Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roasted Sirloin Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Roasted Sirloin served with Chimichurri Sauce. Cooking Chat recipe.

I had a good bit of extra parsley on hand, which is a great excuse to make this tasty chimichurri sauce for steak again! As I consulted the version I posted back in 2009, I realized this recipe was ready for a refresh with some pictures taken with my iPhone and to reflect some of the ingredient tweaks I've made to it. The originally recipe actually called for avocado oil, which isn't something I tend to have around. But that did give me the idea of adding some fresh avocado to the sauce. The avocado is a nice addition, but the sauce is tasty without it, too.

I've written this up based on sirloin steak, but it's good with other flavorful cuts such as ribeye or flank steak. You may have seen the rub on this blog before--when you find something flavorful that an 8 year old likes, you break it out often! The sauce is also great on grilled steak, but we still have awhile to wait in these parts for grilling season. OK, time to get on with the easy, tasty recipe.

Sirloin steak with spice rub along with chimichurri sauce. Cooking Chat recipe.
For the sauce
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar (you can also use basic vinegar plus 1 tbsp chopped fresh or 1 tsp dry tarragon)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (a bit more if you want extra kick)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 an avocado, sliced or diced (optional)

Steak rub
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder

1 sirloin steak of about 1 pound or more

Mix the herbs, pepper flakes and garlic in a small bowl. Add the vinegar, then whisk in the  oil. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Let the chimichurri sit for 1 hour or more before using to let the flavors meld, if you have time. It tastes good if you make this then get right onto cooking the steak. If you are using the optional avocado, slice it and gently toss with the rest of the sauce closer to your serving time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl, the rub it onto both sides of the steak to coat. Let the steak sit with the rub for about 15 minutes or so.
sirloin steak coming out of the oven.

When you are about ready to cook the steak, coat an oven safe skillet with oil spray and heat it on medium high. When the skillet is good and hot, add the steak to sear it for two minutes on one side, then flip it over to brown it for one minute on the other side.

Remove the pan to the oven and roast until desired doneness. The length of time will depend on the size of your steak and how you like your steaks, but I recommend medium rare for this cut. I find 11 or 12 minutes works for a steak of about 1 pound, approximately one inch thick. Definitely check it at this time to avoid overcooking! Remember the steak will continue to cook a bit after resting, so you want it to be slightly redder in the middle than the way you want to serve it.
Roasted Sirloin served with Chimichurri Sauce. Cooking Chat recipe.

Remove the steak from the oven when it's close to the way you want it. Move the steak to a platter and loosely tent, let it rest for a few minutes. Slice crosswise and serve with a bit of the sauce, passing more at the table for those who want more. The sauce is great on baked potato, too, so that is a nice side for the dish.

Wine pairing: Given the origins of this dish, a red from South America is a natural choice. I first made a version of this for a tasting of Chilean Carmenere, which is certainly a nice pairing. I recently had it with a Malbec blend with equally tasty results. This 2009 Familia Mayol Malbec blend is a great bottle of wine and very good with the dish. But I'm afraid this year might be hard to find; I got the last bottle on hand at Pairings. If you get a more recent vintage, I'd suggest decanting it. Of course you might find another good Malbec or Carmenere option--let me know!
2009 Familia Mayol Malbec Blend

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Irish Potato Cabbage Soup with Bacon, Cheddar and Guinness

Irish Potato Cabbage Soup served with Bacon, Cheddar and Guinness. Cooking Chat Recipe.
Potatoes. Cabbage. Guinness. Pretty solid foundation for a St. Patrick's weekend meal. I just concocted this soup tonight, and it was pretty tasty. So I'm going to dispense with any further preliminaries in order to get this out quickly in case there's anyone looking for a last minute St. Patrick's Day Dinner. This is probably a bit quicker to make than the Irish Lamb Stew I posted can't go wrong with either!

2 slices of bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 carrots, sliced
3 cups cabbage, coarsely chopped
(plus a bit more, sliced super thin, as an optional topping)
4 medium red or yellow potatoes,  peeled and chopped coarsely
6 sage leaves, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup Guinness or other dark beer of choice
1/4 to 1/2 tsp fennel seed (pretty potent flavor, I used 1/2 tsp but if you're not sure if you like it you might opt for 1/4 or 1/3)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup or so shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: if you have any leftover cooked meat, such as as steak or pork, add that after you've pureed the soup. We had a handful of steak leftover, and that added some nice additional substance.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Cook the bacon until it's nice and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to a plate with a paper towel on it, set aside to cool. Drain most of the bacon fat from the pan but leave a bit for flavor. When the bacon has cooled, crumble it up into small bits to serve on the soup later.

