion, minced
3 Tbsp Butter
3 Tbsp Flour
½ tsp Paprika
2 ½ cups milk (any percent; I use 1%)
1 ½ tsp Grey Poupon Country Dijon Mustard (or another coarsely ground mustard)
2 cups Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup Grated Parmesan
salt
pepper

First, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. If the water boils before you are ready to cook the pasta, just turn the burner off. Once you're ready to cook, turn the burner back on to high, and it will only take about 1 minute to boil again. It is much easier to have it waiting for you, than the other way around.

Meanwhile, sweat the onion in the butter over low heat until it is very soft; about 5-8 minutes. Add the flour and stir to make a roux – cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the paprika, a little pepper, and mustard. Then, whisking constantly, add about half of the milk, and continue to whisk to ensure there are no lumps. Once it is smooth, add the remaining milk and bring mixture to a boil. Once bubbles begin to break on the surface, the sauce is as thick as it will get. Waiting to add the cheese until you are ready to serve, take sauce off heat before adding cheese bit by bit until melted, making sure to stir constantly while adding. Wait to salt the sauce to taste until the cheese is added to the sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, toss with the sauce and serve - this is a no-bake mac and cheese. There are a few reasons I don't bake it: 1) I can't wait that long to eat pasta or cheese, let alone both together; 2) I hate making more dirty dishes than I have to, and it doesn't add to the overall flavor of the dish; 3) I don't like over cooked pasta; and 4) I don't need crunch on it - it detracts from the creamy deliciousness. Feel free to disagree.

(If you add the cheese and then let the sauce sit, the cheese will separate in the sauce and the sauce will be grainy. If that happens, eat it anyway. It happens to me too, but it is still delicious.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fig and Prosciutto Salad

Dear Fresh Figs:

You are amazing. I am so sorry that Fig Newtons gave you a bad rap, and I will do everything I can to restore your reputation.

Love,
Leah


I realize that you may question my sanity for writing a letter to figs, but I can assure you that I am slightly off. However, I have a very good reason: fig and prosciutto salad. I made this about two weeks ago for a family dinner. Through I learned more about cooking than I probably realize from my parents, this was kind of a hard sell - until they tried it.

Fig and Prosciutto Salad

2 large bunches arugula or baby salad greens (about 1/2 pound total)
6 firm-ripe green or purple figs (about 1/2 pound)
6 to 8 large thin prosciutto slices (about 6 ounces total)
a piece Parmigiano (about 1/3 pound)

Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, pepper, and salt to taste. In a slow stream, whisk in the oil until emulsified. Toss arugula with the vinaigrette and mound in center of each of 6 plates.

Wash the figs, and trim the tough stem ends. Cut each fig into 8 wedges. Cut the prosciutto into strips, about ¼ to ½ inch wide. Arrange the prosciutto pieces and figs on the salad. With a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices from the Parmigiano, and add to the top of the salad. Eat.

Adapted from Epicurious.com.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spicy Asian Flank Steak

This spicy asian flank steak is SO good. I do not think I need to sell this recipe any more than that because I know that once you try it, you'll make it all the time. It is that good. The secret is cutting the finished product correctly: you can see from the photo that I've sliced the meat very thin. The reason is that flank steak is a tough cut of meat, so by slicing it thin and across the grain, you get to enjoy a meltingly tender bite of steak. Winner, winner, steak dinner.

Spicy Asian Flank Steak

2 pounds flank steak

1⁄4 cup hot chile sauce, Sriracha

1⁄4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, grated

Juice of 1 lime

1⁄4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

To make marinade: In a gallon side zip-top bag, add the chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and lime juice together. Seal the bag and squeeze bag to thoroughly mix the marinade. Add the meat to the bag, seal it shut, and evenly distribute the marinade over the meat. Then ensure that all air is out. Marinate meat about 30 minutes, turning bag over a few times to distribute marinade evenly. (If you want to make this the night before, don't add the lime juice until about 30 minutes before you're ready to grill it and make sure to keep the bag 'o meat in the fridge. Prior to grilling, have meat come to room temperature by removing from fridge for 30 minutes.)

When ready to grill, discard the marinade, and grill the steak on high heat to desired doneness. Steak should not exceed medium rare for optimum tenderness; many people prefer flank steak to be medium rare. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side; remove meat and let sit at least 5 minutes before slicing; if more grilling is required, grill 1 to 2 more minutes per side. Remember to thinly slice it across the grain.

To enjoy this gorgeous flank steak, try the following: thinly sliced onion, avocado, diced tomatoes, cilantro, lime, and corn tortillas.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Ratatouille & Brie Sandwich

I am so excited because I just perfected the ratatouille sandwich from Toronto! As promised, here's the recipe. This recipe is great because it is so multi-purpose. I made the ratatouille last night to have as a side with the most amazing ribs, which left most of ratatouille for these sandwiches the next day.

Choose a soft bread with lots of flavor, and use a good mustard. This is a great dinner on a weeknight, after a walk.

