2/26/2012

Sunday Dinner

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Egg, Onion, and Apple Croquettes

Porc Sylvie
(boneless pork loin stuffed with Gruyère)
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

served with orange segments warmed in a simple syrup and lightly sweetened whipped cream



I love it when my Sunday dinners are somewhat planned for me by what is on sale at the market and what I already have available. Onions and Gruyère cheese were on sale at my local market.  I had a boneless pork loin in the freezer.  Dried fruit is always in my pantry this time of year.  I had a craving for mashed taters and I never need an excuse to make a cake, especially if it is an easy one. 

I have made these tasty little "apps" (as we like to call our appetizers) several times.  The first time they were a total flop.  They were good, but I knew even before I fried them that there was not enough binder to keep them together.  Yep, they exploded.  But, we still ate them ☺.  The second time, I made a thick béchamel-like paste and added an extra raw egg for the binder.  They fried beautifully and they were delicious.  The third time, I added chopped chives for a little freshness and rolled them panko in lieu of the bread crumbs.  End result-- perfection!


You might think at first-- "How do these flavors come together well?"  I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical myself.  I mean come on, hard-boiled eggs, onion, and dried apple fried together and then dipped in a sauce made with applesauce and horseradish (applesauce and horseradish, really?).  I can't explain it, but I can tell you it works and it is good.  It is that sweet savory combo that I so dearly love.  You can certainly use bottled applesauce, but I think making your own is the way to go. Having a batch of homemade applesauce also helps with weekday meal planning.  Use it as a side to potato pancakes (need to get to those recipes) for dinner--mmm, or pack in containers for school/work lunches.

Sunday Dinner one year ago

2/24/2012

Lemon Icebox Pie

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I would like to introduce to you a lemony cousin of the key lime pie.  Creamy, lemony, cool, and with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream-- swoon.  Was this ever good!

Not only is this pie delicious, it is very simple to put together and it can be made in advance.  A whole week in advance, in fact.  The original recipe called for serving it from the freezer, but I found that process produces a texture that is too hard.  It can certainly be kept in the freezer, but for that luscious, creamy texture, you can either store it in the refrigerator or, if frozen, allow it to come to desired texture.  Although I made this pie in February to accompany New Orleans themed dishes (and it was great in that role), it would really be in its element as a summer treat.  No matter when you make it, you'll be glad you did! 

2/23/2012

Chickpea and Lentil Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

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A healthy dish as promised.  There's no sugar, no deep fryer, there is not even meat in the mix.  Just veggies, legumes, fresh basil, and a very tasty vinaigrette.  "Mmm-- this is so good, Mom" is what my pickiest eater said after her first bite.  Even my son, who doesn't care for sun-dried tomatoes, enjoyed this dish.


It is delicious on its own as a vegetarian meal, but would also be a nice side to a chicken cutlet or lamb chop.  Make a batch at the beginning of the week and you also have a healthy alternative for the week's work and school lunches. 

2/21/2012

Homemade Beignets

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I know-- more sugar and more fried food, but I couldn't take you through a culinary tour of New Orleans without sharing this recipe (I promise to get to some heart healthy foods real soon).  Along with Mardi Gras, another thing people associate with New Orleans (especially if they have paid a visit to the city of jazz) are the beignets (prounced ben-yay and literally means bump) from Café du Monde.  Mmmm--beignets.  I remember my parents taking me and my sisters there, each one of us trying to out do the other blowing the powdered sugar off of the fried dough.   The warm pillows were tender, a little crispy, and darn near perfect.  Predictably, we polished off every last one with gusto.

Although I know I am a long way from Jackson Square, I still need my beignet fix every now and then.  Sure, they do sell a Café du Monde beignet mix (and it does produce a fine product) at my local store, but you should know me by now.  I like to steer clear of boxed mixes as much as I can and go homemade.  

There are quite a few recipes out there for homemade beignets, but the one problem I had with them is that they all require a rising time!  Wouldn't that produce a bready/cakey doughnut? Café du Monde beignets have a hollow bump.  I know from the box mix that their beignets do not have a rise-- just mix, cut, and fry.  I even checked the back of the box at the store for the leavening agents used and it read, yeast, and/or baking powder, baking soda.  And/or?  That made me think of a waffle recipe that I have that uses two of the leaveners with no rising time and that recipe produces crisp and fluffy waffles.  So-- I went with the best recipe I had and added the extra leavening agent.  The results...


Perfectly "souffled" beignet goodness!  Normally I don't like pictures of food that have been bitten into, but I made an exception so you could see for yourself.  Crisp, tender, and a that perfect hollow bump!!  It has been a few years since I tasted the real deal, but I have to admit that these might taste even better.  Probably has to do with being homemade.  A little love is added in the mix.

