Category Archives: Recipes

Fennel & Prosciutto Crostini

fennel2So part 2 of the recipes from last week’s catering extravaganza continues today with the Fennel & Prosciutto Crostini.  This recipe could not be easier, but remains impressive enough just because the raw ingredients themselves are so special.  Fennel is that huge fern looking thing at the grocery store that you’ve never bought before.  You should.  It’s delicious, albeit an acquired taste.  Imagine if a liquorice mated with an onion.   Well, no, don’t, because that sounds gross.  But I can’t think of how else to describe it.  Basically, it’s anise in a big crunchy form.  I prefer it sliced thin and eaten raw, but there are many, many recipes for roasted or cooked fennel.  For this I sliced it really thin with a handheld mandoline-type slicer (the Kobra) to get it paper thin.  You can use a knife, or slice it with the correct attachment blade on the food processor.

Now in this recipe it’s all about flavor balance.  You have the sharpness of the fennel combined with the salty, meaty prosciutto plus some lemon juice and zest for a bit of acid and then olive oil to bring it all together.  I wouldn’t add too much salt, if any even, because if you let the prosciutto mingle with the other ingredients for a bit before serving, you have more than enough salty flavor.  Plus, I always sprinkle the crostini with a bit of salt before toasting.   Now I didn’t do this on the day, but I would recommend (if you like), spreading a bit of goat cheese on each piece of bread before topping it with the fennel mixture.   It’s just one more element of balance that i think would go absolutely perfectly here.

The only other thing to keep in mind here is to separate out your prosciutto layers before you cut it, or even buy the little packet of diced prosciutto that they have now.  If you stack them all up (like I did), they just stick together and you wind up with huge clumps of cured meat rather than separate ribbons.  Silly me, trying to save time, realized this a little too late.  Oh well.   My mistake is your teachable moment.

fennel1

Fennel and Prosciutto Crostini

1 head of fennel, stems removed

3 oz prosciutto

1 lemon

2 T Italian Parsley, minced

3 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling on bread

Spreadable goat cheese

1 baguette, sliced into 3/4″ pieces

Salt

Wash the fennel well and then slice paper thin across the layers.   Put in a bowl.  Slice the prosciutto into 1/4″ strips and keep separated so they do not clump together.   Add to bowl.  Zest the lemon over the fennel and prosciutto, and then squeeze both halves worth of juice into the bowl.  Add the minced parsley and the olive oil and toss to combine everything.  Cover and set aside.

Heat oven to 375 F.  On a sheet pan, toss the slices of baguette with olive oil and salt, just enough to very lightly coat.  Arrange the bread in a single layer and toast for about 5 minutes, until just crispy but not completely hardened.   Let cool.

Spread a bit of goat cheese on each piece of toast, then top with the prosciutto and fennel mixture.  Arrange on a platter and serve!

This should make enough for about 15 – 20 people.

 

Avocado & Bacon Deviled Eggs

deviledegg1 copyWhew, I finally have some time to update here!  I’ve been catering like a crazy lady over the past week, which is awesome.  So with that in mind, the next several posts are going to be from a big event I did last week for Savannah House, an interior design showroom in Houston.  They had a big re-opening last week and I did breakfast, lunch, and hors d’oeuvres for them throughout the day!   It was a lot of fun.   One of the recipes I did were some avocado and bacon deviled eggs.   The combination occurred to me when I was brainstorming, and a quick google search told me I’m not as clever as I had hoped.  But I added a few extra dashes here and there to separate mine from the other deviled egg recipes out there.  The trick with deviled eggs, obviously, is getting the hard boiling process down and then using a pastry bag and tip to get the nice little swirl of filling.  Here is a link to some instructions on how to hard boil eggs, since I don’t want to just retread that ground here:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_perfect_hard_boiled_eggs/

Hope you like it!