Ratatouille & Brie Sandwich

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large eggplant, peeled & cut in 1-inch pieces
8 large thyme sprigs
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 red bell peppers, cut into ½ inch strips
1 large onion, cut into 3/4-inch sliced
3 large tomatoes—halved, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup shredded basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 Soft rolls
A wedge of brie cheese
Dijon mustard

In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the eggplant, 2 of the thyme sprigs, one-fourth of the minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper; season with salt and black pepper. Cook the eggplant over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 7 minutes. Scrape the eggplant into a large bowl and discard the thyme sprigs. Repeat with the zucchini, red bell peppers and onion, cooking each vegetable separately in 2 tablespoons of oil with 2 thyme sprigs, one-fourth of the minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables to the eggplant.

Return all of the vegetables to the skillet. Add the tomatoes, basil and parsley and simmer over moderate heat until the tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.

Split the rolls by cutting around the top and pulling out the top – like you’re making a well in the bread to contain the filling. On a large baking sheet, toast the rolls under the broiler, until crusty. Fill the warm rolls with the ratatouille, and top with the sliced brie. Spread the top of the roll with Dijon mustard - serve right away.

Adapted from Food & Wine, http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ratatouille-and-goat-cheese-subs, accessed on August 14, 2010.

* I wish this was a photo of my sandwiches tonight, but - though they were delicious - were ugly. Really ugly. But delicious.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fresh Pasta


Fresh pasta can be tricky, but it is worth the time. Making pasta at home compares to nothing else you'll have - not even the allegedly fresh pasta in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

I used the extruder attachment for my Kitchen Aid to make this spaghetti. This is the first time I have used the attachment, and I am really pleased with the results. Prior to the extruder attachment, I had a traditional hand-crank pasta maker. They really are two different processes - it depends on what your preference is.
The hand-crank pasta maker is perfect for the sheets of pasta - use them for ravioli, or to make hand-cut pasta, like rags. However, once you begin to use the hand-crank machine to make the cut pastas, there are not enough hands in the world to help you. For pasta shapes, I definitely prefer the extruder. Which ever method you prefer, the mode of making the dough is the same.

The pasta pictured above is a semolina dough. The key to making pasta dough is knowing what to look for: when the dough comes together into a ball in the food processor, let the machine continue to run for about another 1-2 minutes, which acts as the kneading of the dough. Keep in mind that the weather will affect your dough: if it is a humid day, you may not even need to add any water. You can always add water - but you can't take it out.

1 1/3 c. Semolina flour
1 Large egg, whipped
1 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1-4 Tbsp Water

In a food processor, add the flour. With the processor running, slowly add the egg and the oil. If necessary, add the water slowly - never more than 1 tablespoon at a time - until the dough just forms a ball. Allow the processor to continue to run for another 1-2 minutes. Once done, let the dough to rest for about 15 minutes before making your pasta.

In my case with the extruder, as the pasta reached the proper length, I cut the pasta off and laid it out in a single layer on the countertop, which had a liberal coat of semolina flour to prevent the pasta from sticking (to itself and the counter). You can tell from the picture above that I used a lot of semolina flour; it's ok because the texture of the semolina is more granular than all purpose, and shakes off easily.

Add the pasta to a pot of boiling, well-salted water. Stir,
and cook approximately 3 minutes. It's fresh, so it cooks very fast.

I added my pasta to a pan of Farmers Market Pasta sauce
- pure heaven.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roasted Beet Salad

We also picked up fresh beets at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. Todd was not convinced when I suggested that we buy some - but he admitted that he has only had pickled beets. Now that he tried this salad, he loves beets, and I think you will, too. They are deliciously sweet, and have a beautiful velvety texture. As you can see from the photo below - I think I'll stick with golden beets from now on. The red beets, while gorgeously pink, made everything pink - even my yummy oranges.



Roasted Beet Salad

  • 6 medium golden beets
  • 2 large oranges
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated or pasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1 lb salad greens

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut off and discard stems from the beets, and wrap each beet in foil. Place beets directly on oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Once cool, peel the beets. Slice each beet into wedges. Place beets in medium bowl.

Zest one orange for the dressing, then supreme it: begin by cutting the ends off of the orange. Place the orange cut-side up, and cut the peel/white pith off the orange. Then, working over another bowl and using small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release segments. If that confused you, see this video.* Add orange segments to the bowl with the beets.

Whisk vinegar, oil, garlic, and orange peel in small bowl to blend; add to beet mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Pile the mixture on top of a plate of salad greens. Enjoy!

Feel free to experiment with this - Todd added crumbled blue cheese to his salad, and it was delicious (but I thought it was too overpowering). Certainly goat cheese would be perfect here, if you like it (which I don't; not even a little). I personally might choose a ricotta salata in place of goat cheese.