The recipe calls for just a half a cup of evaporated milk.  What to do with the leftover? 1. Make another batch of homemade beignets ☺or 2. Make a pot of Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese for dinner--yum!

2/19/2012

Sunday Dinner

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Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce




In Louisiana, the general rule seems to be that if you can catch it, you can fry it and eat it.  Catfish is a regular item in homes and on menus from Louisiana all the way up the Mississippi River valley.  It has a mild flavor that lends itself well to seasonings, fries up nicely, and is inexpensive.  It works as a main entree, in a sandwich or as an appetizer, like the catfish fingers pictured above.  The Tomato Tartar sauce and Tabasco combine with the herbs and spices to give these fingers a tasty kick.

2/17/2012

Mardi Gras King Cake

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King Cake-- the preferred dessert/snack of Mardi Gras.  It wouldn't be Carnival without one.  From the Twelfth Night (January 6) to Fat Tuesday (date varies) King Cakes are baked and gobbled up all over New Orleans.

Although the name implies cake, it is essentially a sweetened, enriched bread dough similar to a brioche.  Think coffee cake (yes, you can eat it for breakfast, too☺).  They are glazed with a simple confectioners' sugar mixture, then colored sugar or crystals in Mardi Gras colors crown the top; purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The King Cakes I enjoyed in my youth were all filled with a cinnamon filling, but nowadays there are other versions filled with cream cheese, praline, and even one with a coconut filling and chocolate icing--yum!


To add to the fun and festivities, a plastic baby or figurine is hidden in the cake (added after the cake has baked).  The one who receives the piece with the trinket is responsible for hosting the next party and/or providing the next King Cake.  Just warn your guests about the hidden treasure.  You don't want to be responsible for any dental bills!

2/16/2012

Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

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If you are a reader, you may recall that I spent several years in Louisiana during my childhood.  I have many fond memories of Cajun/Creole country, but it is the food that stands out the most.  Mardi Gras is next Tuesday and although I will not be hanging out on Bourbon Street saying "Throw me somethin' mister", I will be enjoying a festival of foods between now and then.

Jambalaya-- the mere mention of it puts that Hank Williams song in my head.  If you don't know what I am talking about, watch the movie Steel Magnolias and you'll catch my drift.  There are two types of Jambalaya (actually, there are three, but I'll just talk about the two most common versions).  The types are Creole and Cajun, both consisting of three parts; meats, vegetables, and rice.  Both use the southern holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper, but the Creole version adds tomatoes and sometimes tomato sauce to the dish making it a "red" jambalaya.  Both are equally tasty and I have many recipes, but today I am sharing a Cajun version.

The chicken and sausage are browned in a pot then removed.  The vegetables, seasoning, and rice are sauteed in some of the pan drippings before broth is added and brought to a boil.  The chicken and sausage are placed back in the pot, covered, and simmered until the rice is fluffy (and further seasoned by the meats) and the chicken is cooked through.   


Garnish with a few chopped green onions, fresh parsley, and a couple of good dashes of Tabasco.  This is a one pot meal with deep flavor.  Bake up a batch of New Orleans French Bread and "whoooee, I guarantee" (said in my best Justin Wilson voice) Hank Williams will be singing in your head too!
♬ Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou! ♬ 

2/14/2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Cupcakes. They've been the subject of TV shows, blogs, commercials, cult utopian communities, etc. It seems that those in the know have relegated the cupcake to the dustbin of food history. To that I say, "Really?!?"  First of all, cake is good and is never going away.  That is a fact I can be pretty sure of.  Secondly-- Do any of these culinary trend setters have kids?

I have a first grader (and a six and seventh grader) that needed a treat for Valentine's Day.  That calls for a compact goody.   I make cupcakes out of the house for local customers that are in need of tasty cakes (more on that can of worms at a later time).  Whether it is a charity event, a school birthday treat, or a house party, the fun and versatility offered by a cupcake is unmatched.


Now let's talk about these ruby jewels.  Red Velvet-- you are either in the "eh" or the "yes, please" category.  Those that are in the "eh" are generally disappointed with the lack of cocoa flavor. But a true red velvet is not about the cocoa.  It is simply a really tasty red cake.  And with a sweet cream cheese frosting that is further flavored by some marshmallow fluff, I am most certainly in the "yes, please" category!

2/12/2012

Sunday Dinner

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Roasted Beef Tenderloin
served with a Béarnaise Sauce
Pomme Frites

Chocolate Fallen Souffle Cake
served with a Crème Anglaise


All of these good eats and I am sharing this?!  I am a firm believer that a good cook needs to have building blocks in their culinary repretoire.  As good as building blocks are own their own (like roasted beets and caramelized onions), their presence in other recipes can really heighten the overall dish. So before I share a recipe like the salad we are enjoying tonight, I need to share the base that helps to build the salad. And since I use it in many other dishes too, I felt it was important enough to have its own page in my online cookbook.