Avocado and Bacon Deviled Eggs

18 large hardboiled eggs

1 large Haas avocado

3 T light mayo

Several dashes Tabasco

Several dashes Worcestershire Sauce

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 T lemon or lime juice

2 T dijon mustard

Salt

3-4 Slices Applewood Smoked Bacon, baked, drained of grease, and chopped into bits

Paprika, for garnish

Make sure your eggs are boiled and chilled.   Peel the shell off of the eggs and discard, then slice each egg in half lengthwise as evenly as possible.  Pop out the yolks into a food processor or mixing bowl and set the egg halves back on a tray and refrigerate.  In the bowl or food processor, add the avocado, tabasco, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, lemon or lime juice, and mustard.   Blend until the mixture is completely smooth.  If it is still very thick, add more mayonnaise and a little more lemon or lime juice.  Blend again.  Season with a bit of salt, taste, and continue to season until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Scoop the mixture into a pastry bag with a large pastry tip of your choice fitted in.  Pipe about a tablespoon or so of the egg mixture into each egg white half.  Sprinkle a bit of paprika over each egg, and then garnish with the bacon bits.  Enjoy!

Makes 36 deviled eggs

deviledeggs2

Enchiladas Part Dos

roja1I know I’ve already done a turkey verde enchilada post on here, but I made some chicken roja enchiladas yesterday for a catering job that were so good, I have to share the recipe!

I know the picture is not as saucy/cheesy as it should be; I was only able to photograph them after I brought the leftovers back and they had been sitting over sterno for quite awhile at that point.

As far as the recipe goes, this was completely a controlled accident.  I didn’t have specific measurements in mind, but knew what I was going for: a nice, smoky, complex red sauce.  So I continued to just add things and decide against things until I had the right balance!    The chicken I just boiled, shredded, and tosses with some vegetable oil and adobo spices – putting plain chicken inside would just be boring, right?

So here’s the recipe.  First  I just want to say if anyone happens to be reading in Boston,  my thoughts are with you and please stay safe.  This has been a rotten, rotten week in Massachusetts and Texas and the thing that is so reassuring are the images of people helping and the humanity that arises in the face of such heinous acts.   When the world seems at its darkest, the kindness that lives in most people can really light the place up.  I was in New York on 9/11 and was shocked by the heart of the city, and Boston is finding that heart and strength now, as is West, Texas.  We are here to take care of each other.

roja2

Roja Chicken Enchiladas

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Vegetable Oil

Adobo spices (Goya brand, if possible)

1 yellow onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 can diced tomatoes

1 carton Pomi tomato sauce

3 C chicken stock

2 Dried Ancho Chiles, stems and seeds removed

1 Dried Guajillo Chile, stem and seeds removed

1/4 C cilantro leaves

2 T lime juice

2 tsp ground cumin

3 T Chipotle chile powder

2 T garlic powder

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Corn tortillas

1 1/2 C queso fresco, crumbled

2 C Monterey Jack, shredded

2 C Medium Cheddar, shredded

Bring a large pot of water to a light boil.  Add the chicken breasts and cook about 15 – 20 minutes, until cooked through.  Drain chicken and set aside to cool.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 T vegetable oil.  Add the garlic and onions and stir, cooking a couple of minutes.  Pour in the diced tomatoes and let some of the liquid cook off, then pour in the Pomi tomato sauce and the stock.  Place the dried peppers and cilantro in the liquid and bring to a simmer.  Cook on low 1 hour.   The dried peppers should reconstitute during the cooking process.  When done, working in batches, place the sauce into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and add spices (but not the salt!).  Let cook an additional 30-45 minutes, until thickened and flavorful.  Add salt to taste.

Shred the chicken breasts in a bowl.  Combine the adobo spice packets (two at most) with a little vegetable oil and then stir to combine in a small bowl.  Pour the spice/oil mixture over the shredded chicken and toss until the chicken is evenly coated.  It will look bright orange.

To assemble the enchiladas, pour a little sauce on the bottom of a pyrex or stoneware baking dish.  Heat up a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet, and one by one cook the tortillas until both sides are golden and crisp.  Fill each tortilla with some chicken and the blend of cheeses, and just line them up in the dish until it’s full.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the tortillas, then pour enough sauce on top to cover.  Refrigerate and save any remaining sauce or serve alongside cooked enchiladas.   Cook enchiladas at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and hot.  Enjoy!

