Friday, December 29, 2023

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Romancing the Tin

Many years ago, before my first child was born, my husband and I visited Northern Italy. As we were young and broke, we backpacked across this romantic region of Italy. Besides the amazing architecture, museums, cathedrals, and breathtaking vistas, we fell in love with Caffarel Gianduia 1865 chocolates, (a sublime mixture of milk chocolate and hazelnuts). In fact, one of a handful of treasures we brought back from Italy, was a tin of these magnificent "boat" shaped confections.

In 1826, Pier Paul Caffarel began making chocolates in an ex-tannery located at the edge of old Turin city centre. In 1852, Caffarel introduced it's new confection, called Givu, meaning "stub" in Piedmontese dialect, which became known as the original Turin Gianduiotto. In 1865, during the Turin Carnival, Gianduia (the masked character that is the official representative of the city) handed out Caffarel Gianduiotti to the spectators. From then on, the character Gianduia became associated with the chocolate; hence, Gianduiotto Caffarel became known as Gianduia 1865. The factory has since relocated to Luserna San Giovanni (the birthplace of Pier Paul Caffarel). Here is a look inside!

So, when I ran across this "Giandua Souffle" recipe, by Giada de Laurentiis, I had to try it! These individual chocolate souffles, made with milk chocolate and hazelnut liqueur, are amazing! You want to know what the best part is? You can make them up to 2 days ahead, before baking! It's no wonder they wound up on my holiday menu! Well, even though my Gianduia tin is empty, I still have it and this treasured recipe! Buon Natale!

Giandua Souffle

Makes 6, 6-ounce ramekins


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1/4 cup, plus more for ramekins
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces milk chocolate, chopped or chips, plus 6 ounces, chopped or chips (this is by weight, click here for more on food scales)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
Pinch salt
4 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar


Preheat oven to 375 degrees, if you are going to bake them now. Butter and sugar 6, 6-ounce ramekins, or more if using smaller ones.

Heat the butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, hazelnut liqueur, and vanilla in a double boiler over medium heat until the butter melts. (Click here for more on double boilers.) Remove the butter mixture from the heat, add the 3 ounces of chocolate, and let sit until it melts, about 3 minutes. Place the chocolate mixture in a pie dish and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Use a spoon to form the chilled mixture into 6 evenly-sized  balls (truffles) about the size of a walnut. Reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a double boiler and slowly whisk in the milk. Add the salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue to whisk constantly. Don't curdle the eggs! Turn down the heat, if necessary! The mixture will thicken to the consistency of mayonnaise in another 3 to 4 minutes. Like this:

Stir in the 6 ounces of chocolate and set aside to let the chocolate melt.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl or stand mixer. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the 1/4 cup sugar and continue whipping until firm peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the warm chocolate mixture.

Place a ball (truffle) of the chilled chocolate mixture in each of the ramekins.

Spoon the souffle mixture over the truffles and up to the rim of the ramekins. (At this point the souffles can be covered and kept refrigerated for 2 days.)

Place the ramekins in a hot water bath (a baking pan, filled with hot water, about 3/4 way up the ramekins) and bake until golden on top and the souffle has risen, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if refrigerated). (The souffles won't rise as high if they were previously refrigerated. That's okay. They sink quickly anyway!) Remove from the oven. (Click here for a tip on how to remove hot ramekins from a water bath.) Serve immediately. Delicious!

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

What's in a Name?

There is no finer roast than Beef Wellington, or is it Boeuf en Croute? This lavish dish consists of a whole beef tenderloin fillet slathered with a sublime mixture of minced mushrooms, shallots, and herbs, (and sometimes pate), a mixture known as "duxelles" in French culinary lingo, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. It makes an impressive presentation which tastes ever better than it looks! Lucky for me it graced my Christmas table!

