Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Saffron Cream Sauce

I don't do a lot of improvisation in the kitchen. Oh, sure, I guesstimate sometimes instead of measuring strictly. And I might substitute an herb or two here and there. Most of the time, though, I'm working from a recipe. Sometimes though, I can't find a recipe for something I really want to make. So I go online, do a few Google searches for the general idea and then experiment. This one was a great success.

We decided to have lobster ravioli for our Valentine's Day dinner. Now I confess that I bought the ravioli itself from Holy Ravioli, a great store here in Dallas. But I needed a sauce. I knew it had to be cream-based, but also pretty delicate, so no tomatoes allowed. Rediscovered some saffron in my spice cabinet and had my inspiration. Here's the result.

Saffron Cream Sauce
Makes about one cup.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup thinly diced shallots
1 cup heavy cream
1 generous pinch saffron threads, crumbled

In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. (Do not let them brown.)

Add the white wine and simmer until reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Add the cream and saffron and simmer until thickened and reduced slightly. If desired, strain out solids.

Serve over pasta, chicken, or vegetables. (Cauliflower would be yummy.)

Alternate method for lobster ravioli
I wanted to gild the lily with a little lobster meat in the sauce, so here are a couple additional steps I took.

Steam one or two small (about 6 ounce) lobster tails for 4-6 minutes. Remove meat from shell and set aside.

Add 1/2 cup or so of the lobster cooking water to the sauce when you add the cream.

Cut or tear lobster into small pieces. After sauce has thickened, stir into sauce to warm. Obviously in this case, you're not going to strain before pouring over your lobster ravioli.

Food/Wine Pairing:
Of course, we had to have sparkling wine on Valentine's Day, so I took my own advice and served Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace. It complemented the richness of the lobster ravioli and sauce nicely, with just enough acidity to cut through the cream. It served almost like a squeeze of bright lemon over it all.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Simple Potato Casserole

Here's another star from the January 2008 issue of Gourmet...an issue dedicated to good ol' Southern cooking.

Usually potato casseroles are complicated affiairs with onions, various cheeses and the like. This one has just three ingredients, but is "fancy" enough to be a step up from weeknight mashed potatoes.

Potato Casserole
Serves 4 to 6.

2 pounds boiling potatoes (I used five peeled Russet potatoes and they turned out wonderfully.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle.

Peel potatoes and thinly slice (about 1/16 inch thick), then toss with butter, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread evenly in a 2-quart shallow baking dish and add broth. Cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is well-browned and most of stock is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Smothered Steak

I haven't had smothered steak in years. I remember my mom making it 25 years ago, but it has never been in my repertoire. And I certainly wouldn't trust the stuff that comes in those frozen dinners. So I decided to try the recipe in the recent Southern cooking issue of Gourmet. Breaking news...smothered steak is now in my repertoire and likely to be prepared quite often.

Note: The meat you'll need for this is not to be found in the styrofoam trays in your grocery meat section. Got to the butcher and get advice. When I went to Central Market and explained what I needed, the man behind the meat counter cut me some slices of eye of round and ran them through the tenderizing machine. A couple more pounds from me at home and they were perfect.

Smothered Steak
Serves 4.

4 bacon slices
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds chuck eye or blade steaks
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 cup water

Cook bacon in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving fat in skillet.

Meanwhile, pound steaks 1/4 inch thick between sheets of plastic wrap using flat side of a meat pounder. Snip through any gristle with kitchen shears (to prevent curling), then pat steaks dry.

Mix together flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and dredge steaks on all sides, shaking off excess.

Heat reserved bacon fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown steaks on both sides in batches; transfer to a plate.

Add onion to skillet with remaining tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and scraping up brown bits, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes.

Add steaks with any meat juices and water and bring to a boil. Simmer, tightly covered, over low heat until meat is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours. If sauce is thin, transfer meat to a platter and boil until reduced to about 1 cup. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Serve with sauce.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Everything Old is New Again: Vintage Cocktails

It seems as if, just as in fashion, things come in and out of trend in the cocktail world as well. In the last year or so, mixologists have rediscovered old-fashioned cocktails, created boutique mixers, and spirits previously labelled extinct have made a comeback. I've ordered my absinthe through mail-order and will report on it as soon as I receive it. But, in the meantime, here are three products or trends, I'll be looking at in 2008.

Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails
I first read about this book in Imbibe magazine. Written by Ted Haigh, it combines the best of out-of-print bar manuals into a user-friendly compendium. It clearly is popular right now; Amazon.com lists it as available at around $200 bucks. Hopefully, they'll print another edition; I've got it on my Amazon wish list. In the meantime, may I suggest two other books? Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail, an artist's approach to bartending. Or equally as wonderful, Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology and its more "scientific" approach. Each is a wonderful addition to your library and includes many of the classic cocktails now back in vogue.

Boutique Mixers
I'm certainly not opposed to Schweppe's and Canada Dry; I've made many a wonderful gin and tonic water with them. I'm on the hunt, however, for one of these that I've read about in several magazines: Stirrings, Q Tonic and Fever-Tree. I might even take the plunge and try and make my own from a recipe I have stored in one of my many file folders. In the meantime, I'll continue using fresh-squeezed juices in cocktails every time I can. Boutique indeed...

Long-Lost Sprits
I've already mentioned that I've ordered some absinthe now that it's again legal here in the United States. Also on the lookout for Creme de Violette (for a classic Aviation cocktail) and Allspice Dram, a rum-based liqueur made with allspice berries. Obscure spirits like these, once forgotten and impossible to find, are now being made again and easier to find thanks to mail order and a trusty Google search.

What are the classic cocktails you plan to revive in 2008? Comment below and let me know.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hurricane Coming....It's Mardi Gras!

There's still time to "laissez les bons temps rouler." Mardi Gras is Tuesday. So it's time to make the quintessential cocktail of New Orleans' French Quarter. The Hurricane. Made popular by Pat O'Brien's where it was created to take advantage of a glut of rum during World War II, it's one of those stealth drinks that sneaks up on you. It's like a big glass of Hawaiian Punch with a kick that you realize only when you've reached the bottom of the glass. Of course, you can buy Hurricane mix from Pat O'Brien's, but here are a couple of recipes you could try.

The unique ingredient is the passion fruit juice. It's not to be omitted if you want the authentic thing. And, of course, you should serve them in the traditional hurricane-shaped glass. (Hint: You can almost always find a few at garage sales.) If you don't have one, just use your biggest wine glass.

Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces light rum
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces passion fruit juice, or 1 tablespoon passion fruit syrup
1 teaspoon superfine sugar (or 1 tablespoon simple syrup)
1 teaspoon grenadine

Mix the rums, juices and sugar in a cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine, then ice and shake. Strain into an ice-filled hurricane glass.Garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherries.