Archive for November, 2008

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Try them, and be thankful!

November 25, 2008

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I love brussel sprouts. This is as surprising to me as it may be to brussel-sprout haters out there. 

My first encounter with sprouts came under the worst possible circumstances: served as airline cuisine. Slimy, smelly and downright repulsive, they not only fouled my taste buds, they also fouled the air in the cabin. Those brussel sprouts were filthy little heads of cabbage, and I decided they might be the one vegetable that this vegetable lover loathed.

Enter the husband’s cooking (again). Under his excellent watch, foul little brussel sprouts are made delicious. Roasted to toasty golden perfection, they are savory, satisfying little bites of veg. They even have a subtle sweetness akin to popcorn. And much like popcorn, I eat them by the handful.

I admit, I’m all about the sides… and at Thanksgiving, sides are king. I suggest you add a little bit golden green to your groaning sideboard this Thursday in the form of roasted brussel sprouts. Try them. I think even the skeptical will agree: They are, indeed, something to be thankful for!

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And now, the husband’s take…

As my wife stated, she’s about the sides. And I can’t blame her. On this day of turkey, you can see why the sides are bigger players then on most days. As a result, I’m giving you a quick, easy and delicious recipe for the day — roasted brussel sprouts. 

This is one of our family’s staple. We make this about twice a week during the fall and winter. And, as I’ve converted several people myself, I’m convinced this is the way to make even the biggest hater of brussel sprouts reconsider. We tend to think they smell, not like boiling cabbage, but popcorn. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! If you are not in the US, it’s a great holiday to celebrate what you have been so lucky to receive this year. So I wish you Happy Thanksgiving as well! 

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Ingredients
1 lb. brussel sprouts
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt

Directions
1. Slice the brussel sprouts in half through the stem. Trim off any rough part of the stems and pull off any bad (brown or with holes) leaves. This can be done hours in advance. 

2. Preheat the oven to 400F and turn on the convection feature. If your oven doesn’t have this feature, then preheat to 425F. 

3. Toss the prepared sprouts in olive oil. 

4. Heat a large, oven-safe pan over hight heat and coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the brussel sprouts to the pan. Work quickly to make sure the cut side is down. This should cause a sizzle.

5. Liberally salt the sprouts. Keep the pan on the stove over high heat until the sprouts begin to brown on the hottest parts of the pan. 

6. Move the pan to the oven. Check about 10 min into the cooking. Flip the sprouts over. They should be very dark brown on the bottom. Cook for another 10 min or until all the sprouts are completely golden. 

Note: If you are doing a very large batch or don’t have an oven safe pan, I recommend using a cookie sheet instead. Simply use two burners of the stove, and place the sheet over medium high heat. Spray the pan with a vegetable oil spray. Add the sprouts cut side down and then move to the oven. Takes about 20 min per side.

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Turkey & Cheddar Panini (with onion marmalade) to the rescue!

November 20, 2008

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Yesterday, we brought you the secret of our house burger… onion marmalade. Today, we bring you the secret of our favorite sandwich… it is, er, onion marmalade.

Pictured above is the sandwich that makes us happy. Especially on those nights. (You know the ones I mean.) Everyone has them. Especially after you’ve had kids. Those are the nights when you know you need to make dinner. But you look at each other, look at your little ones, and realize that – shock! horror! – you don’t actually  want to cook. Even I have those nights… nights when the wife might grudgingly enter the kitchen, rather than give in to ordering or going out. Those nights are when we turn to this sandwich.

It couldn’t be more simple. A few slices of turkey, some good sharp cheddar, a slice of bacon, and delicious onion marmalade. Place the sandwich in the panini press, and 10 min later… voila!… hot delicious turkey and cheddar panini with onion marmalade. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the guilt of putting out the cardboard pizza box with the garbage, reminding your neighbors that, “No, your kids are not eating 100% organic, locally grown, micro-biotic tofu and sprouts.”