The origins of Beef Wellington fall somewhere between fact and fiction. It is standard lore that this elegant entree was named after Arthur Wellesley, who became 1st Duke of Wellington, after defeating Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. It is said that Wellesley had a love of "a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pate cooked in pastry." Perhaps that would be something he had eaten while in France,... perhaps Boeuf en Croute? After all, duxelles were reportedly created in 17th-century France by chef Francois Pierre La Varenne and named after his employer, the Marquis d'Uxelles. In addition, wrapping an expensive piece of beef with indulgent ingredients sounds rather French to me. In fact, if Wellesley did create the rage for Boeuf en Croute, of course England would banish the French name and opt for one featuring their national hero.

Another theory is that Beef Wellington originated in Ireland, known as Steig Wellington. Steig meaning steak in Irish, and coincidentally was Wellesley's birth place. New Zealand also gets into the mix, apparently claiming to have created the dish for a civic reception. The funny thing is, there are no recipes for this dish until the 20th-century...and they appeared in America in the 1940s! In the 1960s, Beef Wellington became quite fashionable at American dinner parties thanks to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), which included a recipe for Beef Wellington, not Boeuf en Croute. Hmmm?

Anyway, Beef Wellington may cost a fortune and appear time-consuming, but it is actually quite easy to make! I've made several different recipes over the years, and I've taken all the best components to create what I think is the best version. First, buy the best piece of beef fillet you can find. After all, it is the big ticket item and the star ingredient. In addition, save your money by not using wild or dried mushrooms, use standard cultivated button mushrooms instead. I recommend making the duxelles a day or two in advance, as I think the flavors deepen with time. Then comes the alcohol question. In my mind, it comes down to two, Cognac or Madeira? I choose Madeira. I also embrace the modern addition of a layer of prosciutto to help encase the whole shebang. Easily purchased puff pastry is the final component to create this succulent masterpiece. And finally, with a dish this extravagant, the sides should not be distracting. I serve it simply with pureed potatoes (aka., mashed potatoes) and buttered peas. It is elegant, sumptuous and guaranteed to please!

Beef Wellington (aka., Boeuf en Croute)

Serves 6


For the Beef
1 center cut beef tenderloin, about 2 pounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to rub on beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Kitchen twine

For the Duxelles
1 1/2 pound button mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots
Leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Madeira
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the "en Croute"
12 paper thin slices prosciutto
1 pound puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for rolling out pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water, for egg wash

For the Duxelles
Place the mushrooms and shallots in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat. When melted, add the mushroom/shallot mixture, thyme leaves, and bay leaf, and saute until very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the Madeira, bring to a boil, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the cream and cook a few minutes more. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Beef
Tie the tenderloin in 4 places to help hold its shape while searing. Drizzle the tenderloin with olive oil and season very generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, sear the beef on all sides. Set aside to cool. When cool, remove the kitchen twine and rub all over with the Dijon mustard. Set aside.

For the "en Croute"
Lay out a long piece of plastic wrap (big enough to encase the beef) on a work surface. Lay out the prosciutto pieces, slightly overlapping, forming a rectangle big enough to encase the tenderloin.

Using a rubber spatula, cover the prosciutto evenly with the duxelles. Season the duxelles with additional salt and pepper.

Lay the tenderloin in the center of the prosciutto/duxelle rectangle.

Using the plastic wrap, pull each long side up and over the tenderloin, then close the ends.

You may have to wrap the whole package with a second piece of plastic to make sure it is secure. Place the whole package on a platter or baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to ensure it maintains its shape.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of puff pastry to a rectangle about 1/4" thick. Place the puff pastry rectangle on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Remove the beef from the refrigerator, carefully remove the plastic and place in the center of the puff pastry rectangle.

Roll out the second piece of puff pastry, making sure it is big enough to encase the entire tenderloin generously. Brush the bottom margins of the bottom pastry sheet with the egg wash, then drape the second pastry sheet over, pressing the edges to seal well.

Trim the edges to make a 1" border. Crimp the edges with your fingers.

Refrigerate until ready to bake.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the entire surface of the pastry with egg wash and make a couple slits in the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the beef reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Remove from the oven and rest at least 10 minutes before serving in slices.