Braised Short Rib Hors D’Ouvres

shortrib2Looks pretty tasty, right?  These little guys were something I came up with to put on a menu for an event I’m catering next month.  Yesterday I decided to do some experimenting because no matter how delicious something sounds in your head, it’s always a good idea to make it a few times to get it just right before serving it to anyone.  So what this is is a puff pastry circle topped with whipped potatoes and shredded short rib in sauce.  It sounds wildly complicated but really is quite simple, and you could actually just make a dinner out of it by foregoing the miniature size and puff pastry for just the short ribs and mashed potatoes.

Short ribs are incredibly tough little dudes.  I’ve had good luck cooking them in the pressure cooker in the past, but braising is the classic way of preparing them.  They come in two cuts:  English cut, which is when you have the single bone per rib and not as much meat, or flanken cut, which are the ones with a big hunk of meat and usually a side that is all fat.  This is not a bad thing; you want that fat because it adds flavor and typically a lot of it cooks away during the braising process.   I used some of both yesterday while making this dish, just to see which worked better.   For my purposes, which is getting more meat, the flanken is superior.

A bit on braising:  braising is a process in which meat is browned and then cooked in large sections in some type of liquid.  It’s not unlike stewing, except stewing uses smaller cuts of meat and is typically done on the cooktop rather than finished in the oven.  For this dish, red wine and beef stock were my braising liquids.  You always want to make sure to season your meat before the searing process, and definitely save the cooking liquid after the meat is cooked through because that will be your sauce!

For the puff pastry circles, all I did was buy some frozen puff pastry sheets, let them thaw, and then I used a little circle cutter to make the rounds.  I laid them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, pricked each one with a fork, and then covered them with more parchment and another sheet pan.  They baked at 400F for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.  You want to be sure to prick them and cover them with weight because puff pastry wants to rise and get really delicate.  Pricking them lets any air escape during baking and then the extra weight is a failsafe.

The mashed potatoes were super easy.  Just peel and dice a russet or two, boil until tender, and then throw the potato in a food processor with some salt, 3 T butter, 4 T milk, and blend until super smooth.  I piped them out with a pastry bag onto the puff pastry circles.  I would also recommend topping that with just a tiny bit of shredded or shaved parmeggiano reggiano.

Braised Short Rib Appetizers

2-3 lbs flanken cut beef short ribs

Vegetable or canola oil

Salt and Pepper

2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped

2 celery stalks, rough chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 T tomato paste

3 T All Purpose Flour

2/3 Bottle Red Wine (I like Cabernet Sauvignon for this dish)

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 full rosemary stalk

2 stems fresh oregano

3 stems fresh thyme

3 C beef stock, low sodium

Room temperature Butter & Flour, mushed together

Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper.  In a dutch oven, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil.   When hot, sear all sides of each short rib and then remove to a plate.  Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the pot and cook about 2 minutes, stirring. You want the onions to get a little bit translucent.  Add the tomato paste and flour, stirring until the tomato paste turns a sort of burnished orange color.  This is a technique known as “pincer” and will help the sauce to thicken up.  Add the short ribs and any juices back into the pot.  Pour in the wine, bring the pot to a low boil, and let it reduce by about a half.  This should take 20 minutes or so.   Once this is done, pour in the stock, and add the herbs and garlic.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven.  Let braise for roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven.  Take the short ribs and put them on a plate.   Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a large skillet.  You want to have  a lot of surface area on the bottom of the pan to induce quicker reduction.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook about 7 minutes.   A little at a time, whisk in the butter and flour combination.  This is called “beurre mania” and just thickens the sauce and adds flavor and shine.  When you can dip a spoon in the sauce, wipe your finger down the back of the spoon and the line stays, you are ready to season.   Add kosher salt to the sauce and taste until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Shred the beef from the short ribs and then add back to the sauce.  Keep warm.  If making the appetizers, assemble them starting with the puff pastry, then the potato, parmesan, short rib, and some minced parsley for garnish.  If you want to just have dinner, serve the short ribs with sauce over mashed potatoes with some greens on the side.  Enjoy!

