Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stew shakes off the shivers

It’s been quite chilly the past few days, even if we didn’t get the low snow everyone was buzzing about all week.
I wanted to make something hearty and low-
maintenance for dinner and decided to give beef stew a try.

This recipe is inspired by something I read the “Slow & Easy” slow-cooker book I have on loan from the library. I call it Beef Stew for Two because the ingredients didn’t take up my entire Crock-Pot. The recipe yields enough for two hefty servings, plus leftovers.

I put all the ingredients in my Crock-Pot before making breakfast to ensure plenty of time so the beef would be nice and tender. I like my stew thick like gravy and with lots of chunky goodness, and I ended up making a quick roux of flour and melted butter (2 tablespoons each) to thicken the stew about an hour before serving. I’ll be sure to add mushrooms the next time I make this stew.

Beef Stew for Two
1 pound chuck roast, fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ½ cups chopped carrots
1 ½ cups chopped celery
½ yellow onion, diced
1 pound Russet potatoes, cut into small cubes
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup beef broth
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves

In a 3.5-quart electric slow cooker, mix together carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, broth, wine, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves.

Place flour, salt, pepper and meat in large resealable bag. Seal and toss until beef is coated. Empty bag’s contents into slow cooker. Cover and cook on low setting for 7-8 hour, until beef and potatoes are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I've got the hots for Creole seasoning

Red bell peppers were on sale, as was sausage, and I craved a tomato-y sauce. Here’s what I came up with — a quick dinner packed with smoke and sass thanks to the Creole seasoning I love because it tastes good in just about everything.

Creole Sausage and Brown Rice
14-ounce smoked turkey sausage, diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups diced celery
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles in juice
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
Cooked brown rice, about 1 ½ cups per serving

Warm olive oil over medium-high heat in large frying pan. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring frequently, for a couple minutes. Add celery and cook an additional couple minutes before adding bell peppers. Cook vegetables for another minute. Reduce heat to medium and stir in diced tomatoes, Creole seasoning and sausage. Let simmer for a few minutes, until sausage heated through. Spoon over rice and serve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More photos than I know what to do with

I like to think of these orphaned photos as my blog b-sides. I don’t write about everything I eat/cook/discover, whether it’s because I’m taking a recipe straight out of a cookbook or because there’s not enough motivation/time/reason to generate a post.

Here are some random photos I thought should see the light of day one way or another.

Potato dumplings mushroom sauce and goat cheese. It's a recipe from the Italian Academy of Cuisine’s “La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy” that I found thanks to the Associated Press)

Delicious fishy dishy at The Press in Midtown Sacramento

Some of the snack options at our Christmas cocktail party

Cute wrapping paper I found in San Francisco

These little guys are jujubes, a small stone fruit my co-worker wrote about a while back.

Pan-roasted salmon atop lentil salad (recipe from California Country)

Friend Colleen and I wanted to try our hands at lumpia. We ended up crafting an Asian-inspired feast for our friends!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day, One More Taste style

For the past couple years Chris and I have avoided going out for Valentine’s Day, opting instead to stay home and prepare a stellar meal for a fraction of the price. For example, last year's dinner featured some awesome steaks, scalloped potatoes with truffle cheese and spicy asparagus.

This year I wanted to go out on a limb a little and work with lamb. My experience cooking lamb to this point had been limited to grilling up some burgers. I still dream of the delicious leg of lamb I had for my birthday this year at Barndiva in Healdsburg, and used that amazing meal as inspiration for our Valentine’s feast.

I pulled out all my cookbooks, spread them around me and got to work. After reading about the different cuts and cooking methods I honed in on roast leg of lamb. Alice Waters’ “In the Green Kitchen” and Jamie Oliver’s “The Naked Chef” were great resources.

The meat department at Corti Bros. had whole, bone-in legs that weighed over seven pounds, which would have been a bit much for the two of us. The butcher removed the bone and gave me the top half of the leg, which ended up weighing a little over three pounds. Perfect.

I brought in two enormous sprigs of rosemary from the backyard and sliced up three large garlic cloves. All the garlic cloves went in the inside of the leg, along with about half of the rosemary, before I tied the leg up into a nice, tight bundle using kitchen string. I seasoned the outside of the leg with plenty of salt and pepper and set it atop the rest of the rosemary sprigs in a large roasting pan. I roasted the lamb in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes before flipping the lamb, roasting an additional 30 minutes, and then flipping it over again for another 20 minutes or so. Once the lamb’s internal temperature was 128 degrees, I removed it from the oven and let it sit for another 15 minutes before carving. What I ended up with was a medium-rare marvel that tasted great on its own, but even better with some mint pesto.