Return the pan to the burner on medium heat, add the other tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion, cook for about 5 minutes, until it begins to soften. Stir in the carrots, followed by the cabbage and garlic. Give them a few minutes to begin to soften, then add the potatoes and sage. Add a bit of salt at this point, too.
Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots getting stirred up for some Irish soup. Cooking Chat recipe.

Add the liquids: vegetable broth, water, and yes, Guinness (be strong, hopefully you have more left in your glass!). Stir well to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer on medium. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Remove from heat, and puree with a handheld blender, or transfer to puree in a food processor. I went for a consistency that still had some nice chunks of potato and other veggies, but you could go for a smoother puree if you prefer.

Irish Potato Cabbage Soup served with Bacon, Cheddar, Guinness and Soda Bread. Cooking Chat recipe.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle bacon, cheddar and a bit of the shredded cabbage to for a nice presentation. Your ready to enjoy it...and for the full Irish experience, serve it with a pint of Guinness and some soda bread! (my friend John nicely dropped by some fresh baked soda bread, which went perfectly with the soup. Sláinte!

Irish Potato Cabbage Soup Served with Bacon, Cheddar and Guinness. Cooking Chat recipe.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Healthy and Tasty: 5 Spring Recipes with Wine Pairings

Kale pesto, one of five healthy recipes featured at recent Cooking Chat party.

When I volunteered to help Jodi with the North Suburban YMCA's annual fundraising campaign this spring, I thought hosting an "Almost Spring" tasting party would be a great way to sample some health and tasty foods while supporting the Y. After all, healthy living is one of the cornerstones of the Y's work. We also shared at the event how the Y is committed to ensuring individuals and families of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in their great programs. Definitely a cause worth supporting!

Some folks seem to think healthy eating means sacrificing taste, this lineup of tasty recipes provided a great chance to dispel that notion! Of course, good food ought to be enjoyed with good wine and friends. So in addition to featuring healthy recipes, the other fun part of the event was finding good wines to pair with each course. As is often the case, I got some good ideas and wine for this from my friends at Pairings Wine and Food. We had a fun group of 15 people enjoying this lineup with us. I served tapas style portions of each course, so that people would be able to enjoy the full lineup. Our guests were eager to get the recipes and wine info, so I guess it's a good sign that the menu worked well, and that you might want to replicate some or all of it for yourself!
making Muhammara spicy red pepper dip.
got things started by whipping up this Muhammara
Getting Started: Spicy Red Pepper Dip and Healthier Cheeses with Prosecco
This spicy red pepper dip of Turkish origins, know as "Muhammara", is something I make frequently for gatherings when taste is the only consideration. But made with olive oil as opposed to cream or cheese, along with healthy ingredients like walnuts and the pomegranate molasses, this seemed like the perfect start to our health + tasty themed party. I figured we should still put some cheese out, too, but offered two that are somewhat healthier. Goat cheese is easier for some people to digest, along with being lower in fat than some cheese, so we featured a tasty one from Pairings. Parmigiano is also lower in fat than cheddar, and I got a great serving idea from one of the cheese gurus at Whole Foods Woburn--dipping the Parm in some honey. A very tasty idea! Bubbles are a great way to whet the appetite, so we served this with a Mionetto Prosecco.
shredding asparagus to toss with Parmesan Dressing.

Pairing 1: Shaved Raw Asparagus with Parmesan Dressing served with a Grillo
Raw veggies are healthy, of course, but asparagus isn't one we typically eat raw. But sliced thin and tossed with tasty Parmesan dressing, this is a tasty and creative way to serve asparagus. And the asparagus is starting to look very good in stores now as spring approaches. Get the Food and Wine recipe here and try this for yourself!

As you may know, asparagus is one of the trickiest foods to pair wine with. The cheese in this dish provides a "bridge", something that does go well with wine that you can focus on in coming up with a pairing. I asked Ray from Pairings for help with this one, and we are all very pleased with the result. The Fondo Antico Grillo Parlante, made from the Sicilian white grape Grillo, has a nice fresh crispness that worked with the lemon in the dressing. I also got a bit of salinity in this--perhaps from the vineyard's proximity to the sea? That worked well with the saltiness of the cheese. This was one of our most popular and commented upon pairings!
shaved raw asparagus with Parmesan dressing, served with Grillo wine. #pairings

Pairing 2: Pasta tossed with Kale Pesto served with a Picpoul de Pinet
Food doesn't get much healthier than nutrient dense kale, but some people find it challenging to enjoy. I love it in kale soup, but have also come to enjoy featuring it in this pesto recipe I've developed. I use a bit of arugula along with the kale, which along with the garlic and red pepper flakes gives this pesto a nice zesty kick. I'd say our guests were pleasantly surprised by this one! I served the kale pesto with bowtie pasta, though the photo at the top is from another time when I tossed it with linguine. Good both ways!