Makes about 100 small appetizers/Serves 4 for dinner

shortrib1

Chocolate Chip Cookies Nom Nom Nom

cookie1

Everyone and their mother has their own cookie recipe that they swear by, and will protect any secret ingredients with their lives.  Well, I’m here to share.  I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, and simple as they are, the techniques in making the perfect cookie are paramount.

When I was in culinary school, my first batch of cookies came out a mess.  They had all baked into one giant, thin, glob of a cookie.  I was flabbergasted.  I had followed the recipe, so why did they come out so horribly?   The main reason was the oven – in our lab, their was one that baked at completely wonky temperature, like a good 25 degrees off what it said on the dial, if memory serves.  It’s a good idea to invest in a little oven thermometer that stays inside and tells you an actual temperature rather than going by just what the dial says on the outside.  Many ovens have hot spots and cold spots as well; I know mine cooks faster in the front left corner.

When it comes to actually preparing the batter, no matter what recipe you use, there are a few really important things to keep in mind.

1)  Creaming the butter and sugars together is something you cannot overdo.   You want it to be really blended, and don’t worry about over mixing at this stage.

2) Same goes for adding in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Just make sure it’s completely homogenous.

3) However, when you start adding in the flour, baking soda, salt, you absolutely CAN over mix.  You want to just mix it until it’s combined, on a low speed so you don’t poof flour everywhere.  The more you mix, the more gluten development will occur, and the chewier your cookie will be.  (And not chewy in a good way.)

4) Once again, the same goes for the addition of chocolate chips, or raisins, or oats, or whatever thing you add to your cookie.  Just mix it a tiny bit, because you will again encourage gluten development as you mix once there is flour present.

A few more things on the science of cookie baking:

You can change the texture of your cookie by raising or lowering the type of sugars present.  For a chewier (in a good way!) cookie, do more of the brown sugar.  As brown sugar bakes, the raw molasses in the sugar will bake out and into the cookie, binding everything together and giving it that soft texture.  Conversely, if you add more granulated sugar, your cookie will be crispier since this kind of sugar bakes more into a hard solid.

The last thing to really keep in mind is the batter temperature.  If you chill the batter before baking, your cookies will hold their shape better, and be more even in size.  If you put a warm batter in the oven, they are just going to glob everywhere.  So either chill the batter in the bowl or put the sheet pan with the dough dollops already set out in the fridge to chill before baking for about 30 minutes.

Also, by the end of that baking course in culinary school, I had the best cookies in the entire school – and the highest grade.  That sound is me tooting my own horn.  As a non-baking inclined individual, that was one of my proudest moments 🙂

cookie2

Foolproof Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 Sticks + 2 T Unsalted Butter, Slightly Cooler Than Room Temperature

1 1/4 C Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 C Light Brown Sugar

4 Eggs

1 T Vanilla Extract

3 3/4 C All Purpose Flour

1 1/4 tsp Baking Soda

2 1/4 tsp Salt

3 1/4 C Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a stand mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until lightened in color and smooth.  Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time.  Blend together on medium speed until completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Toss in the salt and baking soda, and then the flour.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Add the chocolate chips and mix for 15 – 20 seconds on low at the most, just to disperse the chips throughout the batter.

On a sheet pan covered with a silpat or parchment paper, lay out dollops of batter about 2 tablespoons in size, at least 1.5 inches apart.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, depending on your oven.  When they are done, remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.   Enjoy!

Makes about 40-45

Let’s Get Corny. (and Bacony!)

cornsalad2I’ve been craving bacon ever since that bacon mouthwash thing started making the rounds on Facebook (which, what?! That is the grossest thing ever.)  But bacon is delicious, as we are all well aware of at this point in our foodie culture.  In my opinion, the only reason bacon hasn’t jumped the culinary shark is because it really is that tasty and essential for so many dishes – it won’t be going the way of the sundried tomato or foam.

So anyway, I got some veggies and made a salad with some bacon in it.  Very simple and easy!  This would make a great side dish for a summer barbecue, or could even be a salsa and served with some tortilla chips.  If you want to switch things up, swap out the tomato for some red bell peppers, or the cilantro for basil.  The main idea that I was going for here were bright colors and mild flavors so the bacon was star of the dish.

