Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Soy Glazed Chicken Drumsticks

Soy Glazed Chicken Drumsticks served with pasta and plenty of veggies. Cooking Chat recipe.

Back in January, I got a mystery bag of ingredients from Whole Foods Market Woburn to try out. I quickly set to turning the canned tomatoes and ground beef into a tasty meat sauce the night I picked up these items. I was less sure what to do with the package of chicken drumsticks, as we usually gravitate toward white meat here. But I know that the darker meat can be a good value and flavorful, so I relished the chance to come up with a recipe for them.
Mystery Bag from Whole Foods had a big pack of chicken drumsticsk
found some drumsticks in need of a recipe here!
The first round of cooking the drumsticks, I tried two versions. The more creative version had coconut oil, garam masala and a yogurt sauce. Somehow that didn't come out as tasty as this simple soy-glazed version. So I made the rest of the drumsticks I'd frozen with that method again in order to get the recipe details down to share with here. I browsed several recipes to get an idea of some basic approaches and cooking times for drumsticks. I wound up following the basic approach from this Mark's Daily Apple post, swapping in my own flavors for the sauce.

I'm glad to have branched out and expanded my chicken repertoire. This is fun, easy finger food for kids. Apparently they are also a favorite of Greg's from Diary of a Whimpy Kid, which made the trying of a new food thing go down much easier than usual with our 8 year old! Here's my simple recipe, feel free to vary to suit your tastes!

Soy Glazed Chicken Drumsticks bubbling hot, just removed from the oven. Cooking Chat recipe.
4 chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp olive oil
appx. 1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste

For the sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chick broth
tbsp brown sugar
tsp brown rice vinegar
1 tbsp OJ

Preheat the over to 425. Rinse and pat dry the chicken drumsticks, and place them in a baking dish. Drizzle the olive oil over the drumsticks, and twirl them around in the oil to coat (or you could use an oil spray). sprinkle the garlic powder and salt over the drumsticks. Place in the oven to cook. They took to 40 minutes to cook in my oven, but I'd start checking for doneness after 35 minutes due to oven time variation. They should be nicely browned on the outside, and cooked chicken should be 165 degrees internal temperature.

Make the sauce as the chicken bakes. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a bowl, then transfer to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer on medium for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Set aside for the chicken to be almost done cooking.

When the chicken is cooked through after about 40 minutes, remove from the oven, and pour the sauce over the drumsticks to coat. Put back in the oven for 3 minutes to let the soy flavor cook into the chicken. Remove from oven, set aside to cool for a few minutes, then serve. Tasty finger food for kids! I made a simple pasta with garlic, parsley and roasted broccoli as the chicken cooked.

Soy Glazed Chicken Drumstick served with green beans and pasta. Easy Cooking Chat recipe!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Slow Cooked Tuscan Beef Stew for Wine Club

When Ray asked if I'd like to cook the entree for the Pairings wine club focused on Tuscany, I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to come up with suitable dish to serve with the big, earthy reds I anticipated we'd enjoy. I figured I'd need to do some research and experimenting to come up with something our discerning group would enjoy. This is my kind of research!

Slow Cooked Tuscan Beef Stew from Cooking Chat.

I wound up doing some "recipe hacking" to arrive at the final result. I started with this Tuscan Pork Stew from Food and Wine,  We loved the flavors of this stew, but I wasn't wild about the way the pork came out. I thought of a beef stew recipe I enjoyed, with good tender meat, and did some experimenting with the herbs and vegetables used in the pork recipe, but in a beef stew. I was pretty pleased with the final result, and believe it was a pretty solid contribution to a wonderful night enjoying some great Tuscan wine, not to mention some great cheeses and a wonderful tartlet Lori made. My one critique--and pointer if you make this--is to make sure you're cheese cloth is well secured, I think I had a few of the peppercorns slipped out, leading to a few bites that were more peppery than I'd like!

