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!