A quick word on making bacon for a salad or sandwich:  You want to be sure to make sure it cooks in a way that it drains the fat off, rather than soaking in it.  I have a cooling rack that fits perfectly inside of on of my sheet pans and just lay the bacon across it, which leaves about a 1/2″ gap between the bacon and the tray.  I bake the bacon at 375 F for about 10 minutes, or until it is crisp.  The length of time ultimately depends on the thickness of the bacon.  What you achieve from all of this is that crispier and less greasy bacon, and the resulting salad or sandwich is not drenched in bacon fat.  I always dab the bacon with a paper towel after it is done, too.

Corn & Bacon Salad

3-4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed

2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 avocado, diced

3-4 slices of bacon, cooked and diced

2 T fresh chives, minced

4 T fresh cilantro, minced

1 red onion, small dice (optional)

For the dressing:

4 T light mayonnaise

1 lime, juiced

1 clove of garlic, very finely minced

1/2 tsp cumin

Salt & Pepper

Dash Tabasco, optional

Over a large bowl, run your knife down the corn so that it drops into the bowl.  Once this is done, add the tomato, avocado, bacon, chives, and cilantro to the bowl.  Stir to combine.

To make the dressing, combine the mayo, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and Tabasco in another bowl.  Stir to combine.  If you need to make it thinner, add a teaspoon or two of water.

Pour the dressing over the salad, and let sit for about 30 minutes before serving.  Serve as a side or with tortilla chips for dipping.  Enjoy!

cornsalad1

Panic Attack Food Therapy


panic2The scene:  My apartment, last Thursday night.

I am sitting in my easy chair, watching a marathon of America’s Next Top Model Cycle Two.  I know what happens already; the blonde girl  will cry when they cut her hair into a ’60’s style pixie cut.  Nonetheless, it is silly and distracting as I have just come home from the gym and am cooling off.  Not a bad way to spend a slow Thursday night.  Suddenly, my left fingers start to tingle.  In hindsight, I was probably just sitting funny, but in the moment fear hits me:

ohmygodithinkiamhavingaheartattack!  

I rush to take my sport bra off to see if it alleviates the tingling sensation.  The fear worsens as I realize that I am having trouble breathing.   Pacing back and forth across my living room, a scene plays out in my head.  They will find me here, days from now, dead at 30 from a heart attack.  I’m glad I hate cats right now.  I can’t breathe.  My pulse is racing.  All the blood has gone from my head and I feel like I am going to faint.  The only other time I have ever felt anything remotely close to this was on a ghost tour in Scotland, after a guide got too descriptive with the gory history of Edinburgh.  This is 1000 times worse.  It feels like hours have passed, and I realize I am still pacing manically around my apartment.  Call Mom.

“Mom, I can’t breathe.  I think I’m having a heart attack.  My left fingers were tingling.  My left shoulder is sore, like a bruise.  What do I do?  Do I call an ambulance?  What’s happening to me?  I’m scared!”  The words are quick and I can’t feel my body anymore.

She tells me to breathe.  “You aren’t having a heart attack.   You’re ok…you’re having a panic attack.”

I sit down and take deep breaths.   A panic attack?  I’ve never had a panic attack.  I wasn’t even doing anything, just watching Tyra smize.  What would I have to panic about?  My mom is still talking to me, but I can’t really hear her.  It’s comforting to have someone on the line.  Google “panic attack.”  Yeah…this is textbook.  I mentally tell my brain to stop it.  Stop freaking out.  You aren’t dying.  I gradually calm down internally, but my body is still on hyperdrive.  After hanging up the phone, I try to zone out.  Relax.  I chug some water.  It will be another 3 hours before I feel safe enough to go to sleep.

In the days since my panic attack, I still haven’t felt entirely normal.  Mostly, I am scared it will happen again.  The  feeling of being completely betrayed by my body was terrifying, more than I had ever thought a panic attack would be.  I realize I have been on edge recently.  It started in January when I watched a documentary about a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent.  She died of natural causes at 33 in her apartment, alone, and wasn’t found for three years.  It was the loneliest story I had ever heard, and even though our lives are not at all alike, I became fixated on it and convinced that this would happen to me, all the while realizing I was being silly.  And yet, as the movie sort of faded from the forefront of my thoughts, the fear simmered, finally boiling over Thursday evening.