Revealing a Super Tuscan from its paper bag at a wine club blind tasting. Cooking Chat post.
Wine club fun--revealing what we've been drinking!
For the marinade
1 bottle Chianti or other dry red wine
4 rosemary sprigs
4 sage sprigs
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a celery rib, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
3 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon juniper berries, 2 teaspoons whole cloves, tied in cheese cloth
2.5 lbs. stew beef, cut into 2 inch cubes
Spices in cheesecloth for Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew
make sure your cheesecloth is tied tightly!
For the stew
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of a celery rib, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon very finely chopped sage
2 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped rosemary--1 tsp reserved for later in cooking
Salt & pinch of crushed red pepper to taste
2 whole cloves, 8 juniper berries, 2 bay leaves and 4 peppercorns, tied in cheesecloth
3 cups reserved marinade
1/2 cup beef or chicken broth
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup or so of olives, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 tbsp of lemon zest
a few grinds of black pepper
1.5 tsp garlic powder or spice blend--I like Organic Healthy Earth Seasonings spice blend for meat, seafood and veggies from Whole Foods

Make the marinade: Combine all the marinade ingredients, through the spices in the cheesecloth, in a large bowl. Place the beef in a large sealable plastic bag, then pour the marinade into the bag (having a helper is handy here). Gently shake the beef around a bit to get it well-coated, then squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it tightly. Store the beef in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Marinade for Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew recipe.

Brown the meat and veggies: When you're ready to start cooking, place a strainer inside a large bowl. Pour the beef mixture into the strainer, using the bowl to capture and reserve the marinade. Remove the beef, patting it with paper towel to dry it a bit, and scrape off big pieces of herbs and spices from the marinade. Set the beef aside in a bowl to cook.

Heat the oil on medium heat in a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven, if you're going to cook the stew in the oven. Add the Add the finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery to the pan, cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add the garlic, cook for another minute. Next, stir in the beef, combining it well with the veggies. Salt to taste. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides. After the beef has browned, stir in the stock along with the red pepper, rosemary and sage, cooking until the stock has mostly evaporated. Now you are ready to start the slow cooking, either in a crockpot or the oven...choose your method and see those instructions below.

Crockpot: Transfer the beef mixture into the crockpot. Add the 3 cups reserved marinade, the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices in the cheesecloth. Cover and cook for 2 hours on high, 6.5 hours on low, or 10 hours on low. I've found starting on high then switching to low is a way to trim the cooking time a bit, but still allows most of the cooking to be done low and slow. Skip ahead to finishing the stew at the end of the crockpot cooking time.

Oven Method: Preheat the over to 300 degrees as you brown the meat and veggies. Once the beef has browned in an oven proof dutch oven, add the 3 cups reserved marinade, the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices in the cheesecloth. Bring to a boil on the stove top, then lower to a steady simmer and cover. Carefully move the dutch oven to the oven, and cook for 4 hours. Lower the heat to 200 and cook for another hour (if you have time).

Fresh parsley added to Tuscan Beef Stew adds fresh flavor. Cooking Chat recipe.
Finish the stew: After cooking by either method above, you will have very tender, falling apart beef. The liquid is still a bit thin for my taste at this point. One more hour of cooking will get you the full flavor and thickness you want! Put the stew back on the stovetop (transferring from crockpot to a regular pot if that's the method you've followed). Bring to a steady simmer, and add the garlic powder or spice blend, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer partially covered for one hour to reduce and thicken the stew. At the end of this cooking time, stir in the olives, parsley and lemon zest--the last two items give a nice freshness to it. Alternatively, a bit of these last 3 items can be served on top of each person's bowl of stew, for a nice presentation. They can then stir it up and enjoy.

I like to serve this stew alongside some mashed potatoes and a Tuscan Inspired Arugula Salad. For the wine club gathering, I made some Porcini Mashed Potatoes to go with the stew. Stay tuned for that recipe!

Tuscan wine lineup for wine club dinner featuring Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew
Serve with a great Tuscan red! Well, if you've got $200 or so burning in your pocket you'd like to spend on a great bottle of wine, I certainly enjoyed the 2009 Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore. I was one of three in our group that picked this as our favorite of the three Super Tuscans that we blind tasted. It was interesting to see that a $50 surprise bottle in that mix, a Super Tuscan from Reininger in Washington state, was the top choice of several in the group. I enjoyed that one too, and ordered a bottle. Other wines of note that we enjoyed included a Capanna Brunello Reserva and a Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva. We finished off the evening with the classic Tuscan dessert pairing of almond biscotti served with Vin Santo Chianti Classico. In one of my practice runs, we enjoyed this stew with the 2008 Il Novecento Chianti Reserva, a very nice bottle for around $20.
Tuscan Beef Stew served with red wine from Tuscany. Cooking Chat recipe.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pasta with Super-Tasty Meat Sauce for #WeekdaySupper

Cooking Chat's Pasta with Super-Tasty Meat Sauce for #WeekdaySupper

When I saw the #WeekdaySupper theme for February was "red", it didn't take me long for me to think of a meat sauce with nice red tomatoes. I love to get creative with pasta and have it with sauces of many flavors and colors, but there's nothing like a good hearty meat sauce. The catch: traditional Italian meat sauce relies on long simmering time to impart deep flavors. The #WeekdaySupper solution: combining quality tomatoes and beef along with a few additional flavor boosting ingredients.

