Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Tangerine Mint Margarita

Not sure where you live, but here in Dallas it's already in the 90's and humid.  Summer is here.  Ugh.

So it's time for refreshing cocktails to get us through to October (seriously) when it will be comfortable again.  Here's a citrusy drink inspired by one from chefs Mary Sue Millken and Susan Feniger.

Tangerine Mint Margarita
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces freshly-squeezed tangerine juice (orange juice also works fine)
1/2 teaspoon grated tangerine zest
1 ounce fresh lime juice
5 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces reposado tequila

In a cocktail shaker, combine juices, zest and mint leaves.  Muddle together.  Add tequila to the shaker and fill shaker with ice.  Shake thoroughly and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.  Garnish with a mint sprig and twist of tangerine peel.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Homemade Chicken Lettuce Wraps

The Other Half requested lettuce wraps the other night. Not from Pei Wei...but homemade.  They were simpler than I thought.  Grabbed one of my handy Asian cookbooks and modified the recipe slightly to end up with this...
(You'll notice that the photo is not a wrap but my lazy version when I fixed the leftovers.  Rather than wrapping in lettuce leaves, I chopped the lettuce topped it with the chicken.  Quite a tasty salad...)

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Makes 4 servings.

1 pound ground chicken (Buy it ground or chop chicken breasts and a thigh in your food processor.  Freeze for a few minutes beforehand and then cut into large chunks to make it easier to grind.)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 (4 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Iceberg lettuce leaves

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons orange zest (optional)
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Mix all ingredients until cornstarch is dissolved.

Mix the ground chicken, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.

Heat 1 tablespoon sesame, olive or canola oil in a wok over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken mixture and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring to break up lumps.  Add the red pepper, water chestnuts, scallion and ginger to the wok and sauté, stirring frequently, for one minute. 

Add the sauce to the wok and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute, until slightly thickened.

Serve the chicken mixture in lettuce leaves.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

As you barbecue or pool party today, please take a moment to remember all who have given their lives for their country.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Big Pot of Baked Beans

Thinking barbecue this week as we get closer to Memorial Day.  Not just all the great smoked meats, but all the great sides.  Cole slaw.  Deviled eggs.  Baked beans. 

My family has a standard recipe for baked beans.  It involves canned beans, ketchup and brown sugar, and a lot of bacon.  And it's delicious.

But I might just have a new favorite.  These are made with navy beans cooked low and slow and laced with molasses and bacon.  They are just as delicious as our family tradition with many of the same flavors.  See what you think.

Baked Beans
Makes 8 servings.

1 pound dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, ends trimmed, peeled, and left whole
4 whole cloves
8 ounces slab bacon or salt pork, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Soak the beans overnight. Drain the beans in a colander, and discard the cooking liquid.

Preheat oven to 250°. Stud the onion with the cloves and place in a Dutch oven along with the beans, bacon, maple syrup, molasses, dry mustard, and 3 cups boiling water; stir to combine. Cover pot with a lid, and place in the oven; cook, lifting the lid and stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Stir in ketchup and vinegar. Cover with lid again, and return to the oven; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze, about 3 hours more.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Encore: Homemade Barbecue Sauce

In honor of National Barbecue Month, here's a post from Memorial Day five years ago.  If you're planning a grillfest this weekend, take the time to make this sauce from scratch.  It's definitely worth the effort.
I'm not opposed to bottled barbecue sauce. Especially a good one like Stubb's or even KC Masterpiece. They're convenience products that I use often--whether in the slow cooker with chicken or when I'm just throwing a couple of pork chops on the grill.

But it's Memorial Day weekend and the mega-smoker is out, so the occasion calls for something a little more special. This is a great barbecue sauce that's easy to make. If you're feeling generous, double the recipe and send your guests home with bottles of their own.

Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce
From Cooking Light magazine.
Makes 2 cups

1 1/2 cups no salt-added tomato sauce
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika (Use Spanish smoked paprika for even more smoky flavor.)
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons barbecue smoked seasoning (such as Hickory Liquid Smoke)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

Combine tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, and the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

We love cooking for our next door neighbor.  Widow of a veteran, cancer survivor and devout Catholic who is at 8:00 a.m. Mass down the street every morning.  Oh, and she puts our newspaper on the porch daily before we're even out of bed..

