Friday, September 26, 2014

Bon Appetit, Ya'll!

I love checking out cookbooks from my local library. It keeps my bookshelves from overflowing and allows me to try some of the recipes before I may decide to purchase the book. When I saw Bon Appetit, Ya'll: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, I just had to check it out! I tried many recipes in the book, including the one for Jambalaya (which does have an error in it), but the recipe I keep going back to is a simple one for "Toasted-Pecan Green Beans." 

When we think of southern style green beans, we assume it's the meltingly tender ones that are slow cooked, usually with some type of pork product and onion. Although I love them, my green bean-phobic husband does not...but he loves these! This simple recipe is like a southern version of green beans amandine, where the green beans are blanched first, then sauteed with buttery toasted pecans, minced garlic, and a dash of fresh basil. The result is perfectly cooked green beans that taste absolutely amazing! In addition, this technique (which works well with other types of vegetables, see Spring Vegetable Tumble) allows you to blanch the beans ahead of time, freeing your focus to the main course, and gives you a beautiful side dish that takes only minutes to put together! Thanks Virginia, for giving me my green beans back!

Toasted-Pecan Green Beans

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds haricots verts, trimmed (Sadly, I am finding it harder to locate haricots verts in my area, so I used regular green beans and blanched them for 5 minutes.)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 garlic clove, very finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. (5 minutes for regular green beans.) Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with beans in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the beans are submerged. (I just dump the beans in the ice-water bath, then drain them before finishing the dish.)

In the same pot (I use a large saute pan), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pecans and cook until toasted, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and basil; cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.

Drain the beans, shaking off the excess water, and return them to the pot. Toss to combine with the pecan mixture. (Keep tossing until the beans are reheated.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beef. It's What's For Dinner.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is a trade association designed to support and promote U.S. cattle and beef producers. In 1992, under contract by the Beef Checkoff, they launched their advertising campaign through television, radio, and print ads touting "Beef. It's What's For Dinner." The ads have featured actors Robert Mitchum, Sam Elliott, and in 2008, Mathew McConaughey. McConaughey reminds me of that eccentric relative everyone has, who can't help but make you smile!

Nicked this funny picture from! Ha! Ha!

However, McConaughey's beefy Texas drawl has been silenced (gasp!), to be replaced by Garrett Hedlund, in hopes of appealing to a younger audience. Hedlund is best known for his roles in "stellar" movies (cough, cough) such as Troy, Tron Legacy, and the debacle Country Strong. Why? I don't remember Mitchum or Elliott being any spring chickens? So, while we will miss our favorite bongo boy buddy promoting lean cuts of beef as part of a heart-healthy diet, I do have an excellent recipe for "Maple-Balsamic Marinated Steak with Grilled Pear Salad" from you know who, The National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

This simple recipe is one of my new favorites! Strip steaks, pears, and red onion are marinated in a flavorful mix of maple syrup, balsamic vinaigrette, thyme, and black pepper. The vinaigrette helps give a lot of smokey flavor by causing flare-ups on the grill. (Remember to keep it covered so they won't burn!) The steaks are then sliced and served along side the smokey pear and red onion salad, complete with leafy greens, toasted pecans, and creamy goat cheese! Fantastic! I'm sure McConaughey would approve, and yes, please come to dinner!

Maple-Balsamic Marinated Steak with Grilled Pear Salad

Serves 4

2 boneless beef top loin (strip) steaks, cut 1-inch thick (about 8-10 ounces each)
2 Bartlett or red Anjou pears, halved and cored
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges large enough that they can be skewered for grilling
8 cups mixed salad greens or arugula
1/4 cup toasted and chopped pecans*
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese*
Kosher salt, to taste

*Walnuts and blue cheese would be another option, if preferred.

For the Marinade
1 cup reduced fat or regular balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup marinade for dressing the salad. Place beef steaks and 1/3 cup marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steaks to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in the refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours. Reserve remaining marinade for brushing the pears and onion.

Soak two 10-inch bamboo skewers in water 10 minutes; drain. (I just used some metal skewers.) Thread the onion wedges onto the skewers. Brush onions and cut sides of pears with half the reserved marinade.