Sure, there's nothing like tomatoes off the vine in August. The next best thing in the midst of a snowy New England winter is a can of tomatoes packed with basil that gives you a whiff of summer when you open it! I like whole canned tomatoes for a long-simmering sauce, but for the weekday version, crushed tomatoes deliver flavor faster. I'm partial to San Marzano tomatoes, and have also used the 365 Organic Crushed Tomatoes from Whole Foods with good results. Combine those good tomatoes with some quality ground beef*--don't go leaner than 85%, you need some fat content for flavor--and you have the foundation of a super-tasty sauce! The ingredient list is a bit long for a weekday meal, but most of the items are pantry items you can quickly add to the sauce in about 15 minutes of active cooking time.

a little whiff of summer in a can!
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a medium carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb or so 85% lean ground beef
1/2 tsp of garlic powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup chicken or beef stock (red wine can also work)
healthy pinch red pepper flakes
28 oz can crushed Tomatoes with basil
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp dried basil (use a full tsp or a bit more if you use tomatoes without basil added)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
1 lb. short pasta shape--I used whole wheat elbows
Grated Parmesan cheese to serve at the table

Heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Add the onions, cook on medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, cook another few minutes, then stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute or so, then add the ground beef.

Break up the beef with a sturdy spoon, then sprinkle in the garlic powder and salt to taste. Stir the beef to combine with the onion mixture. Cook the beef until it is browned, stirring occasionally. This will take 5 minutes or so. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.

Meat Sauce Simmering for a #WeekdaySupper. Cooking Chat recipe.

After the broth has been mostly absorbed, stir in the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have been mixed in well with the beef and onion mixture, stir in the rosemary, dried basil and tomato paste. For this quick cooking sauce, keep it going at a pretty vigorous simmer on medium heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar about 5 minutes before you intend to serve the sauce.

Start boiling the water for pasta around the time you add the tomatoes, this will give the sauce about 20 minutes of simmering time. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. When the pasta is almost ready, reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Then drain the pasta, and gradually add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stirring it in as you go with a bit of the reserved water.

Stirring up Pasta with Super-Tasty Meat Sauce for #WeekdaySupper

I like to serve the pasta with a green salad, such as this Tuscan Inspired Arugula Salad. Some folks like to eat salad first, but I prefer to have the pasta with the salad. So I plate the pasta to leave plenty of room for those good leafy greens, and serve. Pour a glass of your favorite Italian red wine and you've got a great meal!

Sunday Supper Movement

Make sure to check out this week's other easy #WeekdaySupper recipes!
Monday- Pescetarian Journal - Slow Cooker Kidney Bean Curry
Tuesday - The Dinner-Mom - Chicken Marbella
Thursday - Shockingly Delicious - French Bread Hawaiian Pizza
Friday - Yours And Mine Are Ours - Margherita Pizza with Cauliflower Crust

*Cooking Chat notes: Our approach to meat here is to limit the amount of meat we consume, which allows us to afford good quality when we do have it. I generally get my meat at Whole Foods, as I appreciate their standards of quality. I'm looking to stay away from animals raised with growth hormones, and prefer grass fed when possible.

I make a lot of meat sauce here, especially in the winter. I posted an earlier version of this recipe here,  The #WeekdaySupper post gave me a chance to update the recipe with a shortened cooking time and a few other tweaks.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tuscan Inspired Arugula Salad

As we tussled over the last bits of this arugula salad, I figured it was definitely blog worthy! I've been focused on things Tuscan in the kitchen lately, as I'm getting to cook the main course for a wine club gathering next week focused on the region. So I picked up some radicchio to toss in along with some of the usual suspects in this salad. I call it "Tuscan inspired" because my understanding is that Tuscans would typically add some arugula to flavor other salad greens, as opposed to featuring it on a stand-alone basis. But we love the flavor of this peppery green, so I like to let is shine on its own. And much to the pleasure of my frugal foodie self, I find I can get at least 2 nights of big salads out of 1 densely packed 5 oz container of baby arugula. So this salad gets its inspiration from the Tuscan countryside, but I've added my own twists.