(Perfect! This dish is supposed to be rare!)

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Blue Christmas and a can of Febreze!

The holidays are in full swing with parties galore, but what should you bring your holiday host? The standard gift is a bottle of wine, and in my opinion always appropriate. However, during this festive season, a homemade gift alongside makes it even better! Instead of something sweet (like peppermint bark, meringue mushrooms, or lacy nut cookies), how about something savory, like "Walnut Blue-Cheese Coins!" 

These rich crackers are unbelievably easy to make (as long as you have a food processor), and can be refrigerated a few days ahead to be baked off when needed. I recommend using Roquefort (the king of cheeses and my personal favorite), Stilton (English classic), or Gorgonzola (for a mild, sweeter version). One note of caution: if you are planning to make these for your own holiday party, make sure to bake them the day before your guests arrive or they will be greeted to an overwhelming bouquet of funk! (Febreze anyone?) These savory crackers make a nice presentation when packaged in cellophane sleeves and seasonal ribbon. You can also attach them with ribbon directly to the wine bottle. It is a gift that you will be proud to bestow and your host will truly enjoy!

Walnut Blue-Cheese Coins

Makes about 30


1 cup toasted walnuts (3 1/4 ounces)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/4 pound blue cheese, crumbled (2 ounces)
Coarse salt for sprinkling (I use French grey sea salt.)


In a food processor, finely grind 1/2 cup walnuts. Add the flour, table salt, pepper, and baking soda; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; pulse until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.

Transfer dough to lightly floured surface; divide into two equal parts. Using your hands, roll dough into two 1 1/2"-diameter logs. Coarsely chop remaining 1/2 cup walnuts; sprinkle over a clean work surface. Roll logs in walnuts. Wrap each log in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice logs into 1/4"-thick coins. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet; sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Bake until centers are firm to touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, 3-4 days.

Recipe from Christmas with Martha Stewart Living.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Suave Poivre

What's the best steak I've ever had? "Steak au Poivre," and I made it! Yes, I don't mean to gloat, but for my birthday menu, I had to pull out all the stops! Steak au Poivre is yet again, another French classic, that I adore and have been making for years! Basically, it is a tender cut of beef, like fillet, coated with crushed peppercorns and topped with a Cognac cream sauce. Yum! I served mine with mashed potatoes and harticot verts.

Because this is a fairly simple dish, the magic happens when you buy the steak. You must use the very best, highest quality, thickest steak you can find (aka., the most expensive). Now, I must tell you that depending on the thickness of your pan and the thickness of the steak, it is almost impossible to tell you an exact cook time, but I'll give you a good estimate. Click here for more information on cooking the perfect steak. Don't forget that you must let your steak rest 5 minutes before serving, which allows you time to make the sauce. Steak au Poivre is really easy, and absolutely delicious! Once you make it, you'll want to make it again, and again.

Steak au Poivre

Serves 4


5 tablespoons coarsely cracked peppercorns (Use a pepper mill set on a coarse grind, or place in a kitchen towel and bash with the bottom of a heavy pan or rolling pin.)
4 slices beef fillet, each 1 1/2-2" thick
Kosher salt
1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Cognac
1/2 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (optional, but I like it)
1 cup heavy cream


Spread the peppercorns on a plate. Moisten the meat very lightly on top and bottom with oil. Press the fillets into the cracked peppercorns, top and bottom. Push the peppercorns into the meat and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the fillets with salt. Combine the 1/4 cup butter and oil in a heavy saute pan or frying pan over high heat. Do not use a non-stick pan or you won't have any fond. (The caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan.) When the pan is hot, add the fillets. Reduce the heat to medium high, and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes per side. (When searing meat, be careful to avoid blackening the fond or your sauce will taste burnt. Adjust the heat to medium high, so it will sear but not scorch the pan juices.)  Place the fillets on a separate pan and place in the oven until desired doneness, about 5-7 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium rare, and so on. (Use the palm test!) Remove the pan from the oven, remove the steaks to a cutting board and let rest.