A few little tips. First, the cheese is important. In addition to being tangy and tasty, it’s a binding agent. There are two very thin layers that hold the sandwich together and keep the marmalade from bleeding through the bread. You don’t need a lot of cheese; spread it out and keep it thin. Also, don’t try to slice the sandwich fresh from the heat of the press. If you do, the cheese will still be molten and it will cause the sandwich to shift around. Wait 2 minutes before slicing.

Second, to me, the joy of a panini is the crunch as much as the flavor. After many trials, we know that if you add too much turkey, it becomes just a hot sandwich – not a panini. No more than three thin slices of turkey from the local deli seem to yield the best results.

Finally, the wife wanted me to say that the bacon is 100% optional. If you have no interest in breaking out the pan, you can have something just as delicious without it.

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Turkey and Cheddar Panini with Onion Marmalade
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Ingredients:
8 slices bread
1/2 lb. thin sliced turkey
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
4-6 slices bacon
1/4 cup onion marmalade

Directions:
1. Heat the panini press. Fry the bacon and let drain.

2. Slice the cheese thin and place enough to nearly cover the bottom slice of bread.

3. Break the bacon in bite-sized pieces and stack on the cheese. (Small slices ensure the bacon will remain in the sandwich, and not get yanked out in one big bite!)

4. Add the turkey next, then about a tablespoon of the onion marmalade.

5. Finish off by adding another thin layer of cheese and the top piece of bread.

6. Toast until golden brown. Let cool for 2 to 3 min to allow the cheese to firm before slicing.

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Behold: The House Burger

November 19, 2008

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The husband loves burgers.

I would like to say that I was his first love, but I know darn well that it was really the Big Mac. And now he’s moved onto bigger and better things. No, not me. Other burgers.

He’s sampled $10-$12 burgers in New York City’s finest burger joints. He’s hit every type of fast food burger from Sonic to Rally’s and back to McDonald’s (again). But he saves his true passion for the homemade burger.

Yes, he grinds his own meat. He experiments with different levels of fat, and different areas of the cow. He’s made lamb burgers, sirloin burgers, chuck burgers, blue cheese burgers, cheddar cheese burgers and who knows what else.

Now at last, he’s reached the burger pinnacle. A burger so good he has dubbed it, “The House Burger.” Cue the dramatic music.

Perhaps I’m being a bit playful. But there’s no joking about how good the house burger is. It is insanely good. I like a burger as much as the next guy (except if the next guy is my husband, who is, like, obsessed), and I can say, this is one of the best — if not the best — burgers out there. I have to give much credit to the delicious combination of sweet and biting onion marmalade, sharp Dijon mustard and pungent blue cheese. I also have to give props to the toasted potato roll, which no good burger should go without. But most important, the burger owes its deliciousness to my husband’s mad cooking skills. It is juicy, pink, moist and delicious.

If you can cook a mean burger, you can’t go wrong with this lovely combination of flavors. Add that onion marmalade. Slather on that Dijon. Top it with blue cheese. Behold, it is the House Burger.

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And now, the husband’s take…

OK. I’ve discussed problems I’ve had with food in the past. There have been a few minor obsessions that have caused me to detour from common sense for, well, months at a time. The kitchen gets filled with an ingredient that gets used, abused, cultivated, and promoted.

Take, for example, pistachios. A couple of years ago I did several posts about these nuts: pistachio-date sticky buns, pistachio madelines with meyer lemon glaze, fried chicken with a pistachio crust, and, one of my family’s favorites, pistachio ice cream. I like pistachios, and they are only my second favorite nut to the pecan — ask my wife about driving through Georgia and stopping to get praline pecans… it wasn’t one of my finer moments.