Sunday Dinner one year ago

2/10/2012

Chocolate Pancakes

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Alright, there is just no excuse for this one.  Okay, maybe I could say that these dessert-like pancakes are hearty enough to fuel you up for the day.  When you are greeted with these on your plate for breakfast, the excuses can wait.  Dig in to the rich, cocoa infused cakes, er pancakes and you might think you're still dreaming.  Berries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce do nothing to keep up the breakfast hoax, but they do everything to enhance the indulgence.  

One note-- make sure you use a little butter when griddling these cakes.  I tried it without and... well... they didn't look (or taste) as nice.  Serve them with fresh berries (raspberries are nice), whipped cream, chocolate sauce, or a combination of all.  The smell of these cooking will quickly coax any sleepyhead out of bed!

2/09/2012

Chocolate Raspberry Ganache filled Meltaways

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If you enjoy a cappuccino or espresso after a meal rather than a cocktail, this little treat will be a cozy companion to that cup.  These cookies are crisp, yet delicate and tender.  They are filled with a chocolate ganache that is flavored with raspberry jam. 

This is a somewhat simple cookie that is loaded with flavor.  Both the cookie dough and the ganache are piped.  Therefore it is very important to spoon and level your flour and cornstarch.  Do not scoop the flour directly from the container or bag that you keep it in.  Too much will result in a dough that is too stiff to pipe.  To retain their piped shape, the cookies are  frozen for about 20 minutes or overnight.  The unfilled cookies can be frozen for up to a month.  Thaw and fill when ready to serve.  These are perfect for a last minute get together or unexpected craving for butter and chocolate ☺.

2/08/2012

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cocktail

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You've just had a delicious dinner for two.  Everything turned out just right.  Now for the perfect capper to round out a rich, rewarding, in-home dining experience.  It's a treat inside of a digestif. Chocolate and raspberry lusciousness is accentuated with a creamy top and a nice dusting of cocoa on the rim of the glass for a truffle-like kiss.  You might want to make four:)

2/07/2012

Steam Baked Lobster Tails

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Do you ever look at the lobster tails in the supermarket and think "I'm going to try to make those at home sometime"?  Chances are good that you won't get around to it.  Then that special occasion comes up and you end up going out when you could have had a fun dinner at home.  Rather than spending big bucks for a night out on the town with your sweetie, you might want to try an impressive and more affordable dinner for two.  Do you think lobster is overrated because you've had one too many experiences with dry, rubbery meat?  Fear not.  This method will produce lobster tail in all its delicious, succulent glory.


When buying frozen lobster tails, read the package and avoid ones that are soaked in Sodium trioyphosphate.  This is a preservative and it adds weight to the tail.  More weight means higher cost. Thaw tails completely to ensure even cooking.


Using sharp kitchen shears, cut through the shell from the meaty end to the base.  


Gently slide your finger between the meat and the shell from top to bottom leaving the tail end intact.


With a sharp kitchen knife, make a slice down the center of the tail about half the thickness of the tail.


Gently lift the meat up and out of the shell and lay it directly on top of the shell.  This is called piggy-backing.  Place the tails in a baking dish, brush the meat with clarified butter and add 1 cup of tap water.  Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 400º F oven until the internal temperature reaches 135º-140º F, about 10-16 minutes depending on the size of the tail.  Season with salt, fresh chopped parsley, lemon wedges and clarified butter.

2/05/2012

Sunday Dinner

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Goat Cheese Truffles

Pot au Feu

Chocolate Paris-Brest


I should be having a meal like this after a long day of skiing, snow sledding, or even shoveling out of the blizzard that we had about this time last year.  But unfortunately, there is not a trace of the white stuff on the ground, in the air, or in the seven day forecast  (did I just write that is unfortunate that there is no snow?!).  I suppose a long walk in the woods will have to do to work up my appetite before our Sunday dinner.


These savory truffles are a variation of the Gorgonzola Truffles that I shared a while back.  Goat cheese, cream cheese, and a little seasoning are rolled into chopped pistachios for a tasty starter.  I particularly like this appetizer during the winter time when we are snacking on dried fruits and nuts.  They are wonderful paired with dried figs, dates, and apricots. But my favorite way to enjoy them is smashed on a cracker with a good schmear of fig preserves.  Creamy, crunchy, savory, and sweet-- it's all there!

2/03/2012

Red Velvet Blossoms/Thumbprints

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I like a cookie after a sandwich.  Valentine's Day is just around the corner, so I thought I would make a batch of these and share the recipe with you.

I love red velvet anything, especially the cake.  The hint of chocolate and the rosy red color make it so appealing.  So when I came across this recipe I knew it would be a keeper, especially because it calls for a bit more cocoa powder than a usual red velvet recipe.  More chocolate flavor is fine by me!