So, we take care of her with sliced tomatoes, French onion soup, squash casserole, banana nut bread and homemade jam.  It's become a bit of a contest.  How can we dazzle her with something that will yield and even sweeter, more effusive thank-you note when she returns the baking dish or Tupperware?

I just won.

This recipe was declared the best thing she's ever eaten.  Try it and see if you agree.

(If you can't find fresh rhubarb, you can always use readily-available frozen.)

3/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped  
1 pound strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced (about 4 cups)
12 ounces rhubarb (preferably bright red), ends trimmed, stalks cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces

Combine flour, 2/3 cup sugar, and salt in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Add butter. Rub in with fingertips until mixture sticks together in clumps. Mix in oats and pecans.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 11 x 7 x 2- inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. Place 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl.  Add strawberries and rhubarb to sugar in bowl; toss to coat well. Scrape fruit filling into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle oat topping evenly over filling.

Bake crumble until filling bubbles thickly and topping is crisp, about 45 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Spoon warm crumble into bowls. Serve with ice cream. (Blue Bell is preferable.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Celebrate National Barbecue Month with Ribs

OK...the picture is not great.  But the grill ran out of gas and these ribs are so tender that they fall apart.  Stick with me and learn the secret. You'll be glad you did....

So I have a mega smoker.  Big enough to accomodate a big brisket, several slabs of ribs, a chicken or two and a pork loin or bologna for good measure.  Babied for 8 hours or so with periodic injections of hickory chunks and fresh charcoal, it produces a meat-fest with a smoke ring to die for and tenderness beyond compare.

But who wants to do that on a weeknight?  Especially if baby back ribs are on sale.  The other half has a technique that is simple, but that results in incomparably fall-apart and delicious barbecue.

Simple, but Amazing Ribs

Wrap baby back ribs in foil and place on rimmed baking sheet.  No water.  No rub.  No seasonings.

Place in 300° oven and cook without disturbing them for 2 hours.

Remove from oven, unwrap and let rest for 30 minutes.  Don't let them sit in any juices that have drained off. (Note: you can refrigerate them at this point and finish them off the next night.  Just let come to close to room temp before next step.)

Heat your gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat.  Throw (ok...not literally) the ribs on the grill and cook for three minutes or so on each side. Brush your favorite barbecue sauce on and grill for an additional three minutes or so to get a nice bit of crust.  (But don't let them burn.)

Put a bib on and enjoy.

Wine Pairing:  Red of course.  Try a spicy Zinfandel from California.  Matches perfectly.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not Your Mama's TV Dinner: Salisbury Steak from Scratch

As I drove home the other night, I called to see what the other half wanted me to pick him up for dinner.  Instead of fast food, he asked me to go by the grocery store and buy him a TV dinner.  Specifially he requested salisbury steak.  I was appalled but agreed.  I was even more appalled when I discovered the price of this frozen delicacy.  One dollar.

One dollar.

A couple of weeks later, I decided that I would fix salisbury steak from scratch.  Yes, it would be a bit more expensive, but it would also be a heck of a lot better...and free of all the chemicals in that over-processed boxed stuff. 

I was right.  Fix it yourself and see if you don't agree.

Salisbury Steak
Makes four servings.

1/3 cup grated onion, divided (I pureed half an onion in the food processor.  Include the juice.)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground sirloin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine 1/4 cup onion, Worcestershire, pepper, salt, garlic, and beef. Shape into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) patties. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove and set aside.

Melt butter in pan. Add mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in wine and remaining onion; cook 2 minutes. Combine broth and flour; add to pan, and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until thick. Add patties and vinegar to pan; cook 2 minutes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Back to Basics: Banana Bread

We have had a little bit of a flea infestation here at the family manse.  Being organic and all, we're going that way.  Beneficial nematodes.  Bathing the dogs in Dawn dishwashing soap.  And a little tip we found online about scattering banana peels around the yard.  Which left us with a lot of bananas.  Time for banana bread.