Meanwhile, pour off the excess fat from the heavy saute or frying pan and return to high heat. Remove the pan from the burner, carefully pour in the Cognac. Return to the burner. With a wooden spoon, deglaze or scrape the pan to dislodge any browned bits. Add the stock, mustard, if using, and the cream and reduce by half over high heat. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter, taste, season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Plate the fillets and pour that amazing sauce over each. Proudly serve!

If you missed my Birthday Menu, click here!

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Italian Thanksgiving for 8

If you've ever made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you know it's a lot of work. And if you only have one oven, as I do, it really creates a challenge timing everything perfectly. Add relatives and it's enough to bring tears! But guess what? You don't have to roast a whole turkey, when you can make "Turkey Osso Bucco". I know traditional osso bucco uses veal shanks, but it is a wonderful method of preparing turkey, as well. The turkey is braised with vegetables, fresh herbs, wine, and stock, then topped off with an aromatic gremolata. Trust me, this recipe tastes as good as your house will smell! No one will miss the often bland roast turkey! To make it a complete holiday meal, I would start with an antipasto platter, then serve it with a simple green salad, risotto or polenta, or even mashed potatoes, and plenty of crusty bread to mop up the amazing sauce! Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc would compliment it nicely. End it with a slice of pumpkin pie and you'll have a unique and memorable Thanksgiving, with a lot less trouble!

Turkey Osso Bucco

Serves 8


1 half-breast of turkey, cut into 4 pieces (ask your butcher)
2 turkey thighs (or 6 thighs, if you don't want to use the turkey breast, thighs will ensure it is moist and flavorful)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3-1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
Canola oil, enough to coat the bottom of your pan
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 generous tablespoon tomato paste (I buy Amore Tomato Paste in a tube - great invention!)
1 cup dry white wine (I use Madiera - I love it with turkey and think it adds better flavor than white wine)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or less depending on the size of your pan, see below)
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
2 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pat the turkey pieces dry with paper towels to ensure even browning. Season the turkey with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess.

In a heavy roasting pan or any oven-safe pan large enough to fit the turkey pieces in a single layer, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, over medium/medium-high heat. Add the turkey and brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate and reserve.

To the same pan, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season the vegetables with salt and cook until they are tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Return the turkey to the pan. Add enough chicken broth to come two thirds up the sides of the turkey pieces. Add the herb sprigs, bay leaves, and cloves to the pan. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan with lid (if it has one) or cover tightly with foil and transfer to the oven. Braise until the turkey is fork tender, about 1 hour and 45 minutes, turning after 1 hour.

When the turkey is almost done, combine the gremolata ingredients in a bowl with fingers. Slice the turkey (it's so tender, it usually falls off in pieces) and arrange in shallow serving bowls. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper (go very light on the salt, because the gremolata is salty), and ladle some over each serving. Sprinkle each serving with a large pinch of gremolata.

Recipe adapted from Giada's Kitchen by Giada de Laurentiis.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Happy Halloween and Goulash Madness!

Want to go mad? Try finding an "authentic" recipe for Goulash! Goulash, which is considered to be a national dish of Hungary, can take many forms, depending on which region of Europe it is made. Goulash is not the hamburger helper-like ground beef/macaroni/tomato bastardization peddled by cafeteria ladies across the US. From what I can tell, Hungarian goulash is a beef (or veal or pork) soup, made with equal parts onions and meat, seasoned with garlic, paprika, caraway, and sometimes additional vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and peppers. Goulash is traditionally served with steamed dumplings or tiny egg noodles called csipetke (like German spaetzle), which are pinched off (csip means pinch) and added to the simmering soup. Traditionalists consider tomatoes a faux pas, as well as using flour to thicken the soup.