Sauvignon Blanc is the classic pairing for pesto, but I like to mix it up a bit! The Saint-Peyre Picpoul-de-Pinet, at about $10/bottle, is a great, versatile wine we have a lot here. I've found it can work quite nicely as a pairing for pesto, whether it be this kale pesto or the more typical basil pesto. With the kick in this kale pesto, next time I might try something with a touch of sweetness, such as a Gewurztraminer.

Interesting white wines: Picpoul-de-Pinet and Grillo, chilling for a party. #wine
looked like a party ready to break out in our fridge!
Pairing 3: Seared Salmon with Lemon Olive Relish and a Pinot Noir
Salmon is my favorite fish, and a natural to feature in a health plus tasty menu. As a healthy bonus, this salmon gets served over some sauteed spinach with cannellini beans.  I've mastered a technique for pan searing salmon thanks to the recipe in Barbara Lynch's Stir: Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition, which I broke out again for this party. It's a great cookbook, picking it up is one way to get this recipe. I've written up the basic pan-searing method in this post, just skip the soy sauce to do the lemon olive relish. For the relish, it's basically the juice from one lemon, along with some olives, parsley and a bit of white wine vinegar.

I suppose you could make a case for a full-bodied white with this, given the citrus element. But Pinot Noir is my preferred option for salmon, and that's what we went with. The 2012 Hahn California Pinot Noir was a big hit with the crowd, and I didn't even tell them it was under $15 per bottle! Your not going to find many pinots this good for that price.

Cilantro Lime Marinaded Pork Tenderloin ready for chipotle cream, via Cooking Chat.

Pairing 4: Cilantro-Lime Pork Tenderloin and Cumin Sage Sweet Potatoes with a Zinfandel
Pork tenderloin compares favorably with chicken in terms of providing a fairly lean source of protein and minerals, and sweet potatoes are another nutrient dense food. OK, so that's how these items made the healthy part of the lineup. These recipes I've developed definitely pack the flavor! Cilantro-Lime Marinaded Pork Tenderloin with Chipotle Cream has a nice kick, and goes perfectly with my Sweet Potatoes Mashed with Cumin-Sage Butter. For the healthy theme, I cut back on the butter a bit, and used half regular butter and half Earth Balance spread, still quite tasty!

Hahn Pinot Noir and Ampora Zinfandel featured in recent Cooking Chat pairings. #wine

Meat with some spice? My first instinct is to go with a good zin, and I trusted my instincts for this pairing. I had recently sampled a great lineup of wines from Sonoma, so I went with the 2008 Amphora Zinfandel from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. This big, robust red didn't disappoint...well, except for the fact that when I went back to get more bottles for our crowd, Pairings had sold out of it! Oh well, I grabbed a bottle of Ridge zin for our backup after the Amphora had been finished, a solid backup. Sorry, by the time I was serving up course number four I wasn't getting very detailed tasting notes down!

Pairing 5: Strawberries Dipped in Chocolate Sauce served with Port
I love reading news stories extolling the virtues of things like chocolate. In case you needed another reason to eat it, here's an article on the 10 health benefits of chocolate. Combined with vitamin rich strawberries, it must be about as healthy as it gets, right? Dessert doesn't get much easier. I just shaved a cup or so of good quality dark chocolate that I got at Whole Foods, heated with a tablespoon of milk and a dash of extra sugar until it was liquefied. Put a little dollop on a plate, place the berries on top and give them a little twist to partially coat with chocolate, and you got a great looking and tasting dessert!

We had a humble port ready to go with this, that I knew tasted pretty good with chocolate. Then, much to my pleasant surprise, one couple that came to our gathering are port connoisseurs, and brought an awesome bottle of Warre's Otima 10 year old tawny. A great finish to the evening!
Warre's Otima 10 year old tawny, served with Cooking Chat's Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Irish Country Cooking Lamb Stew

Irish Lamb Stew cooking on stovetop. Cooking Chat post with recipe and cookbook review.

With St. Patrick's Day coming up, March is a time for me to put down that pasta box and get in touch with my heritage. Now, we Irish might not be known for haute cuisine, but the last time I was in Ireland I could see how many cooks there are embracing the wonderful fresh produce, meat and seafood so readily available from Irish farms and seas. So around this time of year I make a point to celebrate this by cooking some good Irish food. Thus, I readily jumped on the chance to review Irish Country Cooking, a new recipe collection from The Irish Countrywoman's Association, published last month by Sterling Epicure.

Irish Country Cooking book from post with Irish stew recipe
Over the past few weeks, I've enjoyed browsing through Irish Country Cooking, plotting which recipes to try. The cookbook has a nice collection of traditional recipes, and I will soon be trying ones such as their Shepherd's Pie, Braised Derrynaflan Brisket and Lickeen Colcannon. But I was surprised to see the book also offering such items as Blackened Cajun Salmon and Chilled Avocado Soup. Clearly Irish cooks are experimenting with how global flavors can spice up the good local products. Even before delving into testing some of the recipes, I could see that this cookbook would make a nice St. Pat's gift to the cook on your list!

The Irish Stew made with lamb shoulder looked like a good place for me to start cooking from the book. I've had good luck with slow cooking stews lately, so decided to apply that method to the recipe presented, along with a few other tweaks of my own. This stew was a big hit, so I'm eager to try more of the recipes! Here's how you can make a nice traditional Irish meal for St. Patrick's Day:

1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 leek, cleaned (see tip below) and sliced
1.25 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into pieces of two inches or so
4 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
bay leaf

2 medium carrots chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups cabbage, coarsely chopped
a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, tied with kitchen string to make a "bouquet garni"
1/2 cup water if needed

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the aromatics-celery, onion, leek and 1 of the carrots--until they begin to soften and brown a bit, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer these vegetables to the slow cooker or the stew pot, depending on the method you are using. Add the other tbsp of olive oil to the skillet on medium heat. Add the lamb, with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Cook the meat, turning occasionally to that it is browned on all sides, which takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the meat to add to the vegetables in the slow cooker or pot on the stove top, and follow the related instructions below.

Irish Lamb Stew cooking in slow cooker. Cooking Chat post with recipe and cookbook review.
Looks prettier in the bowl, but slow cooking makes it nice and tender!
Slow Cooker:  This is the method I used based on my schedule for the day, so I can speak more to the timing. Stir the chicken broth into the meat and veggie mixture, then add the bay leaf. Cook on high for one hour then on low for 7.5 hours. Or if you have time, you could just do low for 10 hours. I wanted to eat before 9 p.m though! After the slow cooking time, the lamb should be nice and tender. Remove the bay leaf, and transfer to a large pot. Skip ahead to the "finish the stew" section.

Stove top quicker cooking: The original recipe from Irish Country Cooking calls for cooking the lamb on the stove top for 30 minutes. So if you want try following this quicker approach, stir the chicken broth in with the meat and veggies, and bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 30 minutes. I would suggest checking the meat at this point and see if it's getting tender for you. If you have time and think it could benefit, let it simmer another 20 to 30 minutes. When the lamb is getting close to the desired tenderness, go ahead to the "finish the stew" section.

Finish the stew: Now you've got some nice tender lamb and are ready to finish it up by cooking it with some vegetables. Add the carrots, cabbage, potatoes and herbs to the lamb and cooking liquid, stirring well to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer on medium for about 30 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Particularly if you've done the slow cooking, which reduces the liquid, you can add a half cup of water and partially cover the pot to cook the potato a bit faster. When the potatoes are softened, remove the herb bouquet and you are ready to eat.

Irish Lamb Stew served. Cooking Chat post with recipe and cookbook review.

Serve the stew piping hot. The Irish Country Cooking book suggests serving it with warm soda bread, and provide a recipe for that if you're up to making your own. That sounds like a great idea--though we simply enjoyed our stew with a nice, simple French red wine blend and that worked pretty well, too! Next time though I'll serve this with a pint of Guinness and the soda bread. Sláinte!
Irish Lamb Stew served for a hearty meal. Cooking Chat post with recipe and cookbook review.

Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of the book. As always, the opinions presented are entirely my own.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Simple Pan Seared Salmon with Soy Ginger Marinade

Pan Seared Salmon with Soy Ginger Marinade. Cooking Chat recipe.