I read that a lot of panic and anxiety sufferers, even occasional ones like myself, can get to the point where they are scared to go outside or go in social situations.  I have never felt that way, but I don’t want to go down that path.  So what do I do?  What changes can I make in my daily routine in an effort to prevent an anxiety ridden life?  Exercise is paramount;  I have upped mine to at least 60 minutes of cardio every day since.  It is more motivating to go to the gym to prevent a panic attack than going for weight loss has ever been, oddly enough.   So now, what can I change in terms of what I eat?  Obviously, a healthy diet is good for lots of things, but there are apparently certain foods that are great for helping with anxiety: whole grains, oats, veggies and fruits high in B and C vitamins, dairy, Omega 3, and lean proteins.  Sort of obvious “healthy” foods, though ones I may not get enough of if I don’t pay attention.

On that note, today’s recipe combines several of those foods together for a “panic attack special.”  One thing I love about food is that it can be incredibly therapeutic if used correctly.  Knowing that I have the ability to create something that can ultimately make me feel safer in my own body is a very powerful feeling.   Anyway, here’s my recipe.  Thanks for reading my story, and if you have any advice/thoughts on the topic, please share in the comments!

panic1

Turkey Burger with Whole Wheat Cous Cous, Spinach, and Sunny Side Up Egg

This recipe seems random at first, but all of the elements work together to provide both flavor and nutrition.  The sunny side up egg actually provides both protein and B vitamins, and only about 80 calories.

1 C whole wheat cous cous, prepared as per package instructions

1 lb ground lean turkey meat

2 tsp tomato paste

2 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp low sodium soy sauce

fresh ground pepper

dash Tabasco

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/4 C onion, minced

1 T fresh thyme, minced

6 C baby spinach

Olive Oil

4 Eggs

1 tomato, sliced

Salt and Pepper, as needed

In a large bowl, mix together turkey, tomato paste, soy sauce, tabasco, mustard, thyme, garlic, onion, and pepper, plus any other seasonings you desire (red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, etc.)  Form the meat into 4 patties, taking care to press a little thumbprint in the center of each as they will puff during cooking.   Heat a grill pan or skillet and then place patties in the pan, letting cook about 7 minutes per side.  To ensure that they are done, use a meat thermometer and test for 160-165 F at the center of each patty.  When done, remove to a plate to rest.

In a nonstick skillet, pour a little olive oil.  Heat over medium high and then add spinach.  Let wilt until just softened but not completely shriveled.  Remove spinach to a plate or tray.  Crack a couple of eggs in the same pan, and let cook, untouched, for 3 minutes or until white is set but yolk is still runny.  Season egg with salt and pepper.

To build plate, pile some cous cous on the bottom, then the spinach, then a patty, several slices of tomato, and an egg.   The yolk should crack over the whole thing.  Yum.  Something about egg yolk is so glamorous to me, I don’t know.  If you don’t like eggs prepared this way, substitute any condiment you like.  Or some fresh sliced avocado!

Serves 4

Simple Appetizer: Olive & Feta Bruschetta

bruschetta1 copyLet’s start today with a little lesson in pronunciation.  Bruschetta is said with a hard k sound, as is the rule in Italian when you see “ch.”  I know in English “sch” makes one want to say it like “brushetta” but alas.  However, you don’t need to overpronounce it like Giada.  Calm down, lady.

So anyway, bruschetta is a traditional Italian dish that consists of some sort of vegetable, cheese, meat, bean, etc piled on crusty grilled bread.  As with so many Euro dishes, it started as a means of necessity:  bread’s gonna go bad!  Quick, make something with it!  Presto!  Delicious bruschetta.

A lot of times on American menus you will see it with just tomato, basil, olive oil, perhaps some red onion.  I like that combination, but I think you can dress it up and make it a little more special.  The blend of flavors with olives and feta give it an almost Greek flair, and the colors just look so pretty all mixed together:  green, red, white, purple.