But nuts can’t hold a candle to my obsession with hamburgers. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of burgers – good and bad – over my lifetime. (One highlight: When my wife and I lived in NYC, a slew of high-end burger joints opened, many in our neighborhood. Thus, we ate a lot of $10-$12 burgers.) Indeed, the burger madness extends to my own kitchen, where I’ve ground different combinations of meat based on various hypotheses and recommendations, trying to find the ideal burger. It’s unhealthy not just to my cholesterol, but also to broader mental health.

And yet, here we are at this post. This is the burger that has affectionately won the title of “the house burger.” It has onion marmalade, blue cheese, Dijon mustard, and a perfectly cooked patty of ground meat. It is served on a toasted potato roll. It’s a combination of sweet, savory, pungent, and spicy. It makes me happy every time I eat one.

When we have a barbeque, I make a stack of them and place them alongside the safer, more traditional burger offerings. And while some people may pause, ultimately the plain ones are left cooling on the plate while these burgers disappear.

So what makes it great? Answer: the onion marmalade. The rest of the ingredients are easy to get, and simple to come by. The only effort comes in making the onion marmalade. But it elevates it to something not simply good, but spectacular. Something worthy of the title “house burger.”

A quick note about burgers: If you have the time, make the patties by hand. Yes, the machine-shaped patties are easy to come by. But I think that one of the reasons so many burgers are dry and hard is that the meat is overhandled. So, if you have time, do it yourself and be gentle. Handle it just enough to shape the patty.

Regarding meat mixes: My favorite is simple ground chuck (80/20) combined with ground sirloin. Just make sure you don’t leave out the fat. This is where the flavor and moisture of the burger come from.

Finally, I keep my burgers small. Rarely are they over a quarter pound. I know people love big, but at some point, it’s just too much. Gigantic size causes many burgers to be less than delicious as you char and try to cook them to temperature.

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House Burger
Yield: 6
Ingredients:
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
6 potato rolls
6 oz. blue cheese (Maytag, gorgonzola picate)
Onion marmalade
Dijon mustard

Directions:
1. Start with a quarter pound of meat. Shape the patty using just enough force to bring it together. Use the curve between pointer finger and thumb as the guide to shape roundness. Finally, press gently flat between both hands. Repeat for the five other patties. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Heat the grill or pan over medium high heat. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the patty. Cook for four to four and a half minutes a side for medium.

3. After about two minutes on the second side, add the blue cheese and allow it to melt. If you are using the grill, this is also a good time to toast the buns. (Just watch for burning!)

4. Remove the burgers from heat once the appropriate temperature is reached. Allow them to rest for one to two minutes. Meanwhile, slather Dijon on the bottom of the bun. Add about 1 tablespoon of onion marmalade to the top. Add your blue cheese burger and close ‘er up. Serve with a napkin!

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Onion Marmalade: Sweet, Savory, Sticky.

November 18, 2008

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Of course marmalade is good. Who doesn’t like marmalade?

But folks, this ain’t no Smucker’s marmalade. No, it isn’t that orange, jewel-toned jelly from a jar. You can’t just spread it on toast, chomp it down and forget about it. No, this marmalade makes an impression. Better still, it makes your dinner (or lunch, or maybe even breakfast).

I don’t mean to imply that it will actually cook your meals for you. But it will elevate them to seldom-seen levels of awesomeness.

This is onion marmalade. It is a rich deep brown, reflecting its roots of caramelized onions, revealing its brown-sugary rich but not burnt flavor, suggesting the hint of bite from its balsamic vinegar reduction. It’s really, really, really (three reallys) good.

Now, you could just eat it by the spoonful, but that wouldn’t unleash its full potential. In the coming days, the hubby will reveal just a few of the ways you can harness its awesome deliciousness. It’s totally worth the time and effort to make it — and, bonus, it will make your house smell like you’re making the meal of a lifetime. Did I mention that it is good? Enjoy!

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And now, the husband’s take…

I’ve many people in my life who tell me they don’t like onions. I sort of look at them and think, “You eat right?” And in my head, I’m listing all the foods that most people eat that have onions, but they don’t appreciate.