Does this recipe sound familiar? Regular readers of Cooking Chat might recall I recently posted Pan Seared Mahi-Mahi with Orange Soy Marinade, which was really my [successful!] attempt to convert my go-to approach for salmon over to mahi-mahi, which I don't cook nearly as often.

This is one of those recipes that is such a basic part of our menu here that I hadn't thought to post it until someone tweeted awhile back looking for a simple salmon recipe. And this cooking method is worth sharing. Ordering salmon a couple times at top-notch restaurants taught me that salmon (and other fish) is at its best when it is cooked just right, and that great care must be taken to avoid overcooking and drying it out. I'd gotten that down pretty well for myself on the grill, but it was a recipe in Barbara Lynch's Stir: Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition that taught me the pan-searing method here. Alas, grilling season seems far away still given our early March weather forecast in New England! Learning how to pan sear salmon and other fish is key to enjoying year round in these parts. So here you go, with a word of thanks to Chef Barbara!

10 to 12 ozs wild salmon fillet

For the marinade
1/4 cup soy sauce, preferably lower sodium
1 tbsp canola or similar oil
1 tsp brown rice vinegar
tsp honey
1/2 tsp garlic powder
generous pitch ginger

Take the salmon out of the fridge before you get ready to put the marinade together so it starts coming closer to room temperature. Combine the marinade ingredients, in a mixing bowl. Rinse and pat the salmon dry, then place it in a large bowl or plastic bag. Pour about 2/3 of the marinade over this fish. Set the remainder of the marinade aside. Turn the fish over gently a couple times so that it becomes well coated with the marinade. Let the fish marinade for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. Unlike a marinade for something like steak tips, where the goal is to tenderize the meat over an extended period, you don't want to marinade fish like salmon for long, or it will get too salty. A short soak in it gives it a nice flavor and leads to nice juicy fish.
Pan Seared Salmon with Soy Ginger Marinade. Cooking Chat recipe.
this is how you want the skin to look upon flipping it.
After the salmon has marinaded for 10 minutes, spray a skillet with cooking oil and heat the pan on medium high. When the pan is good and hot, remove the fish from the marinade and gently shake off some of the excess marinade--but you'll want to keep some to cook in with the fish. Place the fish skin side down, and cook for 4 minutes without moving the fish. The skin will be getting nice and crispy underneath. After 4 minutes, use a spatula to turn the fish over. Seriously, set that time for 4 minutes. In testing this recipe for the post, I did 5 one time and that was a bit overcooked!

Pan Seared Salmon with Soy Ginger Marinade. Cooking Chat recipe.
Turn the fish back to the skin side one more time. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the reserved marinade over the fish after turning it, and let it cook in for about 2 minutes. At this point, gently cut open the fish at a thick spot to check for doneness. The outside of the fillet should be a lighter orange, but still have plenty of the deep, dark orange inside, as it will continue cooking when you remove from the heat. The actual time will depend on the thickness of your fillet. When the fish has reached this point of doneness, remove from the pan to a plate, and loosely tent with foil. Let it rest a couple of minutes, letting it cook a bit more. The skin will sometimes come off during the cooking process. If it doesn't, it can be easily pulled off with your fingers or a knife prior to serving.

Serve the salmon, offering the reserved marinade* at the table. In my opinion, ours didn't actually need more, having cooked in just the right amount. Our eight year old did request a bit of extra soy. He loves this recipe, one reason we have it so much. When you get an eight year old gobbling up something this healthy and easy to make, you're going to be cooking it a lot!

Simple Pan Seared Salmon makes a nice #WeeknightSupper entree. Cooking Chat recipe.

Wine Pairing: Salmon just begs to be served with Pinot Noir; although there usually isn't begging required to get me to open a bottle of Pinot. I usual go for wild salmon from Alaska, so it seems natural to stay in the Pacific Northwest. Again, not much arm twisting required to have me go for Oregon Pinot Noir. Most recently, we enjoyed this dish with a bottle of 2011 Soter North Valley Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Definitely a very good wine and nice pairing. This recipe can easily by made on a busy weeknight, but this Pinot is more a weekend type wine by our standards! (don't recall exact price, $30ish I believe). We often grab the Bouchard & Fils pinot from France or the Hahn pinot from California when looking for a pinot to enjoy with salmon midweek.
Soter North Valley Pinot Noir makes a nice pairing with salmon. Cooking Chat post. #wine

*Note: When I refer to putting "reserved marinade" on food at the table, this is marinade that was set aside before combining with the fish. The portion that the fish actually marinaded in gets discarded. You don't want to be serving liquid that marinaded raw fish or meat in terms of food safety.