This is an exceedingly simple appetizer or snack to prepare but there is one part of it that needs to be attended to carefully.  Don’t toast your bread and leave it out way ahead of time – it will become super dry and overly crunchy.  Toast it just before serving, and then it will be warm when it goes out, while crunchy enough on the outside to support the topping but still easy to bite into.

Olive & Feta Bruschetta

3 roma tomatoes, quartered, seeded, and diced

3 T fresh basil, finely chiffonaded

1 1/2 T fresh oregano, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

10-12 kalamata or other red/purple variety olives, chopped

1/4 C crumbled feta cheese

1/4 of a red onion, small diced

1 lemon, juiced

3 T olive oil

Salt, pinch

8-10 Slices Italian bread or French baguette

In a medium to large bowl, toss together the tomato, basil, oregano, olives, feta, onion, and garlic.   Pour the olive oil over the top and then squeeze the lemon over it.  Toss again and then taste.   The feta can be quite salty, so very carefully add a little kosher salt or fleur de sel if you deem it necessary.  Let the tomato mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes so that the flavors can mingle.

Just before serving:

Preheat oven to 375 F.

On a sheet pan, spread out the bread slices and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle a little salt over them, and toss to coat.  Toast the bread untll crisp on the outside but not completely hardened, about 10 minutes.

Pile the tomato mixture on top of the bread and serve!

bruschetta2

Steak Frites

steak1Boy, am I glad I decided to make this when I went to the store the other day.   My allergies have been going bonkers lately (hello, spring!) and I took two extra strength excedrin today for a headache, on an empty stomach.  Cue the shakes.   Nothing like a little steak and carbs to cure all that ails!

Steak and fries are two deceptive dishes.  Seemingly simple, they are two of the most often screwed up foods by home cooks, and even some restaurant cooks.   Let’s talk about fries first.   What you want is a nice, golden brown, crisp fry with a soft inside.  There are as many fry recipes as there are restaurants that serve them.  I will stick with the basic tips here:

French Fries (Frites)

1) Start with an Idaho potato or russet.  Starchy potatoes work better for frying than waxy varieties, and give you more fries per potato.

2)  Peel the potato, and then cut into 1/4 inch sticks.  If you have a really long potato, cut them in half so they aren’t too long as the fries are more likely to break in half if they are too lengthy.

3)  Soak the fries in cold water for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.  Soaking pulls some of the starch away from the potato and makes them fry better.  Some people will say eight hours, but I dunno, I think that’s more likely to wick away almost all of the starch from the outside of the fry.   After they are done soaking, dry them thoroughly.  If they are wet, the oil is going to pop and not get as close to the potato.

4)  Heat your oil (canola, vegetable, sunflower, or peanut all work) up to 300 F.  Use a candy thermometer clipped to a wide bottomed pot to monitor your heat.   Working in batches, cook the fries for about 2 minutes and then remove to a tray.   Let them cool completely.   This blanches the fry, cooking the inside without crisping the outside.

5)  Raise the heat to about 375 or 400 F.   Again, working in batches, fry until golden brown and crispy on the outside, about 3 to 5 minutes per batch.  Remove to a lined tray, and sprinkle with kosher salt or fleur de sel quickly.   The salt will pull away excess oil and season the fries.  Serve within 8 minutes, and keep warm in the oven if you need to!

steak2

Now let’s discuss steak!  I live in an apartment, so I don’t have the luxury of an outdoor grill.  I do have what is, in my opinion, the best grill pan on the market.  It’s enameled cast iron, with deep grooves and the capacity to be used on the cooktop, in the oven, or even on your grill.  Love it.  But the tips I will give you here really apply to both indoor or outdoor grilling.

If you get a good steak, like a tenderloin (filet  mignon), porterhouse, New York strip, sirloin, etc, you don’t need to do anything to the exterior except the following:

1) Bring it to room temperature before grilling.

2) Sprinkle with salt and pepper right before you put it on the heat.

That’s it.  If you want to finish it with a little herbed butter, go for it, but if you choose a steak with good marbling and thickness, nothing more is needed.