Remove the steaks from the marinade; discard marinade. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals; arrange onions and pears around the steaks. Grill steaks, covered, 11-14 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 11-15 minutes) for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium doneness (160 degrees), turning occasionally. Grill onions 12-15 minutes (13-16 minutes for gas) and pears 8-10 minutes (gas grill times remain the same) or until tender, turning occasionally and brushing steak, onions, and pears with remaining reserved marinade.

Remove onions from skewers., Chop onions and pears into bite-size pieces. Combine greens, pears, onions, cheese, nuts, and reserved 1/2 cup marinade; toss gently to combine. Carve steaks into slices; season with salt, as desired. Serve with salad mixture.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How French Manufacturers, a Crazy Preacher, and Hershey's will Leave You Asking for Some More

Nothing is more quintessential summer than making s'mores over an open campfire! However, without "modern" inventions, it would have never been possible. Egyptians were the first to utilize the root of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) for medicinal purposes, specifically sore throats. By extracting the sap from the root, it was then boiled in sugar syrup and dried to create a honey-sweetened confection. In the late 19th century, French manufacturers began using egg whites or gelatin mixed with corn starch to create what we now know as the modern marshmallow, no sap required.

In 1829, Graham crackers (in bread form) were invented by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, as part of his "Graham Diet." Reverend Graham believed that by adhering to a bland vegetarian diet, it would prevent people from having impure thoughts and thus prevent the act of pleasuring one's self. After all, he believed it caused blindness and insanity! Weirdo! On another note, Graham diet followers Dr. John Kellogg and brother Will Kellogg invented Kellogg's Cornflakes to adhere to Graham's doctrines. Who knew!

In 1896, Milton Hershey built a milk-processing plant in Derry Church, Pennsylvania, later renamed Hershey, Pennsylvania. After three years of experimentation, he developed the "Hershey process" used to create milk chocolate candies. In 1900, the first Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar was sold and the rest is history.

It's no wonder that these three ingredients, which are easy to pack and transport camping, had children asking for some more! In 1927, the first recipe for "Some More" was published in the Girl Scout publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. According to Merriam-Webster, the first use of the contraction "s'more" was in 1974, which eventually became "s'mores." But what if you don't have access to a campfire? Why not make these adorable "S'Mores Cupcakes," from the July 2014 issue of Real Simple. I found the recipe to be accurate, with the exception of the marshmallow topping. The recipe states to bake the marshmallows "until golden and deflated, 6 to 10 minutes." I waited 6 minutes, but they were not golden or deflated, just puffed up like eggs! I waited 10 minutes, the same thing. After about 12 minutes they appeared to be golden, so I pulled them out and let them cool. Big mistake! They were dry and chewy, not creamy like you would want. So, I baked a second batch for 6 minutes, allowed them to cool, and finished them off with my blowtorch. (Doesn't everyone have a blowtorch in the kitchen?) The result was the perfect gooey marshmallow with a hint of an open fire!

S'Mores Cupcakes

Makes 12

For the Cupcakes
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from 9 crackers)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk

For the Topping
12 large marshmallows

For the Ganache
1/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used chips.)

For the Cupcakes
Heat oven to 350 degrees with the racks in the middle and top positions. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar in a separate bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients and milk alternately, beginning and ending the dry ingredients and mixing well between additions. Mix until just combined.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake, on the middle rack, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-24 minutes. (Mine were done in 20 minutes.) Cool in the tin for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the Topping
Place the marshmallows on a parchment-lined baking sheet, 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake on the top rack until golden and deflated, 6-10 minutes. Let cool. (I baked them for 6 minutes, allowed them to cool, and gave them a little blast from my blowtorch.) 

Make the Ganache
Bring the cream to a boil in a small pot. Remove from heat, add the chocolate, and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk to combine. Let cool slightly.

Assemble the Cupcakes
Divide the ganache among the cupcakes. (It looks like there is way too much ganache, just keep spooning it on top carefully. You want to use it all or it won't be chocolaty enough.) Top each cupcake with a marshmallow. Let sit until the ganache is almost firm to the touch, 15-20 minutes, before serving. (These cupcakes are messy, so I did pop them in the refrigerator for a few minutes to aid in eating.)