Mint Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit
1 cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients but oil in blender or food processor to course puree. With machine still running, gradually pour in olive oil. And puree until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Sautéed chard (tossed into a frying pan with a little bit of soy sauce and red pepper flakes) and a white bean gratin rounded out the meal. I know there are some shortcuts I could have taken with the beans, but my experience with dry beans is minimal so I wanted to start this dish from the very beginning.

While I spent a good part of the day in the kitchen, it was well worth it to enjoy a delicious meal with my sweets.

White Bean and Tomato Gratin
1 ½ pounds dried Great Northern beans, rinsed
10 cups water
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from old French bread
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse beans and place in a large bowl or pot. Fill pot with enough water to cover beans with 1-2 inches water. Soak overnight, and then drain.

Combine beans, 10 cups water, onion, garlic and salt in large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 90 minutes. Drain.

Transfer beans to a 13-9-2-inch glass baking dish. Add canned tomatoes and thyme and stir together gently to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a bowl and sprinkle over beans. Bake at 350 degrees roughly one hour, until topping is a golden brown and mixture is bubbly.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Going bananas over chocolate muffins

Want to make something a little more special than regular banana bread (which is still very delicious on its own)?

Upgrade your muffins with a good dose of chocolate.

We eat these for breakfast, but they’re one smear of chocolate frosting away from being some party-ready cupcakes.

Chocolate Banana Muffins
Adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe
2 cups flour
1 cup semisweet cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

Working with a mixer (I use the paddle attachment on my KitchenAid) beat the butter at medium speed until softened, about a minute or two. Add sugars and beat for two minutes more. If necessary, turn off mixer and use rubber spatula to scrape mixture off sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat each for about a minute. Reduce mixer speed to low and add bananas. Then add dry ingredients — I use a one-cup measuring cup to scoop the dry mix into the bowl—and mix just until dry ingredients are stirred in. Add the yogurt, mixing until everything is incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

Place muffin cups in muffin tins and fill each cup about 2/3 of the way. Bake for roughly 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of muffin comes clean. Remove from oven.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oh, the sweet taste of a Super Bowl victory

I’m into the Super Bowl more for the food than the football, but this year’s game was quite exciting.

My Wisconsin-born boyfriend has opened my eyes to the wonderful world of the Green Bay Packers. We’re no sports nuts by any means, but he and I both have our fair share of Packers paraphernalia, including foam cheese hats, mini footballs, beanies and earrings (I have not one, but three pairs).

The first time I went back to Wisconsin for Christmas we saw the Packers destroy the Lions, which was quite the experience. Even in the dead of winter, we spotted plenty of fans in cheese-wedge bikini tops and others wearing not much more than green and yellow body paint. We were even on the same flight as Aaron Rogers on our flight out of Green Bay a couple days later.

Once the Packers beat the Bears, I started thinking about Wisconsin-inspired Super Bowl snacks. This recipe pays tribute to the land of cheese and beer, and comes from our friend Mike, who got it from a coworker who comes from Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Beer Dip
1 package ranch dressing dry seasoning
2 8-ounce containers cream cheese, softened
¾ can of beer
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Blend beer and cream cheese. Stir in shredded cheese and ranch. Chill overnight. Serve with pretzels.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wild Card Tuesday worth the gamble

Tuesday is not my night to cook. Sometimes.

While I love all the grocery shopping, recipe research and time spent in the kitchen that goes into crafting our meals, there are some nights when I just don’t want to thing about making dinner.

With this in mind, I pitched an idea to Chris a while back — Wild Card Tuesday.

In theory, Chris would be responsible for coming up with dinner plans each Tuesday. Homemade, pick up or dine out, doesn’t matter. I just want one night a week where I’m not walking straight through the front door and into the kitchen after work.

In practice, Wild Card Tuesday might not happen every single week, but when it does, I absolutely love it. I know cooking isn’t the special man friend’s favorite pastime, but I appreciate when he humors me.

Tonight I got some delicious grilled surf and turf along with a salad of spinach and mushrooms. He did the shopping, the grilling, the dishes. The only time spent in the kitchen was when I walked through it on my way into the dining room.