But, onion marmalade is the exact opposite. I’m told originally it was a staple of French Bistro cuisine in the ‘50’s. It’s an in-your face challenge to onion haters. The onions are browned and then hit with the acidity of wine and balsamic vinegar along with the sweetness of quite a bit of sugar.

The result is an awesome condiment. It is one our pantry items. I make it every few months. Put it in the fridge and wait for a time we want a really quick, tasty meal. The next few posts are going to be quick ideas of what to do with it that makes it an awesome addition to your own repertoire.

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Onion Marmalade
Ingredients:
4 lbs onions (sliced thin)
3 slices bacon (thick cut)
2 cup/225g sugar
1 cup/125g dark brown sugar
2 cup red wine
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp./20g salt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. Place a large, non-reactive pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon. The goal and render the fat. Once the bacon has crisped, remove.

2. Turn up the heat to high to medium-high, add the onions, salt and olive oil. Stir to make sure the onions are coated with the oil and bacon fat. Cook covered with a tight lid for about 20 minutes. Continue to cook stirring every 5 to 10 minutes until the onions begin to turn golden brown.

3. Add the sugar, brown sugar, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Cook over medium heat until vicious. To test if it’s the right consistency, dribble a bit of the reduction on a plate and it still liquid, but slowly slips down the plate after it cools briefly. I also look to for doneness by dragging a spoon against the bottom of the pot. If it leaves a long valley, then its done. WARNING: Do not walk away from this once it begins to get close. There is enough sugar in this that it can burn and create sugar concrete on the bottom of your pan.

4. Remove from heat and let cool before storing. Place in a glass or heat resistant container. Cover and refrigerate. This is both acidic and high in sugar, so its excellent for long term storage. It keeps in the fridge well for at least 2 months. Some of the fat may become solid at the top after cooling. I simply scrape it off and dispose of it. Additionally, if the marmalade become too thick after cooling, simply reheat in the microwave for 30 seconds and I find it spreads very easily.

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Fresh chorizo and stuffed dates, or as we think about it: rethinking folklore about watching sausage being made.

November 14, 2008

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I’ve seen how sausage is made… And it’s not that bad.

OK, I didn’t go to the “sausage factory,” where, I’ve no doubt, the process is much, much more stomach churning. But watching my husband make chorizo sausage from scratch was in no way traumatic. And the smell of him cooking up little “tester patties” was actually kind of appetizing.

There, I said it. Sausage making can be appetizing.

Indeed, I’ll go further. You should try to make sausage, too. Why? Well, I’ll give you three good reasons: Delicious southwestern-style fritatas, hearty corn bread and chorizo stuffing, and to-die-for chorizo stuffed dates. All of these tasty, tasty items are drastically improved when you bring your own homemade chorizo sausage to the party.

Consider: Rather than ripping open the shrink-wrapped styrofoam package of pallid, speckled links, you could make — in your own kitchen — fragrant, delicious, crispy, and spicy pork sausage. The smell of fresh cinnamon and the bite of potent spices could cause your nose to twitch. The sound of pork fat hitting pan could cause your stomach to growl. And the smell of the chorizo sausage browning in the pan could cause your mouth to water.

The best part? Not only is making chorizo sausage not gruesome, it’s also not hard. Grind and combine, baby. Plus, none of these recipes call for linked sausage, meaning you can forgo wrestling with slimy intestinal lining or other equally slippery casing alternatives.

Sound good? Don’t forgot to cook me up a tester patty. I’m willing to be your guinea pig!

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And now, the husband’s take…

The first time I had fresh sausage was as a kid. My father’s family were farm folk in eastern North Carolina and grew the regions staples—pigs and tobacco. This meant, at least once a year, my father got fresh sausage from the farm. And, no offense to Jimmy Dean and Bob Evans,but to be honest, there really was nothing better. There was something about the quality or perhaps the novelty that made such a positive impression.