Goulash, or "guylas" meaning "herdsman," originated with the cowboys of the region. Comparable to what chili is to Texas cowboys. It's also important to note that paprika was not an original ingredient in the dish, as paprika was not introduced to the region until the 16th century. Let's add a little bit more confusion, enter "porkolt." Porkolt is a meat stew that also has it's origins in Hungary. Porkolt is a stew, not soup, made with meat, vegetables but not potatoes, and seasoned with the ever important paprika. In fact, most goulash recipes that I have tried (which is a lot!) are actually the rich porkolt stew. In addition, I've also read that goulash is soup made with leftover porkolt!?! Oh, and then there are "paprikas" (aka., Paprikash) which are made with meat, paprika, and thickened with sour cream. Feeling a little mad, yet?

Anyway, with Halloween almost here, I can't think of a better meal to ward off the sugar comas my kids are soon to induce, than a nice rich bowl of hearty goulash! This recipe is adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe for Beef Goulash. I found his version to produce a more complex and appealing flavor, from caramelized onions to the addition of a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Changes I made were to brown the meat first, reduce the amount of caraway as it is quite strong (note: caraway and cumin are not the same thing, nor do they taste similar), upped the amount of paprika, added a dash of cayenne pepper, and opted to serve it with buttered egg noodles rather than spaetzle, to make it a little more streamlined. Although this delicious recipe is more accurately a cross between goulash and porkolt, the name "goul-ash" is just more fun to say and perfect for All Hallows' Eve!

Beef Goulash

Serves 4


3 pounds beef chuck, cut into approximately 2" cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground (don't leave them whole!), optional
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (can also use red wine vinegar instead)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (if you don't have fresh, use 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sour cream, for serving
1/2 pound cooked and butter egg noodles, to serve


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmery, add the beef cubes in batches, as to not overcrowd the pan, and brown on each side, adding more oil if necessary. (This step is very important to ensure a nice beefy flavor.) Set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and sugar. Stir until the onions are caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and caraway. Cook for 1 minute. Deglaze with the vinegar and add the tomato paste, paprika, cayenne, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, stock, reserved beef cubes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven until the meat is very tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. If the mixture looks too soupy, remove the cover the last 30 minutes in the oven.

When tender, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in some of the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Serve over egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Magic Mushrooms

"If you see a fairy ring,
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tiptoe as you pass;
Last night fairies frolicked there,
And they're sleeping somewhere near.

If you see a tiny fay
Laying fast asleep,
Shut your eyes and run away,
Do not stay or peep;
And be sure you never tell,
Or you'll break a fairy spell."

          -William Shakespeare

Fairy rings (aka., fairy circles, elf circles, elf rings, or pixie rings) are naturally occurring rings of mushrooms. Centuries-old tales depict fairy rings as meeting places of fairies to dance and sing, and were thought to be portals to a magical kingdom where fairies and other mythical creatures dwell. For thousands of years, some people have believed that walking into a fairy ring could bring misfortune from either death at a young age (that's awful!!!), or the possibility of being trapped in a fairy world, unable to escape. According to these old traditions, the only way to be safe was to run around the fairy ring exactly nine times (never ten) while under a full moon. Wearing a hat backwards is also said to offer protection, as it is supposed to confuse the fairies. Really? Today there is little superstition linked to fairy rings; although, some delight in the notion that if you step in a fairy ring, you are granted a wish. (If you want to risk the chance of dying at a young age!) 

Whatever you choose to believe, mushrooms are enchanting and delicious when stuffed! This delightful version, stuffed with fresh goat cheese, sauteed mushroom stems, thyme, and shallots, garnished with fairy-size sprouts and a swirl of balsamic glaze really allow the mushrooms to shine! How enchanting!

Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Serves 6

6 hockey-puck-sized button mushrooms
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3-4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs (Panko works well, too.)
Handful chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 4 ounces fresh chevre (goat cheese)
Watercress or other sprouts, for serving
Balsamic glaze, for serving (can be purchased at most grocers)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Carefully remove and finely chop the mushroom stems, set aside. Set the caps, holes downwards, on a baking sheet, rub with a little olive oil, and bake 10 minutes to shrink slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and gently fry the shallot until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushroom stems, and cook until soft, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, chili pepper, and thyme, saute 1 more minute. Stir through all but a spoonful of the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the parsley and remaining bread crumbs.