I made this two ways this week. The first night I was focused on making a batch of Super-Tasty Meat Sauce (stay tuned, will be posting that for Wednesday's #WeekdaySupper!), so I made the simplest of vinaigrettes to use for the salad.   Last night, we had leftover pasta, so I wanted to spruce up the meal with a dressing that had more going on. Both ways, it's very tasty. Why not try it both ways, and tell me which you like better?

For the salad
2 to 3 ozs baby arugula (serves 2 big salad eaters!)
1/2 cup or so chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup or so radicchio, chopped into thin slivers (see photo)
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted (almond slices would work well, too)
generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese

Feeling Fancy Dressing for Tuscan Arugula Salad. Cooking Chat reicpe
For the Super Simple Vinaigrette 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

For the "Feeling Fancy" Dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar.
1 tbsp dried cranberries
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp fresh sage*, minced
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary*, finely minced
salt & pepper to taste
*I'd suggest substituting other fresh herbs if you don't have sage or rosemary, as opposed to dried. But if you just have dried on hand, use just a pinch of each.

Tossing Tuscan Arugula Salad. Cooking Chat #salad recipe.
Make the dressing: I like to get the dressing ready first, especially for the Feeling Fancy version, as it gives time for the flavors to meld and cranberries to soften. For the simple version, simply whisk the oil and vinegar together. If you'd like, add a bit of mustard to enhance the consistency. Start the Feeling Fancy version by putting the minced garlic in a bowl, then whisk in the olive and balsamic vinegar. Continue stirring in the remaining ingredients, one at a time. The honey and the cranberries give a bit of sweetness that contrasts well with the peppery arugula and slightly bitter radicchio.

Make the salad: Rinse the arugula and dry well, using a salad spinner if you have one. Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Top the arugula with the chopped peppers and radicchio, and sprinkle a bit of cheese on top. Add your salad dressing to the salad, toss well to get the salad well coated. This proportion is enough to cover the leaves and add good flavor without making it overly saturated. After tossing with the dressing, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds and a bit more cheese on top of the salad. You are ready to serve and enjoy! This works particularly well alongside a pasta dish.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

January Wines of Note

Ramey Chardonnay, a Cooking Chat #Wine of Note selection

Three months in a row! Yes, once again I'm bringing you a roundup of some of the most notable wines we enjoyed during the past month. Inspired by the consistent monthly wine highlights from the Hoot N Annie Blog, I've gotten my list together three months in a row, so I think this is now a pretty entrenched Cooking Chat feature you can expect as a resource for finding some good wines for yourself. Perhaps I'm feeling patriotic as the Olympics gets started; this month, the top 3 spots all go to American wines!

2009 Ramey Hyde Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay This chard from the Carneros region of Napa would probably have to take my top wine spot of the month. The tasting notes I tweeted "Chard a nice start to our #CA #wine dinner! Floral citrusy notes, restrained oak." " It was part of an overall great night of food and wine, part of an occasional series of wine dinners we enjoy with some fellow local foodies (including our hosts for this one, my sister + brother-in-law!). It went well with the Artichoke Dip with Roasted Broccoli and Garlic I brought, as well as the cheese, pate and other apps available before our dinner. Probably several wines from that night could make this list; I'll add one more below.

Cass Marsanne Roussanne Blend a Cooking Chat January #Wine of Note selection.
2012 Cass Paso Robles Marsanne Rousanne I had fun trying to figure out what wine to bring for the California themed wine dinner mentioned above. The main course was Roast Lemon Chicken with Avocado Tagliatelle pasta, so finding something with some substance but also capable of handling the citrusy lemon and the avocado flavors was the challenge. I got some good input on Twitter and Google+, and selected this Rhone-style white blend for Paso Robles. I was pretty pleased with the way the pairing worked, with some nice minerality and crispness providing what the dish called for. Cass is a SIP Certified sustainable vineyard. This blend is 55% Marsanne and 45% Roussanne.

2011 Soter North Valley Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Sorry folks, my notes are a bit sketchy on this one. "Really enjoyed it with the salmon!". Well, my pleasant recall of this wine in particular combined with my general fondness of Willamette Valley pinot earn this one a spot on the list!