Normally, I am a butter gal when it comes to red velvet, but I was willing to give the oil a go in this recipe.  To be honest, I actually tried it with both and oil won.  Not that the butter didn't taste good, but the texture and color weren't quite right.  They were flatter, chewier, and darker. So my only modifications to the original were to add some vanilla extract, reduce the oven temperature, and make some thumbprints out of the blossoms. Those of you who like to nibble around the chocolate and then pop the kiss in your mouth-- stick with the blossoms.  But if you are like me and you like a little chocolate with each bite of cookie, go with the thumbprint.  

2/02/2012

Italian Beef Sandwiches

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If you are from the Chicago area, you probably recognize the bad boy in the picture above.  The Italian Beef sandwich is a culinary institution in the Second City.  Each beef stand has its own method and thus, flavor and texture, so everybody seems to have a favorite.  I was introduced to the sandwich in my late teens and after a few years and samples of many variations, I got the familiar voice in my head--"I want to try this at home."  After much searching and tweaking of recipes, I struck gold with this process.  If you have been transplanted to some other city or country and can't get it or if you're still around and always wanted to try your hand at making the succulent, juicy beef yourself-- have I got a plan for you!  

In order to help you make your very own Italian Beef sandwices at home, I have included a few step-by-steps below.  


Prepare the ingredients for the rub, reserving 1 tablespoon of the mixture to season the juice.  Massage the rub on all sides of the meat.  Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.  This ensures that the meat will cook evenly.


Roast the meat at 450° F for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 350° F and cook until the internal temperature reaches 130°-135° F for medium rare.  Cooking the meat to medium rare is important for tenderness.  The meat will be further cooked when warmed in the juice before assembling the sandwich. Once rested, tightly wrap the roast in double layers of aluminum foil then plastic wrap and chill for several hours, preferably overnight.  Chilling makes it easier to slice. The meat needs to be sliced as thin as possible, preferably with an electric knife.  In fact, I would not even try slicing it by hand.  Thick cuts of meat make for a tough sandwich.


Remove the roast from the pan, lightly tent with foil, and set aside to rest for 20-30 minutes; reserve any meat drippings.  Meanwhile, deglaze the pan with boullion cubes, water, reserved seasoning from the rub mixture, and any reserved meat drippings.  


Once chilled, slice shave the meat as thin as possible (I cannot stress this enough), preferably with an electric knife, unless you can get your hands on a meat slicer.  


I am talking paper thin slices, my friends.  They don't have to be uniform, but ultra thin is key.  Electric knives are fairly inexpensive, so go get one.  I use mine all the time for meats and roasts.


Juice and meat can be made a day ahead and I recommend it highly.


The next day, heat the juice over a low heat and allow the meat to soak for no more than one minute.  Otherwise, it becomes tough and chewy.  Dress your sandwich with some juice, sautéed green peppers if you like (we like), hot giardinara (we like Pagliacci Hot Italian Pepper Spread in oil), and a good ladle of more juice (or dip the whole sandwich).  Push up your sleeves, elbows up, and dig in.  Don't forget the fries!

2/01/2012

Easier French Fries

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Last week I told you I had a couple of sandwich recipes to share before the  weekend of the Big Game, but before I get to sandwich number two (it's a Chicago classic), I want to share with you the must have side dish to that sandwich.  

Unlike the conventional twice fried method for frying potatoes, this method starts with cold oil.  I couldn't believe it myself when I first read it, but it really does work.  The fries turn out golden and crispy.  And the good news-- less oil is absorbed.  Low fat fries? Yes, please!   The other great point to this recipe is that the potatoes all fry at once.  No batch after batch hassle.  So while your potatoes are frying, you can finish last minute dinner prep.  As soon as the potatoes are done, dinner is served.  

I like to use a mandoline to cut my potatoes in even batons, but you can do this by hand.  Square off the sides of the potato, cut lengthwise in 1/4-inch slices, then cut lengthwise again into 1/4 inch batons.

The original recipe added a little bacon fat for a meaty flavor, but I like to take a cue from Chicagoan Doug Sloan of Hot Doug's and use a little duck fat in my fries. It adds a real je ne sais quois.  Most normal people (I am not normal) probably don't render their own duck fat. You also may not have a wonderful aunt that finds jarred duck fat and sends you some for Christmas (Thanks, Aunt Fran!). So it is of course optional, but really good.

I must add one note, as long as you are not going for presentation points at the table.  Once drained and seasoned on the paper towel, transfer the potatoes to a wire rack placed over a baking sheet and bring this to the table.  That way the potatoes will stay crisp longer.  I find that piling them on a plate or leaving them on the paper towel causes the potatoes to become limp quickly. But, they will still be good!

Now, about that sandwich...

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