*Please just take your time when you supreme an orange so that you do not waste as much of it as Ming Tsai does; I'm not a fan of his, but it shows you how to do it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bliss Can Be an Heirloom Tomato

I am almost ashamed to admit that this Saturday I went to my first farmer's market in Milwaukee. I KNOW - it's sick and wrong. Me - the girl who grew up on my honorary aunt and uncle's organic farm - Creekside Farm - during the summer, spending Saturday mornings peddling fruits, veggies, and flowers at THE farmer's market on the Capital Square in Madison, Wisconsin. Hell, the first thing I learned to drive was a tractor on their farm. Honest.

Though the South Shore Farmer's Market is very different from the Dane County Farmer's Market, the dog-friendly atmosphere, a priest making smoothies, a French man making crepes, and being on Lake Michigan in South Shore Park was wonderful. Next time, we will take our dog Max to meet all the dogs.

For dinner on Saturday, I made caprese salad - and it was THE most amazing salad ever! Imagine perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, and 25-year aged balsamic vinegar . . . so amazing!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quinoa Tabouli

Tabbouleh/Tabouli is a Middle Eastern dish, typically made from wheat bulgar. There are a multitude of variations that are dependent upon the region, such as the Turkish version, kisir. Tabouli is a fantastic dish in the summer - it's cold temperature and light flavors won't put you to sleep after eating. Perhaps most persuasive is that there is little cooking involved.

I love this version with quinoa in place of the bulgar because quinoa has a ton of protein and cooks just like rice.

Ingredients
2 cups chicken/veggie stock
1 cup quinoa
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
4 green onions, diced
3 carrots, grated
1 lg clove garlic, grated (or pasted)
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or palm full of dried parsley)
Salt and Pepper

Method
Preheat a saucepan to medium heat and toast the quinoa for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, lemon zest, a little salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes; fluff with a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley. Toss with the quinoa when its done – allow to cool. Meanwhile, chop the veggies.

Once quinoa is cool, add the tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, carrots and parsley. Toss to combine. You may need to add more olive oil if the mixture becomes dry as it cools.


*This dish traditionally has fresh mint as well, but I never have any on hand. If you do, chop it up and toss it in.

Link

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Even more things to do with PESTO


I appreciate that, given my infrequent posting, some may be tiring of the fact that nearly everything I post involves pesto. BUT I have found a new use . . . or a combination of other recipes. It is summer after all.*

So, what do you get when you cross a pizza with Pesto Pea Salad? Yummy, yummy deliciousness.

At Woodman's (a local grocery store) we found frozen pizza dough from a local bakery that I just rolled out and baked. Meanwhile, I made a b├ęchamel sauce - equal parts butter and flour; 1 tablespoon of each - in a pot over medium-law heat. Then add approximately 3/4 cup of milk and bring to a simmer until thick. Season with salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder.

Spread evenly over the cooked pizza crust, and top with the pesto pea salad and a liberal sprinkle of parmesan cheese. So good.















* I have a moment to post tonight because there are tornado warnings, tornados, and flooding in Milwaukee. I was in class, which was cancelled after waiting in the parking garage for 50 minutes. I headed for home during a small break in the storm. Ain't summer grand.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pesto

The more I talk to people I learn that, while most know what pesto is, they have no clue how to make it. When I try to explain that it's easy, they think I am nuts. Honestly, if you have a food processor, this is a snap - PLUS, you will impress everyone and you can't even mess it up.

Pesto

1 oz fresh basil leaves
3 T toasted pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
½ c. extra virgin Olive Oil
5 T Parmesan, grated
1 lb pasta


In a food processor, pulse the basil and garlic about 5-7 times. Then add the nuts and continue to pulse the mixture another 4-6 times. With the food processor on low, slowly drizzle in the oil until it is all combined; then shut it off. Add the cheese, and pulse 3-5 times until it has just incorporated. Done.

You can now toss your pesto with cooked pasta, add it to chicken, use it as a pizza topping, make Pesto Pea Salad, or . . .
______________________
**To toast the nuts, put them in a dry (no oil) pan over low heat and shake them every couple of minutes to prevent burning. This will take a little while - keep your eye on it! You will know they are done when they get a light brown color (and smell really good). Also, make sure to keep any extra pine nuts in the fridge.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Best Sandwich I Ever Ate...

Last weekend I went to Toronto, and as it turns out, I found the perfect sandwich. Our first full day in Toronto was a little crazy, and we needed to find a late lunch. We wandered into a little French cafe - Jules Bistro - and I knew it was going to be good - it had crystal chandeliers after all.

So, the best sandwich I ever ate was here: The Jules Vegetarien with Brie.
I realize that the photo is rather unimpressive, but this sandwich (and Jules Bistro) were SO good, we went back there for lunch the next day and I ate it again. It's that good. Ok, so what is it? Warm ratatouille, two thick slices of brie, a little mustard, baby salad greens, and the freshest bread I have ever had.

The other reason we loved this Bistro: the chef (who was actually French) was out talking to people in the restaurant while we were eating (we were there for a late lunch) our cute waitress has the best French accent, and you could order brie cheese on anything.

I am working on a copy-cat recipe before I forget and I'll share.