2011 Soter Vineyards North Valley Pinot Noir, a Cooking Chat #Wine of Note selection

I'm sure I had other good values in the month of January, seeing as we managed to come in under our food and wine budget target, but the one that I'll give a shout-out to here is the 2012 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha. I picked up several bottle of these well under $10 a bottle, but this certainly drinks like something a good bit more. It's got big berry fruit, good structure and a nice finish. It's pretty versatile, I've enjoyed it with pizza and a variety of other simple meals.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Preview for ChocolateFest and Valentine's Day

chocolate samples from Whole Foods Market for Cooking Chat ChocolateFest preview

Who likes chocolate? Yes, just what I thought! Chocolate is popular at any time, but Valentine's Day certainly provides a chance for it to take center stage. To help you gear up for the holiday, Whole Foods Woburn is hosting a Chocolate Fest on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., and I've had a chance to sample some of the tasty treats you can try there. I'm sharing my notes as a preview to those of you who plan to get over there, and to serve as a shopping list in case you want to get some of these items for Valentine's but don't have a chance to do your own sampling on Saturday!

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed there aren't a lot of dessert posts here. I do focus most of my cooking energy on putting good meals on the table, and my own tastes run more toward the savory as opposed to sweets. That said, I do appreciate a tasty dessert from time to time. And perhaps, as more of an occasional rather than every day eater of chocolate, I can appreciate what I sampled even more? Every day chocolate eaters, feel free to disagree!

My first step in the sampling project was to spread out the chocolate samples and figure out what I might do with them. I figured I'd use a few of the items for cooking, and sample the others straight up. Below are some of the highlights of my experimenting!

two chocolates compared with red wine.
Chocolate for wine? The first day I had the samples at home, I figured I'd try one or two for sampling straight up. I was curious about the Mast Brothers Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, so that was the first one I opened. I liked the rich chocolate and modest sweetness, and found the salt gives a savory element. Yum! I had that first tasting bite before making dinner. After enjoying some good Kale Soup, there was a bit of the Portuguese red wine blend left. So I wondered how that would fare with some of the chocolate. It turns out that the salt element in the one from Mast Brothers made it a nice match for the wine. We compared that with the Lake Champlain Cherries and Chocolate. This bar is pretty tasty on its own, with rich, deep flavors. But it has a bit of a puckery element, which I found didn't go too well with the red wine. Overall, I'd say the Chocolate with Sea Salt was the better match for wine--and probably my preference overall, too.

Chocolate and Ginger: Next up in our sampling was the Chocolate Mexicano with Ginger from Taza Chocolate. I contemplated using this for some cooking, but the rich dark chocolate with just the right hint of ginger spice was too good eaten on its own to remain on hand for cooking later! (I had a little help sampling this.) Another reason to like this one, as if it were needed, is that Taza Chocolate is a local company, made in nearby Somerville, MA.

Taza Chocolate Mexicano with Ginger, another tasty one sampled in Cooking Chat post.

A few more tastes of chocolate! In service to my readers, I had a few more items to try and share about before chocolate fest. The Eastern Congo Initiative Vanilla Nib tastes a bit sweeter than some of the others I sampled, with tasty morsels or "nibs" of chocolate to give it a nice little crunch--definitely good eating by itself. The Pure Icelandic Sirius Chocolate has a nice clean, balanced chocolate taste. It's good on it's own, but I suspect it could be good as part of a baking project. We'll see if we can manage to save some for that!
Pure Icelandic Sirius Chocolate. Cooking Chat ChocolateFest preview!

Chocolate sauce for steak and strawberries: You may have already come across this recipe I posted a few days ago, so I figured I'd mention this toward the end of this roundup. The sauce for the steak wasn't quite as spicy as I was aiming for, but that actually worked out pretty well because there was a bit of the sauce from the steak as a base for the dessert sauce to dip the strawberries into. Yum!

fresh strawberries nestled in a Cooking Chat chocolate sauce.

Cherrybrook Brownies: I was excited to try making brownies from the Cherrybrook, so that my son could enjoy some of the chocolate goodies. Cherrybrook specializes in allergy safe baking mixes--we've previously enjoyed some of their cakes. Unfortunately, I noticed as we set out to make them that I didn't have the right pan size called for in the recipe. This led to frequent probing of the brownies and returning for more cooking a number of times, and we never quite got the texture right. I'll certainly give it a go again with the right pan, as the reviews I read of this online (while searching for cooking/pan size adjustment tips!) were very enthusiastic. While on the subject of allergy safe products, we also really like the Divvies cookies that Whole Foods carries. They also make a chocolate bar that I used to melt some chocolate for my son to dip his steak in--he concluded he liked both things plain better though.
Cherrybrook Kitchen brownie mix one item sampled by Cooking Chat recently.