And get's great for breakfast of course.  But think about it for dessert also.  Especially with a scoop of ice cream on top.  Try it and see what you think.

Banana Bread
Makes one loaf.

3 medium bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°. With an electric mixer, mix bananas, eggs, butter, vanilla, and buttermilk well. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda and stir with a whisk.  Add to banana mixture and mix for one minute.

Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce

This recipe was originally published in Food & Wine (one of my favorites) to go along with a pork shoulder with mojo sauce. I decided to use it on the wonderful flank steak I posted a couple of days ago. 

It's also going to be great on cold shrimp.  Fish tacos.  Or even as a salad or cole slaw dressing. 

Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce
Makes 1 3/4 cups.

2 large jalapeños, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced white onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

In a blender, puree the jalapeños, garlic, ginger, onion, lime juice and water until smooth. Add the mayonnaise and cilantro and pulse a few times. Season the sauce with salt and serve.

(You can refrigerate for up to 3 days.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding

Maybe you're looking for something absolutely decadent to win your mother's heart on Mother's Day. Or maybe you moms out there will want to make this to eat alone once the rugrats go to bed.  Either way, it's one of the best bread pudding recipes I've run across.  However, I've omitted the heavy-handed Bourbon sauce suggested to go with it.  Instead, do yourself a flavor and make a proper creme anglaise.  It will let the bread pudding shine through.

Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding
Makes 8-10 servings.

1 loaf brioche bread, preferably one day stale, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 8 cups
4 cups milk
3 eggs, lighly beaten
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup raisins (soaked overnight in 1/3 cup bourbon)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Soak the bread in the milk in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with hands until well-mixed and the milk is absorbed.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices.  Fold into the bread mixture.  Gently stir the raisins in to the mixture.

Pour into a prepared 9x13 inch baking pan.  Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes, until set. 

Serve with creme anglaise or custard sauce.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Red-Chile Rubbed Flank Steak

It's that time of year when men's minds turn to the grill. (Insert Tim Allen manly noises here.)  And, yes, I too will throw the typical meats on there.  A big old ribeye.  Burgers.  Polish sausage.

But I also use the grill for things slightly off the beaten path.  Salmon.  Veggies (especially squash). And perhaps more than anything, I love to grill cuts of beef that lots of people forget about: tritip, hanger steak, and flank steak.

Here's a great rub you could use on any of them.  (Or on the steak, or on the veggies, or on some chicken.  You get the picture.) All it takes is three minutes or so on each side for perfect medium-rare.  Serve it with a little salsa or nestle in tortillas and enjoy.

Red-Chile Rub
Makes enough for a couple of pieces of flank steak.  You can refrigerate any leftover rub.

4 tablespoons minced garlic
1/3 ground chile powder (preferably ancho)
1/2 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Mix ingredients until thoroughly blended.  Rub heavily onto flank steak (about 2 tablespoons per pound of meat).  Let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before grilling.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Pepino's Revenge

These days, cocktails can seem like salads in a glass.  Herbs, cucumbers, jalapenos, and fruit all get muddled up with spirits and served with a vegetable garden of garnishes.  And I'm all for it...perhaps those veggies are offsetting some of the alcohol's effect on my liver.

According to Food & Wine magazine, this cocktail comes from a London restaurant run by the esteemed Wolfgang Puck.

Pepino's Revenge
Makes one cocktail.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle four 1/2-inch-thick cucumber slices with 2 large basil leaves.  (Or if you're prepared like I am, a couple sprigs of lime basil.)  Add 1 1/2 ounces silver tequila, 1/2 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce simple syrup and ice.  Shake well.  Strain into an ice-filled glass.  Garnish with basil leaves and thin cucumber slices.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Halibut with Summer Vegetables

This recipe is so healthy that you are likely to lose weight and points off your blood pressure just by reading it.  That might be an overdramatization, but not much of one. Go to your farmer's market for some pepper and squash and you're off.  Open a nice crisp white to offset the bit of spice the jalapeno brings.

Halibut with Summer Vegetables
Makes four servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
Garlic pepper
Kosher salt
1 yellow squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 zucchini squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomato
4 6-ounce pieces skinless halibut fillet

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add garlic pepper and salt and stir.