So fast forward a few decades, the first thing you learn when you get serious about cooking is controlling quality. The reason the great restaurants produce the greatest food is that every ingredient is high quality. And every step thereafter, from making stock to plating, is about enhancing the underlying quality. If you take this to the level of Thomas Keller at the French Laundry or Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington, then it becomes obsessions that leads to legendary greatest. Or if you are me, it’s why you make chicken stock a couple times a month, go to various farmers markets around town or make my own sausage then write a post about it.

The chorizo is great. You could eat sausage alone, but it isn’t a hot dog or bratwurst. To me, it’s a component and taking control to build a better result. As my wife pointed out, there are at least two other posts on the blog where chorizo is used. Today, I add another recipe here, a cocktail party classic—chorizo stuffed dates. So while, “making sausage” has it’s negative connotations, if you have the inkling, do it yourself. It’s actually fun.

Before I quit writing, some technical information about the recipe. First, this is fresh chorizo. Aficionados of chorizo can do dissertations on the subject. In some regions, it’s a dried sausage like salami or pepperoni. In others, it’s a loose sausage. It can or can’t be smoked. In general, I’m not remotely claiming this as a definitive or authentic recipe. This is simply my recipe which tends to be a bit on the spicy side.

Second, I got into sausage making right about the time I started culinary school. It began with Brian Polclyn and Michael Ruhlman’s great book, Charcuterie. While this recipe is significantly different then the one that can be found in their book, it would be a lie if I didn’t acknowledge their influence. If you enjoy this sort of thing, I would highly recommend their book. My copy is getting beat up from going on and off the shelf so much.

Third, this makes quite a bit of chorizo. It keeps easily for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. I don’t put mine in cases to make links, but Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend hog casings if you want to follow their lead.

Finally, you need to work clean and cold when you grind meat. This means I clean my grinding equipment before and after every use. It also means that everything gets placed in either the freezer or refrigerator between steps including the meat, the grinder, and the bowl that catches the meat. If you don’t keep things cold, you risk the fat rendering out and loosing flavor.

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Fresh Chorizo
Ingredients:
3 lbs pork shoulder (diced to fit grinder)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. tequila

Spice Mix:
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika (hot)
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake

Directions:

1. Toss together diced pork, spice mix, salt and minced garlic making sure that everything is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

2. Clean grinding equipment and bowl. Place equipment in the freezer (or keep cold) until ready to grind.

3. Grind the meat being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to catch any straggling spice mix or garlic. When using the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment, I use the small die (the screen in front of the grinding blade) on low speed for best results. If the meat is no longer cold, cover and refrigerate before proceeding.

4. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the ground meat and tequila to the bowl. Mix on medium speed until the meat is a pâté consistency. This should take about 1 minute.

5. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, place a small, quarter-sized patty of the sausage. Brown on both sides. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

6. Once done, move to a clean container, cover tightly and refrigerate. Should keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or can be divided up and part placed in the freezer for later use.

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Chorizo Stuffed Dates w/Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
24 pitted dates
1/4 lbs fresh chorizo
6-8 slices bacon
4 oz. goat cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Slice each date along one side using a paring knife.

3. Taking a pinch of chorizo, press into the pocket formed by opening the date.

4. Stretch each slice of bacon out on a cutting board. This is the key as it avoids the need for toothpicks. The bacon should be about 1/3 larger then when pulled from the rest of the slices.

5. Roll the date until date is covered and the bacon comes around about 1 1/2 times. Cut from the slice. You should get 3 to 4 dates per slice of bacon.

6. Place on baking sheet with a rack. Bake for 30 min or until the bacon is golden and fat rendered. Rotate halfway through cooking. It’s important your baking sheet has a lip on all sides as there will be a good pool of fat on the bottom of the sheet.

7. Plate, sprinkle over with goat cheese. Serve warm.