Full disclosure: The chocolates mentioned in the post were provided as courtesy samples from Whole Foods Market Woburn. As always, the opinions and descriptions here are my own. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chocolate Sauce for Steak and Strawberries

Strawberries served with chocolate sauce. A tasty treat!
Don't think starting with this dessert photo will hurt your appetite!
What better way to get ready for chocolate's big day than to feature it in the main course as well as for dessert? I got quite the tasty assortment of chocolates to test out in advance of the big Chocolate Fest coming up this Saturday at Whole Foods Market Woburn. Encouraged to be creative, I noticed New York Strip Steaks were on sale this past weekend, and recalled having enjoyed a recipe for a meat sauce that called for a bit of dark chocolate. So chocolate and beef can work together, and I thought I'd try to come up with my own version of that combination.

steak and chocolate can be a pretty tasty combination
steak + chocolate, why not!
I was aiming for a spicy chocolate sauce, thinking a bit of the flavors in a mole sauce. As it turns out, I didn't add quite enough of the ancho chile powder to give it the kick I had in mind--I used 2 tsps, but you might try a higher amount. I list cayenne pepper as an optional ingredient, as I didn't use cayenne this time but would do so in trying to make a spicier version next time.

Though it wasn't as spicy as I had in mind, the spices did add a bit of complexity to the sauce. The richness of the chocolate was certain tasty on the savory meat. I had plans to make a separate dessert chocolate sauce for strawberries, but seeing how the steak sauce wasn't to spicy, I simply melted a bit more chocolate into the steak sauce that remained after dinner, and dipped the strawberries in that. I was pretty pleased with the result!

On to the recipe, with the caveat that this is a work in progress, and I'd welcome any improvements you come up with!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 heaping tbsp minced shallots
1/4 cup port
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 beef stock*

2 to 3 tsp pure ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
pinch cinnamon
optional: cayenne pepper to taste (perhaps 1/4 tsp or so)
1 oz shredded bits of good quality chocolate--I used the Whole Food Callebaut bittersweet block of chocolate (60% cocoa solids) for this, and found scraping the edges with a large chopping knife created nice shredded chocolate.

1 lb or so NY Strip Steak or other good quality cut, rubbed with a little garlic, cumin and salt
fresh strawberries for dipping

When it's not grilling season, I like to sear my steak for a minute or two per site on the stove top, then roast at 400 to the desired doneness. It took about 14 minutes in the oven for thick steak we had for this meal.

You can prepare the sauce while steaks cook. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan on medium heat. Add the shallots, cook until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the port and balsamic vinegar, simmer about 5 minutes until the port has reduced by about 1/2 and begun to thicken. add the beef stock and simmer, then stir in the spices, chile powder through cayenne. After adding the spices, stir in the chocolate, and heat on medium to melt. Stir the chocolate occasionally, making sure it is thoroughly mixed with the other ingredients.

Once the chocolate sauce is done, keep it on very low heat to maintain the thick liquid consistency, as the steak finishes cooking. Let the steak rest for a few minutes after cooking, then cut into thin slices. To serve, place 3 or 4 slices on each place, then drizzle with the chocolate sauce.

After you've enjoyed your steak and cleared the table, add a couple more tablespoons to the chocolate saucepan. Heat this chocolate along with any remaining steak sauce until the chocolate has melted. Place a few strawberries on each plate, and add a scoop of the chocolate sauce alongside it. Dip the strawberries into the sauce as you go, and enjoy!

strawberries served with chocolate sauce. Yum!

*Note: I referenced this sauce recipe from to get some ideas regarding ingredients and proportions. I actually didn't use the beef stock because I was hesitant to open a big container for such a small amount, but found myself need to add extra port and water to get the right consistency. I'd say using the beef stock would be the way to go.

Full disclosure: Whole Foods provided the chocolate samples referenced in this post to spread word about the upcoming chocolate fest. The recipe and opinions here are my own!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

5 More Tips on the Road to Eating Well and on Budget

putting together various items in fridge with pasta makes a budget friendly meal. Cooking Chat tips.