Add the squash, garlic, bell pepper and jalapeno.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes including their liquid.

(Here's where you can get creative if you'd like.  Add a pinch of cumin and/or chili powder to ramp up some Mexican flavors. Italian herb seasoning to take it another direction.  A pinch of red pepper flakes to kick the spice up even more. A dash of lime or lemon juice to brighten things up. Go for it.)

Season the halibut with salt and pepper and nestle it in the vegetables. (Note: As you can see form the photo, I used tilapia fillets and the recipe still worked deliciously.)  Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the fish is cooked through (opaque and beginning to flake).

Serve immediately.  (A little bread would be great to help sop up the juices.)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: Cinco de Mayo Margarita

Not too long ago, I posted a great recipe for a smoky margarita that is fantastico.  But there's no reason to get fancy for Cinco de Mayo.  So here's a back-to-basics recipe for that Mexican cocktail that many of you will imbibe on tomorrow.

Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces silver tequila
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar (or simple syrup)

Stir ingredients together and pour into an ice-filled, salt-rimmed glass.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Corn Spoonbread

I seem to be obsessed with corn pudding.  I tear out just about every recipe I've ever found.  It's such a great side dish...and versatile as well.  Different recipes bring different textures and the ability to add additional veggies and flavor-boosting ingredients.  And since most recipes usually call for canned or frozen corn, it's a quick go-to in a pinch.

Here's one we had with our ham dinner the other night...quite yummy.

Corn Spoonbread
Makes 4-6 servings.
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup corn (fresh, frozen, canned all work-I used a can of Mexi-corn with its additional peppers. Just drain if you use canned.)
1/2 cup chopped chives
3 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease an 8 inch square baking dish.

Heat the milk, butter, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan until just boiling.  (Watch it carefully.) In a slow, steady stream, whisk the cornmeal in and stir until the mixture is smooth.  Remove from the heat and stir in the corn and chives.  (If you're feeling creative, here's where you might stir in a diced jalapeno pepper or a handful of grated cheese.)

Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl and stir into the corn mixture.

Beat the egg whites in a separate small bowl until stiff.  Fold the whites into the batter.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Blood Orange Duo

I am an impulse shopper at the grocery store.  Luckily, I'm not tempted by candy bars or trash magazine at the checkout.  No, I get drawn in my a great piece of fish or some beautiful produce.  So it wasn't necessarily a surprise when I ended up with several gorgeous blood oranges in my shopping bag.  A couple of days later, I had to figure out what to do with them.  I ended up with these two concoctions: a vinaigrette that is delicious over butterlettuce and avocado and a cocktail that is bright and refreshing.
Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Stir together 2 tablespoons of blood orange juice, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and a pinch each of garlic pepper and salt.  While whisking, stir in 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a steadt stream until emulsified.

Blood Orange Cocktail

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker combine 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 1/2 ounces vodka, 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur) and 1 ounce blood orange juice.  Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tuesday Tip-Day

Here are some more time-saving, life-uncomplicating tips I have run across.  Some I've tried; others are on the list.

  • This one is tried and true for me.  Buy your nuts in large quantities, whether on sale at the holidays or in bulk, and store them in the freezer.  You'll always have the pecans, pine nuts, or walnuts you need for a recipe.  Even better, since they are on hand, you'll be inspired to toast with spices as a cocktail snack, throw on top of a salad, or crust chicken or fish.
  • I've discovered this doesn't always work...but light a candle nearby before you chop onions.  The flames help to neutralize the sulfuric fumes.
  • Another prep and freeze idea: grate a large gingerroot and divide it into tablespoon measurements.  Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze.  When frozen, transfer to a Ziploc bag for storage.  Add the ginger to soups or thaw and use in stir-fries or cocktails.
  • I use a lot of bell pepper...especially red ones.  How happy was I to realize that they are much easier to julienne from the tender inside rather than the peel-covered outside.
  • I use a potato ricer for perfect mashed potatoes.  How about using it for guacamole too?  Place large chunks of avocado and press into the bowl.  Scrape the outside of the ricer and stir in your other ingredients.