Saturday, December 29, 2012

Stir-Fried Steak and Cabbage with a Nice Zin

Stir-Fried Steak with cabbage and carrots served over rice
Necessity is the mother of invention. The phrase is a bit shopworn but it certainly is fitting for our latest kitchen creation. I'd planned to make one of our go-to recipes, Skillet Pork and Cabbage, with the pork chops I thought we had in the freezer. Guess you might know where this is headed...right, no pork other than bacon in the freezer! But we did have some steak, so I thought I'd essentially mashup two recipes, the veggies from the pork and cabbage along with the steak marinade, tweaked a bit, from Bee Bim Bop. The result was an easy and tasty new dish!

1 lb or steak tips or other lean cut, sliced thin (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp of vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chopped cilantro
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
dash black pepper

Combine all the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the steak, and toss to thoroughly coat the meat. Put in fridge to marinade as you make the other ingredients, or for up to an hour or so. This is a quicker marinade, I suspect a long marinade would make the meat too salty.

Heat 1 tbsp oil on high in a wok or large skillet. Add the onion, stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add the cabbage and carrots, stir fry for 3 or 4 minutes until the cabbage just begins to soften. Remove the veggies from the pan and set-aside in a large bowl. Return the wok to the stove on high heat with a tbsp of oil. Add the steak, and stir fry for a few minutes until the outside of the steak has gotten brown.

When the steak has been browned, stir the veggies back into the pan, combining with the steak. Stir fry them all together for another minute or two. Then lower the heat to medium, cover the pan and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. This isn't classic stir fry method, but I like the way it gets the flavors to meld and finishes cooking the steak. Cut into a couple pieces of the steak to check for doneness. You want this lean cut to be medium rare, or medium at most. When done, serve over brown rice and enjoy!

2009 La Storia Zinfandel from Trentadue
Wine pairing: A fruit forward Zinfandel is the perfect choice for the sweetness in the dish. This was a good excuse to dip into the gifts of Christmas wine we'd received. We had the 2009 La Storia Zinfandel from Trentadue, hailing from Sonoma's Alexander Valley. The wine had nice fruitiness but enough heft as well to stand up to the steak. A happy pairing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Muhammara: Spicy Red Pepper Dip [updated]

Muhammara, spicy red pepper dip served with pita chips
Muhammara served with chips and another dip
I found myself making this tasty and spicy dip, Muhammara, yet again for Christmas yesterday. I figured it was time to take some took some spruce up the original posting of this recipe. I originally tried this at Pairings Wine and Food, and they provided me the recipes and allowed me to share on Cooking Chat. This dishes includes pomegranate molasses, a somewhat unusual ingredient, that works well with Pinot Noir. I was reminded of how nicely this pairs with pinot yesterday, and would encourage you to try the pairing for yourself the next time you need an appetizer for company!

7 oz jar roasted red peppers, drained
2/3 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped fine
2 to 4 garlic cloves (I vote for 4!) mashed to a paste w a tsp of salt (I tend to skip this part and just toss the garlic into the food processor as is)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
toasted pita triangles or other scooper as an accompaniment.

In a food processor blend together the peppers, bread crumbs, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, red pepper flakes and salt to taste until the mixture is smooth. With the motor running, add the oil gradually. Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve it at room temperature with the pita triangles.
The final product!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Risotto with Fresh Black Truffles

Much of my cooking favors frugality. But the holidays certainly provide a good time to do something special, perhaps splurge a bit. I had my first experience with fresh truffles at Craigie Street, and have since welcomed a chance to enjoy the truffle flavor more accessible ways such as truffle butter and oil. So I was very excited when I heard that Whole Foods Woburn was offering the opportunity to order fresh, highly prized truffles that get flown in directly from Italy, something only professional chefs typically get to do.

But how to make the most of this opportunity? I tend to be spontaneous and trust my instincts with much of my cooking, but the truffle delivery seemed to warrant some serious research. It was clear from my studies that something fairly plain and starchy like rice, pasta or potatoes is the best way to feature fresh truffles, and that they benefit from being prepared with some fat. So I quickly landed upon risotto.

My dilemma was whether to prepare it a a straight up truffle risotto or add some mushrooms. I had a modest amount of truffle coming, and wasn't sure it would be enough to pack good flavor, so I thought I'd get some mushrooms too. As a public service to loyal readers, I thought I'd make the truffle risotto first, and also prepare some mushrooms as I did for this mushroom risotto and see which was better.

Going into this experiment I was uncertain as to which option would be preferable, but we had a very clear result from our testing: you don't need to add mushrooms to enjoy a great truffle risotto! The flavor of the "basic" truffle risotto was delicate yet intensely flavorful at the same time, the musky scent and rich taste making for quite a treat.

This recipe can serve three comfortably as an entree or could be a first course for 6 or so. It would be the perfect dish to feature if you're entertaining and looking to impress for New Year's!
clean w toothbrush (unused!)

1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
7 cups vegetable broth
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1/2 cup good quality Parmesan cheese, grated right before you get cooking (I had some top notch stuff from Whole Foods that smelled almost as good as the truffles!)
3 tbsp butter, diced
between 1/2 oz and 1 oz fresh black Perigord truffles
2 tbsp olive oil

First, finely grate about 2/3 of the truffles into a small bowl. There are truffle slicers, but we had success with a good sharp cheese grater, using the blade with the smallest holes. Enjoy those smells wafting in! Set aside the remaining truffle to shave over the dish...make sure you leave enough for this step. Next, grate the cheese into the same bowl, then stir in the butter to combine. Set aside as you begin to make the risotto. I looked at a lot of recipes for ideas, this method of combining the truffle with cheese and butter, and much of the procedure here, draws on upon an Epicurious recipe.

Fresh Black Perigord Truffle shavings
Now, it's time to get going on the risotto making. Bring the broth to a gentle boil and lower a bit to keep it warm, on burner handy to where you'll be cooking the risotto. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in sturdy pot for making the risotto. Add the onion, saute on medium heat until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, saute for another minute or two. Pour in the rice, and stir to get it all well coated with the onions and oil. Cook for about one minute, then stir in the wine. Stir frequently, and cook until the wine is pretty well absorbed.

Once the wine is absorbed, it's time to begin gradually adding the stock to to pot. Add one cup, stir frequently. I keep it around medium heat, but go a bit higher if things seem to be going very slow, then lower the heat if it starts boiling. When the first cup of broth is absorbed, add another. This process continues until the stock is used or mostly used, and the rice is getting tender. You need to be stirring's OK to briefly leave the pot to do other kitchen tasks, but stay nearby as it needs to get stirred every minute or two. Many recipes say this takes 15 to 20 minutes, but I usually find it takes more like 40...and my risotto always tastes great, if I do say so myself.

After the stock has been absorbed is tender (but don't let it get mushy!), gently stir in the truffle cheese mixture, and add the extra tbsp of oil to help it all come together nicely. Plate the risotto, and top with super thinly sliced shavings of risotto. Enjoy this delicate yet savory treat!

Serving ideas: We enjoyed this as a vegetarian main course, with a mixed green salad. I added some radicchio to the salad to add to the Italian flavor. This dish would also be a great first course for a New Year's dinner party, and could also be a nice side dish for a hearty meat entree. In fact, the little bit we have leftover will be enjoyed tonight with some Tuscan style steaks!

Wine pairing: File this under the "wine and foods meant to go together" department! Our truffles were from Italy. Truffle risotto is a common dish in Italy's Piedmont region, so serving it with a Barolo made perfect sense. We had the 2007 Cantine San Silvestro Patres Barolo. More accessible than many Barolos at about $30/bottle, this one opened up nicely after a bit of decanting, and made for a perfect match for this earthy dish!

Ordering your truffles: The fresh truffles can be ordered through New Year's, and it's roughly a two day turnaround. Stop by your local Whole Foods specialty department to order. It's market pricing, varying I suppose based on how many the truffle finding pigs manage to dig up! They are available through New Year's at Whole Foods markets in the North Atlantic region. They have black, white and burgundy truffles available. I'd say one ounce would be a good amount to serve 4 with an entree version or 6 as a first course or side.

Full disclosure: Whole Foods Woburn provided me with the ingredients for the meal to help spread word about this opportunity to enjoy fresh truffles. I developed  the recipe, and the results are fully my own!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pesto Crostini [updated for the holidays & Super Bowl!]

pesto crostini served with chopped tomatoes. Cooking Chat recipe.

UPDATE: I reposted this in December as a good holiday party option. Now, guess what I'm bringing for the Super Bowl?!? That's right, pesto crostini again! Made a huge batch of pesto while "Cooking for the Cause" the other day, plenty left to bring a batch of these for the Superbowl. If you're still looking for inspiration, this is quick & tasty!
Need to bring an appetizer to a holiday party that is easy, tasty and features Christmas colors in the presentation? I've had this recipe for pesto crostini on my blog and in my repertoire for years. After bringing it to a recent holiday party, I realized I should update it with a photo and some pointers.

The original recipe had goat cheese as a standard ingredient, but I've now made it many times without goat cheese and it is still well-received. Now I use some goat cheese if I have it on hand, but wouldn't go out of my way to add it. Though the tomatoes are optional, for aesthetic reasons, they are really a must if you're making this for a Christmas party!

1 batch of pesto (click for my recipe)
1 baguette, sliced into rounds 3/4 inch thick
4 ozs. goat cheese grape tomatoes (optional), quartered
olive oil spray

Set oven to broil. Spread aluminum foil over baking tray. Spread baguette rounds on the tray (depending on size of baguette you should have enough for 2 or 3 trays). Spray with olive oil to lightly coat. Put tray in oven AND DON'T GO ANYWHERE. Turn that oven light on and keep an eye on things, it only takes a few minutes for the crostini to begin to brown, at which point you should remove them from oven. (alternatively, you can go off and do something else, and expect a visit from your friendly local fire people).

Let the crostini cool for a few minutes. Spread a thin layer of goat cheese (if using) over the crostini, then spread the pesto over the goat cheese. Top with the optional tomatoes if using.

Helpful Tips
-Based on my taste, I go light on the goat cheese and heavy on the pesto. For a crowd, it's a good idea to vary how much of each you put on in the first batch--see which get eaten up and take into consideration when making round 2!
-Topping half of the crostini with the tomatoes, and intermingling them on the serving tray with the ones that just have the pesto, makes for a nice presentation for a Christmas party. If you're serving a finicky crowd, you might want to make a few without the goat cheese. For some reason, not everyone likes chevre!
-I recommend the grape tomatoes as they tend to be pretty good through the fall and winter. Other types of tomato or roasted red peppers also work nicely.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cookbook for Christmas: Lidia's Favorite Recipes

I'd hoped to test a few more recipes before writing a review of Lidia's Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees but with Christmas coming fast, I figured I'd better post this now thinking it could be a good gift for a foodie on your list! The book has 100 great Italian dishes, from basic sauces to a nice range of classic and creative Italian entrees. I'd enjoyed a few of Lidia's recipes in food magazines before, so I was glad to get myself a copy of this book!

So far, I've only had a chance to try two recipes (been busy concocting my own!). I started by making Swiss Chard Potatoes, and found it a nice change of pace from standard mashed potatoes as a side...not to mention the extra nutrition from the chard.
Then I tried an entree that caught my eye in the midst of apple season: Spaghetti with Tomato Apple Sauce. I have to say the idea of combining apples and tomatoes for a pasta sauce sounded a bit odd to me at first.

But I put my faith in Lidia and was pleased with the tasty result! I often find myself tweaking recipes because I want to make my own variation or sense some adjustments are needed to have it come out properly. But Lidia's recipes were easy to follow and came out great without needed to tweak.
Lidia's cookbook comes with a substantial assortment of appetizers, salads and soups, pasta and sauces, sides, seafood and meat. Some that are on my short list to try include Ziti with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage, Pesto Trapenese, Rice with Fresh Sage, Lamb Stew with Olives, and Braised Pork Ribs with Rigatoni. At just $15 on Amazon or at a similar price at your local book shop, this is a Christmas gift sure to please without putting a big dent in your budget!

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book. My adventures with the recipes and opinions of my book are fully my own!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Mushroom Sauce

I love salmon, but I am particular about it. I find a big taste difference between wild salmon and the farm raised. So when I heard that Whole Foods will be doing another one of their one day specials this Friday, December 7 on Wild Sockeye Salmon, I was eager to prepare a recipe featuring the fish. It's a great deal, on sale for $7.99/lb, half the usual $15.99. That's a great buy for salmon of this quality. This sockeye salmon is rated sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. I keep my eye on my local Whole Foods Woburn Facebook page to keep abreast of sales like this. This particular sale is nationwide, but it's a good idea to check your local store for availability and other specials they may have.

Good salmon doesn't necessarily need too much adornment; we often enjoy it pan seared with just a bit of soy sauce or lemon juice. But topping the salmon with a mushroom sauce is a nice, easy treat!

2 tsbp butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil, optional
1 clove garlic, minced
10 ozs mushrooms
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp dried thyme or herbes de provence
salt and pepper to taste

12 ozs wild coho salmon fillet
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil

The salmon cooks so quickly I like to get the sauce pretty much done before cooking the salmon. Heat the butter plus olive oil in a sauce pan or skillet over medium heat. When melted, add the shallot, cook until it begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook fora another minute. Now it's time to stir in the  mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the red wine, cook for about 5 more minutes, until the wine has been reduced by about 1/2 and the mushrooms are fully cooked. Turn the heat down to very low and cover to keep warm as you cook the salmon.
Sear the salmon skin side down to get it crispy before flipping
My method for searing salmon is based largely on that described in Barbara Lynch's Stir: Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition. I usually get a fairly thin fillet from near the tail section, so it cooks quickly. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high, then add the salmon, skin side down. Sprinkle a little extra oil on top along w a touch of salt. Don't touch it for about 4 minutes, then flip the fish with a spatula. When cooked enough, you shouldn't have a problem with the skin sticking to the pan. Cook on the flesh side for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let it rest covered loosely with foil. The fish should still be very moist and have a dark orange color inside. Overcooking salmon ruins the flavor, so be careful!

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir is a great option for salmon, and with the earthy mushrooms as a topping, pinot becomes the obvious choice. We had a great treat, the Enkidu Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. A delicate wine, with nuanced fruit flavors. Yum!

Full disclosure: Whole Foods Woburn provided me with the ingredients for the meal to help spread word about the special. I chose the recipe, and the results are fully my own!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pairing Red Wine and Indian Food: Carmenere, you say?

Somehow, a post I wrote 6 years ago on pairing wine with Indian food remains one of the most visited on this blog. Clearly the subject is of interest to folks! However, that post only featured white wines because that has always been my default option with the spices of Indian food. I've seen quite a few people suggest red wines can go with Indian as well, but my limited experimenting with such pairings have led to a clash of tastes on my palate, such as with the red blend I mention in this post.

I don't give up easily. So when  Neill Dahill was sampling the 2009 Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere at Pairings  and suggested it could be a  red wine pairing for Indian food, I was all ears. He hadn't actually tried it, but thought it had a hint of cumin spice that would match Indian food well. I was a bit skeptical but curious to try it. And at $13 a bottle, why not?

The wine was pretty tight when I first poured it--there was a strong woodiness that dominated. But I decanted it just briefly, and it opened up with blackberry fruit along with a bit of spice and oak. The oak seemed to give it structure to stand up to the beef curry we had, and the spice and fruit in the wine's taste blended fairly harmoniously with the flavors of the food. We had aloo palak (potatoes in a creamy spinach sauce) along with the beef; as you might suspect, the Carmenere tasted better with the beef.

I would not call this a perfect pairing per se, but definitely a pretty good match that I'd try again. So I'm happy to report that I have finally have enjoyed a red wine paired with Indian food! I'll have to experiment a bit more with this. Have you found a red wine you enjoy with Indian food?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fettuccine with Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms

OK, perhaps you are ready for recipes that don't have to do with preparing the Thanksgiving feast or using the leftovers? Came up with this tasty dish about a week ago, seeking to use some thyme and cream I had on hand. Figured it was time to write it up and share! Not exactly light but it does use a bit less cream, cheese and oil than my standard fettuccine recipe.

2 chicken breast fillets
3 tbsp olive oil
2 small or 1 larger shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
couple sprigs thyme, or tsp of dried thyme
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup cream
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
12 ozs fettuccine
salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large skillet with 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium high. Add the chicken to the skillet, sear for a few minutes on each side until it begins to brown. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate covered with foil to keep it warm. Start boiling water to cook the fettuccine.

Add another tbsp olive oil to the skillet, with heat on medium. Add the shallots, cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, cook for another minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, cook for about 4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the cooking wine and and thyme, and raise heat to bring so that the wine begins to boil. Lower it to a steady simmer on medium heat, and add the chicken. Cover the chicken with the mushroom sauce. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste Cook for about 5 minutes until the chicken is just about cooked through. Remove the sprigs of thyme. Take the chicken out and slice crosswise, then add back to the pan to finish cooking the chicken. Stir in the cream when the chicken is cooked and the pasta is just about ready to drain.

Drain the fettuccine when it is cooked al dente. Toss it with the chicken and mushroom mixture, and stir in the extra cheese. Add a few more grinds of pepper, and serve with extra cheese at the table.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Three American Pinots for Thanksgiving

Missing from photo: the Willakenzie Pinot!
I'd be hard pressed to think of a wine I haven't heard suggested as a good pairing for Thanksgiving. Red, white, rose. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (yes, I really have seen Cab suggested!).And I've tried many of them (including a a Cab...Cab Franc that is). Though it's fun to read and sample these different suggestions, the last couple of years I've landed on Pinot Noir as my favorite option for Thanksgiving. It's such a food friendly wine, typically with some good earthy flavors and some acidity.

Though I don't hew to the concept rigorously, I do like the idea of serving American wines on this national celebration. That led me down the path of zinfandel some years ago, but now I'm more likely to save that for steak or perhaps pork. This year, I've sample three American pinots recently that I think would go nicely with the Thanksgiving meal, and will likely bring some combination of them with me on Thursday! They provide a range of price options depending on your budget, too.

2011 Hahn Winery California Pinot Noir ($14): The Monterey County based winery produces some great values, and their pinot is no exception. Nice, well-balanced fruit, without being the "fruit bomb" that many California pinots can be. Hahn Winery is SIP certified (Sustainable in Practice) for all its Central Coast Vineyards.

2009 Wente Vineyards Reliz Creek Pinot Noir ($22): Reliz Creek is in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterrey  If I were blind tasting this I might have guessed it hailed from Burgundy. Good structure, subtle fruit. I haven't had this with food yet but anticipate it is going to go nicely Thursday.  Sustainably farmed-- details on the Wente sustainable practices can be found here (and you can easily jump to other parts of their site from there!).

2009 Willakenzie Pierre Leon Pinot Noir ($42): There aren't too many Pinots from Oregon's Willamette Valley that I haven't like, but I'm especially fond of the Pinots (and other varietals, too) from Willakenzie. If you want to spend a bit more than my other recommendations  this would be a nice treat. This is a sophisticated wine, cherry fruit and earthy undertones that can pick up the rich foods on your table. The wine is made from estate grown grapes from the Yamhill-Carlton appellation. More on the wine here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NY Strip Steaks with Mushroom Sauce

I keep my eye on the Facebook updates from my local Whole Foods Market for specials, and the upcoming one day sale on New York Strip Steaks quickly caught my attention. This is one of my favorite cuts of steak, and Whole Foods has a one day special on them this Friday, November 16. So I thought I'd preview the special with one of my favorite ways to prepare this cut. For that day only, you can get their NY Strip Steaks for $9.99 per pound, $8 off the regular price. That is a great deal for meat of this quality--I like knowing that Whole Foods is naturally raised. This particular cut on sale gets a "Step 1" rating, meaning no cages, no crowding. More on their rating system here.

The Whole Foods standards gives me peace of mind, but it's the taste of this steak that gets me--and my family--excited. Our seven year old exclaimed after trying this one, "The best steak ever!". He had it without the mushroom sauce; surely, this cut doesn't require much preparation to be enjoyed. But for the grownup tastes in the house, the mushroom sauce made a nice addition. Enough preliminaries; on with the recipe!

2 NY Strip Steaks (take them out of the refrigerator about 10 to 15 minutes before you start preparing them)

For the rub:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
pepper to taste

For the sauce:
10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
1 lg or 2 small shallots, chopped
1/3 cup red wine
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 tsp dried
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make the rub by combining the rub ingredients in a bowl. Take the steaks out of their wrapper, pat dry with a paper towel and place on a cutting board. Sprinkle half the rub over the steaks, and then gently rub it into the meat. Turn the steaks over, and repeat with the rest of the rub.

Spray a large oven safe skillet with cooking oil, and heat on medium high. When the skillet is good and hot, place the steaks in the skillet. Cook for about 2 minutes to brown the outside of the steak, then turn over and brown the other side by cooking for another minute or two. Remove the skillet from stove top and place in the oven.

Roast the steaks for about 14 to 15 minutes to cook medium rare. Remember they will continue to cook as they rest, so take them out when they are almost but not quite done to your liking. When they've reached that point, take the steaks out of the skillet and place on a platter, loosely cover them with aluminum foil.
Take the skillet you used for the steak, reserving all those good cooking juices, and place back on stove top to make the sauce. Melt 2 tbsp of the butter on medium heat, stirring to incorporate the bits of meat and fat remaining in the pan. Stir in the shallots, and cook until softened. Just takes 2 to 3 minutes as the pan will be quite hot still from the oven. Stir in the mushrooms and thyme, cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the wine, cook a few more minutes until the wine is reduced by one half. Finish by melting in the last tbsp of butter and adding salt & pepper to taste.

When the sauce is about done, reduce heat to very low. Slice the steak against the grain, about 1/2 inch thick. Serve 4 to 5 slices per plate, topped with a bit of the mushroom sauce, and pass extra sauce at the table. We served with a salad and homemade baked french fries.

Wine pairing: We rounded out this special treat by serving an outstanding, single vintage Cabernet from Howell Mountain (Napa Valley)--the 2006 Bravante Vineyards Cab (about $50 retail). But certainly any full bodied red would go nicely with this dish, including some for half that price.

Full disclosure: Whole Foods Woburn provided me with the ingredients for the meal to help spread word about the special. I chose the recipe, and the results are fully my own!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Boston's Best Burger?

Actually, I'm really in no position to judge Boston's best burger.I like to throw a burger on the grill at home, and occasionally get creative with the preparation--see for instance Burgers topped with Garlicky Arugula. But when I go out to eat, I tend to order something more off the beaten path than a burger, especially when going to a top notch restaurant with lots of interesting choices.

This week a business lunch meeting gave me a good excuse to try Radius. As I was waiting for my lunch appointment, I reviewed the Foursquare tips for the restaurant. The overwhelming recommendation was to try the burger. Who am I to question the wisdom of the crowd?

I followed the tip, and was very pleased with the amazing burger! Plenty of good quality beef, seared to be just a bit firm on the outside, was topped Vermont cheddar and thin crispy onions--kind of like mini onion rings. Quite the mix of salt and savory flavors going on there. Also had a bit of horseradish sauce for a little kick. The fries on the side were outstanding, too.

So, I haven't tried many Boston restaurant burgers, but one would be hard pressed to top this! But if you know somewhere that might be able to, let me know, I'm open to trying!

As if this weren't enough for the meal, I started with a parsnip veloute which was served with great flair. First, some kind of candied vegetable concoction was placed in the bowl, then the soup was gradually poured on top. I wish I'd taken a video of that--but alas, I was there for other business after all.

We declined the dessert menu, but accepted the offer of a cookie plate to go with our coffee. A nice finish to a great lunch!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Roast Chicken with Herb Butter and Shiitake Mushroom Sauce

We are definitely getting into roast chicken weather in New England! With whole chickens on sale at Whole Foods and Sandy bearing down on the region last weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to roast some chicken. I always get a least two meals out of it by making chicken stew on the second night--which in this case was finished right before we lost our power. Made for a nice candle light meal! But I'm getting ahead of myself. I often use this roast chicken recipe from Food & Wine, but noticed we had a few herbs and shiitake mushrooms that I hadn't gotten a chance to use yet. So I applied some basic concepts from the recipe I'd used before to create this new and very tasty dish!

for the butter:
6 tbsp butter, brought to room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sage leaves, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

1 whole chicken between 4 to 5 lbs, giblet removed
4 smash garlic cloves
quarter a lemon, you need 2 quarters for this dish.

for the sauce
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil 2 butter
2 shallots, minced
1/3 cup red wine
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 dried thyme
1/4 cup cream
fresh ground pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 375.

Make the butter: When the butter has softened, combine it with the other ingredients. It tends to be a bit hard to stir at first, but work at it vigorously with a sturdy spoon and it will soon be blended into a nice consistency with the ingredients well distributed. You can microwave the butter for 5 or 10 seconds if it hasn't softened enough to work with. I actually use Earth Balance dairy free butter spread due to my son's allergies, and that works nicely.

Prep & roast the chicken: Have a large roasting pan ready. Rinse the chicken and pat dry, and place on a cutting board to do the prep. Use your fingers to lift up the skin on the breast a bit. Take about 2 tbsp of butter and insert under the skin, rubbing into the breast meat. Rub the remaining butter all over the skin, making sure the chicken is thoroughly coated. Insert the smashed garlic, lemon and any remaining butter into the chicken cavity. Place the chicken breast side up into a roasting pan, and roast for approximately 90 minutes. Ovens vary, so you'll want to get a sense of whether you typically need a bit more or less time than recipes call for. You don't want to overcook the chicken, nor do you want it raw. You can determine doneness with a meat thermometer, but I prefer the method of piercing the thick thigh meat or cutting into it a bit--the juices should run clear and the breast meat should be white, but still good and juicy. When done, place the chicken on a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes. Save that pan juice for the sauce.

Make the sauce: Start prepping the sauce ingredients after the chicken has roasted for about 45 minutes. Heat the olive oil on medium, and add the shallots. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir occasionally. Cook for about 5 minutes until they start to get soft and begin to "sweat". Add the red wine and butter, stir to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so to reduce the liquid by roughly half. After that, keep warm on low heat until the chicken is done roasting. After you remove the cooked chicken from the roasting pan, pour the juices into the sauce. (I poured it all in; you might want to measure out a cup to use). Add the parsley, thyme and pepper after pouring in the pan juices. Simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid, stirring frequently.

Serve and enjoy! Carve and plate chicken, topping with a bit of the sauce for a nice presentation. Pass extra sauce at the table. Enjoy! We served it with some orzo & butternut squash and an arugula salad.

Wine pairing: An earthy pinot noir would be a natural choice to pick up the mushrooms as well as the roast chicken. I went off the beaten path and served it with the Grillo Azienda Agricola, a red wine from Italy's Fruili region made with the Schioppettino grape. It's a nice bottle of wine and change of pace, and worked well with the dish.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lidia's Spaghetti in Tomato Apple Sauce

The new cookbook arrived in the midst of apple picking season, so the recipe for Spaghetti in Tomato Apple caught my eye right away. Now, apples cooked with tomatoes to make a pasta sauce does sound a bit strange at first. No offense to us bloggers, but if I came across the idea on an unknown blog I'd just chuckle and pass on by. But when I saw it featured in Lidia's Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees, I had to give it a closer look. Lidia explains that this combination is common in the apple laden Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. That was good enough for me, and I'm glad I gave it a try! This is a refreshing tomato sauce with a nice bright taste. The apple flavor is not distinctive but rather contributes to the overall impression that this is something other than your typical pasta sauce. This follows Lidia's recipe almost exactly, with a slight reduction in the celery called for; and the wording of the instructions slightly tweaked.

an unlikely combo!
3 cups canned tomatoes, San Marzano recommended
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium celery stalk, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb tart green apple, like Granny Smith
1 lb spaghetti
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Pour 4 tbsp olive oil into a skillet on medium heat. Add the celery and onion to the pan. Cook until the onions begin to soften and caramelize, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the pureed tomatoes, season with a bit of salt. As the tomatoes begin to simmer, peel and core the apples, removing seeds. Shred the apples, using coarse holes of a shredder or grater.

When the tomatoes have cooked about 5 minutes, stir the apples into the sauce. Bring the skillet back to simmer, and cook the sauce uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring a bit here and there, until it has begun to thinkcn and the apple shreds are cooked and tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, drop in the spaghetti, and cook it until al dente. Strain the pasta and combine with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two, until it is thoroughly coated and cooked just right. Turn off heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and toss well. Serve the pasta immediately, passing extra cheese at the table.

Wine pairing: Though I failed to note or tweet the wine we had with this dish when I made it a couple of weeks ago, I seem to recall having a Dolcetto and it working pretty well. Though that puts you in the same country as Alto Adige, I'm thinking a wine from the region would be nice. It so happens last night we had a red from Alto Adige, a 2010 Muri-Gries Alto Adige Santa Maddalena. This is a blend of the local grapes Schiavae and Lagrein. It has a light, fresh quality to it that I think would work with the dish. I didn't test the pairing yet so can't vouch for it! Let me know if you try this or another pairing that works.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book. My adventures with the recipes and opinions of my book are fully my own!