So January has come to a close and it's time to tally the numbers. As I noted, we started the New Year off well by coming in well under our weekly buget of $150 for our groceries. On a monthly basis, we are also tracking a "food and dining" target which adds up all of our food and beverage costs, which in addition to our grocery tab, includes: eating out and take-out (we don't do much in this category), beer and wine (you don't have to read this blog long to figure out we appreciate good wine with many of our meals!), coffees and lunches purchased out during the work week. Adding this all up, I'm pleased to report we were $40 under our spending target for the month! Ten days out I thought we'd be under by more, and probably got a bit too relaxed. Splurged a bit on a nice Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley the last weekend of the month, seeing we were doing well. But I also stocked up a bit on some meat specials that ought to help our February numbers. OK, enough about me, let's talk about how you can save and well, too!

I recently shared 8 Planning Steps to Feed Your Family Well and Under Budget. Thinking about the ingredients for our food budget success in January, I've identified 5 more tips to help you eat well without breaking the bank. What tips would you add?

wild salmon on sale a tasty way to save money. Cooking Chat post.
wild salmon on sale? yes, please!
1) See a sale, make it: Good planning is certainly essential to eating will and under budget.  But one must have a pinch of flexibility to go with the planning, particularly to take advantage of good specials. For instance, one Friday this month I'd planned to do tacos or something like that, but then I saw on the local Whole Foods Facebook page that there was a one-day sale coming up that day wild salmon. I could easily hold the taco ingredients for a meal the next week, and grab some of that salmon while the price was right. Stay tuned for the recipe I made with it this time, but if you can't wait,

every bit of this Mahi Mahi is good eating! Cooking Chat eat well for less tips
2) Don't fear the fish: At a glance, fish might seem too expensive for those of us that are very budget conscious, especially if you favor "meatier" fish like wild salmon and swordfish as we do. The regular prices on these fish can run from $15 to $25 per pound. First, I mostly get these favorites when there on sale (see above), which will often bring it down closer to $10/lb or so. But the second key point is that a good piece of fish, virtually all that your buying is going to get eaten--there's not the fat or bone that gets tossed out as there is with many meats. So I find for the three of us (one child), I can usually get about 10 ozs or so of fish and it's plenty. Purchased on sale, the actual cost for the night's protein is on par with meats like pork chops or chicken breasts, if not cheaper. Final point--my goal is to eat healthy as well as manage the budget, so fish as part of the mix is important! See for instance this recipe for Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi with Orange-Soy Marinade I came up in response to a recent sale.

3) Learn to how love the tough stuff What I mean here is to learn how to appreciate the inexpensive cuts of meat that can be tough if not cooked properly. But learning how to cook cuts like pork shoulder and beef chuck low and slow is a great way to save money while cooking up some great cold weather comfort food. Here's a I recipe I go for regularly--Beef Daube Provencal-- especially when I see stew beef on sale:

planning a meal around a bottle of wine you have on hand can save money! Cooking Chat tips.
4) Cook for the wine: Sure, wine is a good incentive to get people to cook--but that's not exactly what I had in mind here! Of course, strictly speaking, not having wine would be one way to reduce spending. But if like me, you see enjoying good wine along with the meal you worked hard to prepare as part of the process, you'll want to figure out how wine fits into the budget. With that in mind, one recent week, I decided to plan a couple meals around bottles of wine I had on hand that I wanted to try. This saved on the wine bill, while leading to some good pairings: Enkidu Humbaba (Syrah/Petite Sirah blend) with Bee Bim Bop and a Portuguese red I was eager to try, the 2010 Twister Duoro was a natural with Portuguese Kale Soup from Thoughtful Eating.

5) Make it a Frugal Friday If you're like me, the energy for cooking and the food on hand have a tendency to diminish a bit by week's end. It's a time when take-out or that budget-busting unplanned night dining out can creep into the mix. But if you can summon a little creativity and energy, you can make some tasty dishes with what's on hand, and work wonders on your food budget (or at least stay on course!). But you don't need to come up with the ideas from scratch! Check out one of my Frugal Friday dishes for inspiration: there's the Pasta with Bacon and Sauteed Spinach I made recently or Pasta with Turkey, Chickpeas and Tomatoes.

OK, there you go, five more tips to eat well and spend less! What would you add to the list?
Frugal Friday pasta via Cooking Chat, tasty and budget-friendly
a tasty Frugal Friday pasta dish!