Pull the mushrooms from the oven, and turn them holes skywards. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cheese evenly among them, pile on the filling, then scatter the parsley mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake until the tops are golden and the filling very hot, about 20 minutes. Serve with watercress or sprouts, lightly dressed with olive oil and salt, on the side and a generous swirl of balsamic glaze. How pretty!

Recipe adapted from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Goodbye Summer - Hello Flatiron Steak!

Well, here we are, the last week of summer! I have to admit, after scorching heat and drought, I'm ready to see it go. No more futile watering, pesky mosquito bites, or walking around a little more "dewy" than I prefer! However, one thing I will miss is my recipe for "Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions!" This more recent cut of beef, introduced in 2002, discovered by research teams from the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida, and funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, is a relatively tender, economical, and flavorful cut of meat. The flatiron steak is one of the most tender cuts from the beef chuck, is similar to a blade steak, but it's been cut flat instead of across the shoulder blade, eliminating the tough seam of connective tissue found in the blade steak. Other names for this cut of beef are top blade steak, top chuck steak, book steak, butlers' steak (UK), lifter steak, and oyster blade steak (Australia and New Zealand). It's even been touted as being as tender as the tenderloin with the taste of sirloin, and has become one of the best selling steaks in the world! 

The flatiron steak likes to be marinated, and is simple to prepare using dry heat cooking methods, like grilling. In this recipe, it is marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and cooks in less than 10 minutes! The grilled whole green onions make a nice aromatic accompaniment. Trust me, it is delicious! I like to serve it simply with a green salad or grilled corn on the cob.

Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions

Serves 4

For the Marinade
1/2 cup (4 oz) low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger (I grate it on a microplane.)

For the Steak
1, 1 lb flatiron steak
12 green onions, roots removed, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Marinade
Combine the soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger in a shallow, nonreactive dish just large enough to hold the steak. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Place the steak in the dish, turning to coat both sides. Marinate the steak at room temperature, turning occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate and marinate until ready to use, removing from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling.

For the Steak
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling (over the coals) over high heat (400-450 degrees). Oil the grill rack. Remove the meat from the marinade, discard the marinade.

Grill the steak over the hottest part of the grill, turning once, until nicely charred and cooked to your liking, 4-5 minutes per side. (Do Not Overcook!) Remove the steak to rest. Coat the onions lightly with the vegetable oil and grill, turning once or twice, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes.

To Serve
Thinly slice the steak across the grain at an angle. Line a serving platter with the green onions, top with the sliced steak, spooning any accumulated juices over the meat.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

My Date with Mrs. Crispy!

After coming home in a rush and no plans for dinner, I was introduced to the wonderful world of "Croque-Madame," via Thomas Keller's cookbook, Bouchon. Somehow the Gods were smiling on me, because I already had everything I needed in my fridge! Perhaps it was a date with destiny? Croque-Madame ("Mrs. Crispy") is related to the Croque-Monsieur ("Mr. Crispy"), with the addition of a fried egg and a heavenly Mornay sauce. The name is attributed to the egg resembling a woman's hat. Not only is this the best ham and cheese sandwich you'll ever have, it is relatively simple, and any leftover Mornay sauce means you can have another! French fries are the natural accompaniment. Trust me, this takes bistro food to a whole other level!

Bouchon Croque-Madame

Serves 4

8, 1/2" thick slices Brioche, other egg bread, or pan de mie (about 4" square)
8 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham
8 slices (about 1/2 ounces each) Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup Mornay sauce (see below), warmed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Lay out the bread slices. (I trimmed mine to be exactly 4".) Divide the ham among them, making sure it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.
    Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you have only one large pan, made 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread cheese side up to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese.
    Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites. (We cook the eggs in 4-5" individual skillets.)
    When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley. Serve with frites, if desired.

Mornay Sauce

This luxurious cheese sauce is perfect for gratineed scallops, macaroni and cheese, croque-monsieurs and croque-madames, and crepes.

Makes 2 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced (1/4") Spanish onion
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream, or as needed
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese (Gruyere would work as well.)

Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. (I don't have a diffuser and it worked just as well.) Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn't burn or color. (You may have to lower the heat.) Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. (I transferred it to a new burner on low heat.) Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan - don't scrape the bottom of the pan - and continue.)
    Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.

Recipes from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Pirates, Maroons, and a Serious Jerk!

The original "Serious Chicken," Negril, Jamaica

If you've ever been to Jamaica, you know that "jerk" is serious business! Jerk, the traditional Jamaican barbecue, is a process of marinating meat in a very spicy marinade and then slow-cooking it over hardwood coals. The marinade is a varying combination of green onions, thyme, garlic, citrus juice, scotch bonnet peppers, and a plethora of dried spices, such as nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, etc., but it is the allspice (or pimento, as it is called in Jamaica) that makes jerk jerk. It's exotic, delicious, and very addictive! 

The word jerk is believed to have derived from the Spanish word "charqui," from the Quechua word for beef jerky. (I have also read that it comes from the Dutch word "gherk," meaning pickled or preserved.) According to Traveling Jamaica with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, by Robb Walsh and Jay McCarthy, the origins of jerk began with the buccaneers who used it to preserve meat. In fact, the name buccaneer was from the Arawak (the native inhabitants) word "buccan," for a wooden frame used to smoke meat. Eventually, the Spanish ran off the pirates and inhabited the island along with their slaves. In 1655, the British invaded causing the Spanish to flee, leaving their slaves behind. The slaves fought and escaped by fleeing into Jamaica's Blue Mountains (home of the legendary coffee) to live with the remaining Arawak and became known as the "maroons."

If you've never made jerk before, I have the perfect recipe for you from the now defunct Manhattan restaurant called, appropriately enough, Maroons. The marinade is not as fiery as some and incorporates espresso beans (a nod to the Blue Mountains no doubt) which adds another layer of flavor and helps to mellow the heat. I've adapted the recipe to use espresso powder rather than grinding your own beans and utilizing pork tenderloin eliminates the need to cook it for hours, rather about 20 minutes on a charcoal grill (which I highly recommend) or about 35 minutes in the oven. Mrs. P's Cornbread, made with coconut milk, is a perfect accompaniment and coleslaw (although not traditional) makes a pleasant cooling side. Although you can buy some good jerk marinades at the store (e.g., Walker's Wood), making your own will provide such stellar results that you will take it very serious indeed! Ya man!

Jerk Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6-8 (or halve the recipe for 2-4)

1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly groung black pepper
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon seeded and chopped habanero chile (I use 2 serrano chiles, stemmed but with seeds intact)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 pounds pork tenderloins (about 2, skinny end folded back and tied)

Add all the ingredients, except the pork, into a food processor and blend well until you have a wet paste.

Place the pork in a large glass baking dish or plastic freezer bag and coat with the paste. Cover or seal and marinate overnight.

To cook on grill
Preheat charcoal grill. Place pork over heat and grill, turning every 5 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

To cook in oven
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the pork to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 35 minutes. Slice and serve.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Home Away in Santa Fe!

Entrance to my charming adobe on Canyon Road!
I just returned from a spectacular visit to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico! I started my visit with a walk along the historic plaza with it's overpriced and mostly imported goods for sale. I then strolled along the Palace of the Governers, which is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US, built 1609-1610. The Palace of the Governers is your best bet to purchase authentic Native American jewelry, which is strictly regulated by law. Along with visits to the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel with it's magical staircase, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Blue Mesa Alpaca Ranch, endless art galleries, and a road trip to Taos, my favorite part was staying in a hundred year old adobe on Canyon Road! Not only did it provide very comfortable accommodations for my family of four, having a kitchen provided a nice respite from what I felt were some pretty disappointing restaurant faire, except for The Teahouse, which was the best meal we had and steps from my adorable casita! 

After returning home with a heavy heart, a Navajo bracelet, and ristras in tow, I wanted a delicious meal that payed homage to the vibrant colors and flavors of my beloved Santa Fe. I searched through my spiciest cookbooks and decided to make "Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers" from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless. While this recipe utilizes delicious roasted poblanos, it is the surprising addition of spinach that makes it truly spectacular! Rick suggests serving this with roasted potatoes, but I feel a light salad and baguette is all that's needed for a vibrant meal that echoes the Santa Fe experience! If I had a restaurant in Santa Fe, I would serve this!

Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers

Serves 4

2 fresh poblano chiles
10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1-2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn "flour" for making tortillas) (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more if needed
Four 4-5 ounce (1-1 1/4 pounds total) skinless salmon fillets (snapper, halibut and catfish are also good here) (I didn't bother removing the skin.)
Salt and ground black pepper

Roast the poblanos over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. (See Techniques for more information.) Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel (or plastic wrap) and let cool until handleable.

Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) until completely wilted, usually about 2 minutes. (If your spinach comes in a microwavable bag, simply microwave it in the bag.) Uncover (or open the bag) and set aside.

Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the garlic into a blender. Set the skillet aside.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles and pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse the chiles to remove bits of skin and seeds. (Fyi: I was taught to NEVER rinse the chiles under water, so I never do!) Roughly chop and add to the blender, along with the masa harina and milk. Blend until smooth.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the hot oil and cook until richly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fillets, and cook until the fish barely flakes when pressed firmly with a finger or the back of a spoon (you want it slightly underdone), usually a couple of minutes longer for fish that's about 1 inch thick. Using the spatula, transfer the fish to an ovenproof plate and set in the oven.

With the skillet still over medium-high, pour in the poblano mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, whisk in a little more milk. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir until it is warm and well coated with sauce.

Divide the creamy spinach among four plates. Top each portion with a piece of seared fish. (Or, if it seems more appealing to you, spoon the sauce over the fillets.) Serve without delay.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

What I want to eat when it's freakin hot outside!

Today it's 99°, with a heat index of 110°!!!! Ick!  I'm so sick of the heat and the dreaded question of "What's for dinner?"  At times like this, I immediately think of the ultimate, quick, hot weather food from Rick Bayless's Mexico One Plate at a Time. Black bean-chicken tostadas with salsa and tangy romaine makes a perfect dinner that no one in my family will turn down. My version simplifies things by buying packaged tostada shells, a rotisserie chicken, using my favorite salsa, and a couple more tweaks. In fact, this is so fast that I pull this out when I'm in a pinch for time.

Black Bean-Chicken Tostadas with Salsa and Tangy Romaine

One package tostada shells
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1, 15oz can black beans or frijoles negros, drained
Kosher salt
2 cups shredded chicken (use a store bought rotisserie)
3/4 cup mexican crema or sour cream (I can find crema at my local mexican market. It's awesome and worth looking for!)
1 cup or so of your favorite salsa (I like a tomato/jalapeno type for this recipe)
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, cotija, or even shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced romaine
chopped tomatoes and cilantro for garnish

For the beans:
In a medium saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmery, add the onion and cook until golden, approximately 7 minutes.  Add the garlic until you can smell it (about a minute, no more).   Then add the beans.  Using a potato masher, mash the beans until they are soft and creamy.  Add a little water, if necessary.  Don't worry about lumps.  It should be lumpy but still smooth.

For the tangy romaine:
Toss the romaine with the vinegar and olive oil and about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

To serve family style (or you can plate to make it more special):
Put out the tostada shells, bowl of shredded chicken, bowl of beans, the tangy romaine, crema, salsa, chopped tomato, chopped cilantro, and cheese. 

To assemble:
Take a tostada shell and spread the bottom with the delicious black beans.  Top with some chicken, romaine, salsa, crema or sour cream, and cheese.  Garnish with the tomatoes and cilantro.  Enjoy and don't forget to tell your kids to lean over their plate!!!