Get your grill or grill pan good and hot.  Place the steak on the heat and let cook about 5 minutes, then turn 90 degrees for the grill marks.  Cook another few minutes then flip over and repeat.   Don’t press down on the steak while it’s cooking with a spatula or anything.  No need.  Here’s where things get preferential.   I like my steak medium, or about 140 inside.  So, using a meat thermometer, I look for about 135 F and then take it off the heat.  THEN I LEAVE IT ALONE.  Don’t, I repeat, DO NOT cut into your steak right away.  All the juices will pour out, and you’ll be left with a leather shoe for dinner.  So let it rest about 5 to 7 minutes.  Then serve it.  As the steak rests, the juices sort of settle out and it actually continues to cook a little bit, for me that final 5 degrees to get to 140.  Then it’s perfect!

Hopefully this is clear and helps with your steak and fry cookery!  It’s a great dinner to make and if you get it right can really impress.  Bon appetit!

steak3

Vichyssoise, Now with 100% Less Potato (Say What?!)

leeksoup2I am a massive fan of potato – leek soup (hot) or vichyssoise (cold).  There is something immensely comforting in that equally starchy and creamy spoonful; it’s like taking a time machine back to fine dining in 1960.   Something about that appeals to me.   However, as with most of the food featured on this blog, I actually eat what I cook.  When I cook for myself I try to tread the fine line between healthful and tasty.  So the other day at the store, I found myself grabbing leeks and thinking of what to do.  Then I saw the cauliflower, and all the pieces fell into place.   I would make a faux-chyssoise, replacing the carb-laden potatoes with the lighter cauliflower.

Now, I’ve tried to make a cauliflower soup before and it turned out…not so great.  I found a recipe in some magazine, zoned out, and followed it verbatim.  It called for 1 head of cauliflower to like, 6 CUPS of stock and water!  That is crazy talk.    With that much liquid, you wind up with basically globs of cauliflower puree floating in a water and stock mixture.  Blugh.  So today I barely used 2 cups of stock to the cauliflower.  The result was creamy and even.  It’s not quite the silky sensation that true potato leek soup is, but I think a pass through a fine mesh sieve or a chinois would help with that.  I was hungry, and didn’t really care about that so much in the moment.  If you like a bit of texture in your soup, just leave it as it is after you blend it.   For my garnish, I sprinkled the top with some toasted and diced proscuitto – a salty little bite to contrast with the mildness of the soup.   I also prepared some toast with goat cheese to go on the side.  Add a little mixed greens with balsamic to your plate and you are in business.  It’s a fresh, simple meal that satisfies both the gourmand and the realist that coexist in my head.

*A quick note on leeks, for the novice:  Always remove the rough top parts, using only the white and light green parts.  Usually this is the bottom 2 1/2 to 3 inches.  Then chop of the furry root.  Most importantly, cut them in half lengthwise and rinse under water.   Leeks are roots, and are grown in sand, thus are very likely to have a lot of grit and dirt trapped in their many layers.

Cauliflower & Leek Soup

1 head of cauliflower, rinsed and de-leafed, cut into medium chunks

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 leeks, chopped

2 -3 cups chicken stock (just enough to cover the top of the cauliflower in the pot)

1/2 tsp rubbed sage

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/3 C milk

Salt, to taste

Prosciutto or Pancetta, lightly browned

Chopped fresh rosemary

For the toast:

4 slices of italian or french bread

Olive oil

Salt

Goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F.

On a sheet pan, toss the cauliflower with a little olive oil and salt.   Roast gently for about 7-10 minutes, until just softened but not browned.  Meanwhile, in a dutch oven or pot, warm about 4 tablespoons of olive oil.   Add the garlic and leeks, and cook over medium heat until softened.  You want to keep the heat under control here and pay attention, because the goal is for the leeks to be very pliable and soft but not browned.   Add the cauliflower, stock, sage, and nutmeg to the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is quite soft.

Pour the contents of the pot into a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.   Pour back into the pot.  Over low heat, stir in the milk.   Stir gently and season to taste.  Garnish with pancetta or prosciutto and chopped fresh rosemary.

Toast:

Oven should already be at 375.  On a sheet pan, drizzle the bread with olive oil and a little salt.   Bake for about 5 minutes, or until toasty but not super hard and crunchy.  Spread with a little goat cheese.   Enjoy!

leeksoup1

%d bloggers like this: