Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ample Ventilation Needed

I vividly remember the first time I made blackened steak. It was during a cooking class and I caught my oven mitt on fire.

Who knew the combination of clarified butter and cotton would be that flammable? That day's lesson: Don't spill clarified butter on your oven mitt then get too close to the heat. Thankfully the professional grade oven hoods at the school were in good working order and I had the wherewithal to beat the fire out quickly..

The second time I tried making blackened steak was at my parent's, and we had to air out the house from all of the smoke emitted from the searing steak and burning herbs. No fire that time, but an interesting evening to say the least.

I have since perfected the technique, but that adrenaline rush sure does make one hungry!

Smoke and fire aside, this is one of my favorite preparations of steak other than a simple searing. The seasonings punch up the flavor, and extreme heat seals them in for a wonderful crust. Its a great way to make a less than appealing cut of steak into something spectacular.

Start with a spice rub on your choice of steak, anything from a skirt or flank steak to a NY strip.

The spice rub should consist of a combination of salt, pepper, and dried herbs like thyme.

Massage the spice rub on the sides of the steaks and allow to rest a moment. In the mean-time you can melt down butter and begin to clarify it. Heat a few Tbsp of unsalted butter in a small sauce pan over low heat. Allow the butter to almost simmer skimming off the foam periodically. The clarified butter should be like liquid gold, and crystal clear. We will pour a spoonful over the searing steaks once it's in the pan.

Make sure you have ample ventilation in your kitchen. Turn the hood fan on. Open the windows. Temporarily disable your smoke detector. There will be some smoke.

If you have a cast iron frying pan set it on the heat, and get it screaming hot. Way hot. (for the more prevalent non-stick pans do the same, but with the tiniest bit of oil in the bottom, so the pan doesn't scorch.)

Place your steak in the pan and don't move it! This is where the heat turns the spice rub into the yummy crust. Carefully spoon about 1 Tb of clarified butter over top the steak. The butter may flame up if the pan is hot enough.

After a minute or two you may flip the steak, and repeat the clarified butter bath. Cook the steak to the doneness of your preference. For a thicker steak, you may want to finish the cooking in the oven (350* F). (Make sure the handle of the skillet is heat proof, or wrap it in tin foil.)

Let the steak rest a minute or two so the juices can work their magic and the temperature come down and the juice to redistribute inside the steak. This is a very important step!

You can then slice the steak(s) for a hearty sandwich, or serve as an entree for dinner.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Simple Quick Spagehtti Dinner for One (or Two)

I cannot extol the virtues of canned diced (no salt added) tomatoes enough. Sure a sauce made with the freshest of vine ripened tomatoes is fabulous, but who has the time anymore to peel seed, and dice all those wonderful fruits? And the tomatoes this time of year? Forget quality friend.

So, canned diced tomatoes are versatile in the kitchen, for sauces, soups, casseroles... the list could probably go for a very lengthy while. I like them for a quick tomato sauce or gravy because they cook down quickly and can be mashed into a chunky sauce.

You will need:

1/2 Onion, diced
2 Cloves garlic, smashed and diced
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 box of spaghetti noodles (whole wheat)

Start a large pot of water for the noodles, on high to bring to a rolling boil. In the mean-time saute the onion in a large skillet until translucent. Once the onions are clear, add the diced garlic and turn down the heat to low, so the garlic doesn't burn. After letting the garlic heat through, pour in the two cans of tomatoes. You can pour out some of the liquid to reduce the cooking time. Bring the tomato mix to a simmer and reduce liquid by about half. By then the water should be ready for the pasta. Make sure to cook until al dente.

When the tomato liquid has reduced sufficiently, take a potato masher to the mess and release all your stress by squishing the tomato bits within an inch of their lives. When the pasta reaches al dente, remove from the pasta water and add to your tomato sauce. Toss to coat and serve with a good bit of Parmesan cheese on top.

This should make enough for two meals and can easily be modified for variety. I would try chicken tenders for a Chicken Parmesan type dish, or turkey meatballs. Serve with a side salad or garlic bread for a traditional Italian-American meal.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Not so Glorious Bread

So in the day to day business and most recent bout of craziness in my life I accidentally forgot about my poor sour dough starter and it got moldy. Really Really moldy. Ich!

I can only learn from this; mostly that I should follow through with projects involving living critters (aka yeast), and that next time I will start the starter with whole wheat flour, and feed it fresh flour, not the stale yucky stuff I forgot I had.

Next on my agenda? Probably planning out a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal for my lovely family. We keep it more or less traditional with the roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all that good stuff, and then we like to throw in something different every once in a while for good measure. We shall see!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Introduction; Delayed, naturally

Originally I wanted to chronicle the discovery and implementation of a vintage recipe journal given to my by a friend. I have since realized that I'd like to include all or most of my kitchen adventures, and cookbook perusals.

I was firstly inspired by that wonderful movie, The Julie/Julia Project. I find the idea of chronicling ones cooking adventures with all the wonderful surprises, the successes and the failures, and just having fun with food endearing. Besides it gives me a better excuse to cook, since as a single person, I often find myself making simple and easily to clean up meals. Boring.

More recently I've been inspired by another blog I discovered through the blogs of note feature: One Hungry Chef. The writer of this humorous and thoroughly entertaining blog is a professional chef and writes about what he eats at home. Not only are the post entertaining, he includes gorgeous pictures of the various meals and projects, and includes the recipes for some of the more adventurous readers. I can't even begin to compete with this, but will do my best to have fun with my blog none the less. Even if I'm basically "talking" to myself.

Bread, Glorious Bread

Bread is yummy. I like to buy the fresh baked bread from the overstocked section of the local large grocery's bakery, and they are fabulous. I've eaten the best brown bread and butter on a pilgrimage to Ireland. (Granted Irish butter is amazing and would no doubt make cardboard palatable.) But what about making my own bread?

I decided to start a sourdough starter, so that I'd be able to make bread (or pancakes, biscuits, etc...) anytime I wanted to. It will be like having my very own, micro-organism filled, pet. An active starter needs to be fed on a regular basis; twice a day or you can keep it in the fridge once it is well established and only feed it once a week. Joy says you can keep an established starter in the freezer as long as you let it relax in the fridge for 24 hours before making it into a sponge. Sounds good to me!

So after reading through more than a few helpful websites, and Joy of course, I mixed up about 1/2 cup of (AP white) flour with 1/4 cup water and let it sit on the counter overnight. No activity as yet, but I'm hopeful.

So my starter will sit until tonight and I will see if it is good to go!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Soup Success!

Yesterday I used my crock-pot for something other than chili! More soup :) Three bean and Tomato, to go with grilled cheese for dinner with my Dad. I had to be mindful of the salt content due to his dietary needs and I feel I was rather successful despite the bacon.

The soup turned out really well. I was extremely pleased with the taste and consistency, smooth and creamy and just a little rustic. I served it with shredded cheddar cheese stirred in, as opposed to my original idea of having grilled cheese sandwiches on the side, due to timing issues. My Dad liked it a lot, and I think I will continue to make this soup for myself, instead of the store bought tomato soups which I find have way too much salt in them.

Three Bean Tomato Soup

1 cup Bacon, chopped into little bits
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
3 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes, no salt added
3 15 oz cans of different beans (I used white beans, pink beans, and a variegated beans.)
2 cups (approx) chix stock.

Start in a sauté pan and finish in crock pot, or make in a heavy bottomed pot:
Render the bacon until nice and crispy. Pull out crispy bits and set aside on a paper towel. If there is an excess amount of grease left, pour off, leaving 1 -2 Tbsp to cook the onions in, until translucent. Toss in the garlic and let them heat through a moment. (* for a healthier and/or vegetarian version, you could probably start the onions in EVOO instead)
(At this point I moved the onions to the crock pot.)
Open, drain, and rinse well your choice of beans then throw 'em in the pot, along with the three cans of tomatoes. Pour in the chicken stock (or veggie) a few turns around, enough to cover the contents by an inch or so. I used half a box (or close to it) of stock.
Simmer away, on a low setting, for as long as you like. (my soup ended up simmering a good 10 hours.)
Just before serving remove about half of the soup to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add back into the pot and stir. The soup should be smooth and creamy thanks to the beans, but still rustic with some tomato bits and beans :)
Garnish with some of the reserved bacon bits and some shredded cheddar cheese (or Colby Jack)

P.S. The leftovers are phenomenal. I was going to dress up a bowl and take pictures but I ate it all instead!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall food

I almost forgot that I also made apple sauce recently! I'm picky when it comes to the kind of apples I eat out of hand, and of those they have to be ultra crisp. So when the last few apples I had started to get a little soft I decided to take advantage of that and not let them go to waste.

Apple sauce is extraordinarily easy to make: peel, core and dice your apples of choice, then simmer them with a small amount of water until they start to break down and become soft. I mashed them to achieve a more chunky texture and seasoned them with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla. Yum!

New (to me) Cookbook

I have recently acquired one of my grandmother's old cookbooks; Betty Crocker. That makes two Betty Crocker's that I'd like to flip through sometime. The first one belonged to Grandma J and has many cut out and handwritten recipes, including the famous tomato sauce recipe that is the base for one of my uncle's "Ultimate Tomato Sauce"

On a side note this Ultimate Tomato Sauce is very labor intensive and therefore only made about once a year, making the sauce a rare gem to be treasured. It is slow simmered for 24 hours and has only the best of flavors in it. Not your typical Sunday tomato gravy.

Its fall now and therefore soup season! I've already made a pretty tasty Butternut Squash Soup thanks to a generous co-worker with an abundance of farmer's market squash. And I finally used my new (to me) red vintage pot; the best of yard sale finds. The soup turned out well; creamy and smooth, thick and hearty. Perfect with a side salad and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Life is a Beach

In honor of my dear friend Lindsay's leaving Maryland for sunnier states, Heather and I decided to throw Linds an impromptu going away party that turned into a going away yard-sale extraordinaire. For my part, I made a beach cake, originally thinking blue icing, brown sugar sand, etc.

After doing a wee bit of online research I discovered blue jello for water and my ultimate plan was born:

I baked a from-a-box devils food cake (two actually since I don't have any large pans) in an 8" x 8" glass pan. Once it was cool I carved out a corner of the cake to make the ocean floor.

I used store bought vanilla icing for a crumb layer and chilled the cake. In the meantime I prepared blue jello, per the instructions on the box and let that start to set up in the fridge. I didn't allow it to completely set, but kept an eye on it until it reached a somewhat gelled state, stirring intermittently.

Next I slathered on the rest of the icing to the "beach" area and sprinkled on light brown sugar for the sand, all over. Once the jello was in the slightly set state I scooped it onto/into my cake in the lowered corner. By using a 1/4 cup measuring I was able to pool the jello over the "sand" to appear as waves gently washing the shore. Swedish fish were added to the sea, but they didn't remain visible (or solid) in the long run.

Back into the fridge the cake went so that the jello could finish setting up. I was able to make surf boards and beach towels out of candy to decorate the top, but the type of candy I used ended up bending over (darn gravity) so in the future I will have to use something that dries hard and won't go all flopsy on me. I didn't have enough room for the towels so those just got eaten...

The finishing touch was piped on gel icing to form the words "Life is a Beach" I made sure I practiced a bit so that it was just right :)

Vintage Recipe Journal; A written time capsule

About a week ago my dear friend Lindsay gave me an awesome handwritten recipe journal from (we think) the 1930's. She passed it on, prior to her out of state move, knowing I'd find it intriguing. (Thank You!!)

It is time stained and full of many cake and desert recipes, as well has a goodly amount of newspaper clippings folded up and inserted in between the pages. A brief reading of some of the recipes reveal the ingredients of yesteryear and not much directions. I've also discovered some recipes for food items I'm not familiar with and will have to do further research. (Thank goodness for Joy of Cooking and that failing, the Internet)

I'm looking forward to reading through and testing out many of the cake recipes (and maybe even the one I found for home-made ketchup!)