Friday, March 25, 2011

steak salad

Lots of veggies, lots of meat. Just the way dinner should be! This whole thing took me about 15 minutes, start to finish. Not too shabby!

The asparagus and mushrooms were roasted with some halved cloves of garlic and olive oil at 500 degrees for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I sprinkled a chuck steak with a little kosher salt. I heated a non-coated pan till it was ripping hot (technical term there...hah!) and then added the steak and let it sear for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 minutes, I flipped the steak and seared the other side for another 5 minutes, then removed it to a plate and let it rest for 5 mintues. The salad was spring mix tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, dijon mustard). When the asparagus and mushrooms were tender, I added them to the top of the greens while still warm. I sliced the steak against the grain and added it to the top of the salad, poured a glass of wine and voila! Time to eat!

I was a little concerned that the chuck steak (which is quite a cheap cut) might be too tough when cooked like this, but it wasn't too bad. It had some nice marbling to it and produced a lovely beefy flavor, so it was worth a few more chews per bite. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

birthday cake for dad

My dad loves carrot cake. I've been making him carrot cake for his birthday since I was a teenager. I don't enjoy shredding the carrots, but the end product is well worth it. I've tried using pre-shredded carrots before but they're too big / thick and they kind of all sink to the bottom while the cake cooks, making for an odd texture. So, I suck it up and shred by hand. ;)

I've been using the same recipe for this cake for ages as well, all though I do add a lot more spices (ginger, cloves, nutmeg) than the recipe calls for (just cinnamon). It's from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my dad got me when I was probably about 14. The recipe calls for a LOT of oil (2 cups) and I've never deviated from that until this year. This year I decided to try subbing yogurt for half the oil. I used full-fat yogurt, but even so, it has half the fat of the oil, if that. It worked like a charm. The cake came out wonderfully moist and tender.

The cream cheese frosting is just butter, cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar. I saved out a little to color for decorating. My frosting-carrots look more like chili peppers, I know. I had a lot more colored frosting left over than I intended, so I kind of just kept scrawling things until I'd used most of it up.

rosemary balsamic chicken with sauteed kale

Pretty much what it says on the tin! This was very quick and easy - a good weeknight dinner.

I took some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and sprinkled them with some garlic powder, onion powder, and topped each of them with a sprig of rosemary. They went into a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes. While the chicken cooked, I washed and trimmed a bunch of kale, then spun it mostly dry in the salad-spinner. In a big nonstick pan, I melted a little bit of bacon fat and sauteed half a chopped onion in it. When the onion was slightly softened, I added the kale and covered the pan. I let it cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until the kale was bright green and softened. The chicken got a dousing of balsamic vinegar for the last 5 minutes of cooking, then we were ready to eat!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

tortilla-less fajitas

Everything you love about fajitas, minus that pesky flour tortilla! :D

Very simple to make - I took a mostly-frozen piece of London broil and sliced it against the grain as thinly as possible. The marinade for the meat was simply the juice of one lime, a tablespoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of ground coriander, three grated cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of ground black pepper and about half a teaspoon of kosher salt. I tossed the meat with the marinade and let it sit while I sliced some mushrooms, a large onion, a smallish red pepper, a smallish green pepper and half of a big yellow pepper. The veggies went into a large non-stick pan on medium and were covered. The meat went into a very hot pan with some olive oil in it and tossed pretty much constantly until it cooked through, which only took about 5 minutes. When the veggies were tender, I scooped them onto the plates and topped with the meat. We topped the the "fajitas" with a little plain full-fat yogurt instead of sour cream. Yum!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

mushroom mini-meatloaf

May I please just say...OMG SO GOOD!!! There are not words to describe the utter nomminess that these meatloaves contained. Seriously. Maybe it was just because I was really hungry and had already put away a hefty glass of wine, but I'm pretty sure these were the best damn meatloaves I've ever eaten, let alone made!

I used a mix of ground turkey, pork and beef - about half a pound or so of each, along with 3 tablespoons of Worchestershire sauce, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder, a little salt, a good teaspoon or so of coarsely ground black pepper, a tablespoon of dried thyme, and one egg. You'll notice there's no bread crumbs. This is where the mushrooms come in! I chopped up about a cup of button mushrooms and mixed those in rather than the breadcrumbs. Wasn't quite sure how this would work, but I was willing to give it a chance!

The meat mixture was packed into four mini-loaves and seared both sides in a non-stick frying pan. Just to gild the meaty lily, I had a lone slice of bacon hanging out in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I cut it into four equal pieces and laid one on top of each mini-loaf, then placed on a foil-lined baking sheet and popped into a 500 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Searing the outside makes it nice and crisp, and then cooking it quickly in a super-hot oven preserves the crispness and doesn't allow the loaves to dry out as they might in a longer cook in a slower oven. When the loaves hit about 140, I pulled them out and let them sit for 5-7 minutes while I steamed some broccoli for a side-dish.

The mushrooms worked perfectly. They kept the loaves juicy, and unlike breadcrumbs, actually contributed to the flavor. The bacon was impossibly crisp on the edges and melting in the middle, and the juices from it sort of basted the meat loaves as it rendered. I am not lying when I tell you that I could eat one of these a day for a week and be a very happy woman!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

spiced roasted pork and cauliflower

This pork roast was the last hold-out from the SUPER AWESOME box o' meat that my parents got us for Christmas. It was slightly sad to see it go because it's been hanging out in my freezer like a nice porky safety blanket for a couple months now - but it had to be cooked before it got freezer burnt.

So! What to do with a boneless pork roast? Aside from the bit of fat across the top of the roast, it was actually quite lean so I guessed it was a loin cut (it didn't say). I took a knife and scored the layer of fat, sprinkled it with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, then concocted an "empty the spice rack" rub - cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder, dry mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, paprika...yeah. I think that's everything. ;) I rubbed it on the meat and then put the roast in the oven for 60 minutes at 425 degrees (it was still a tiny bit icy in the middle so I gave it a little extra time).

In the meantime, I trimmed a head of cauliflower and cut it into eight wedges. I drizzled them with olive oil, kosher salt and cracked black pepper, along with a little bit of the left-over rub I'd used on the roast. I used a trick I got from America's Test Kitchens, which is to line the roasting pan with foil, put the cauliflower on, then put another layer of tinfoil over the top and seal the edges. This basically roasts and steams the cauliflower at the same time, cooking it faster and keeping it from drying out but also giving it a lovely layer of roasty goodness on the surface that touches the pan. To maximize the roasty goodness, I pulled the pan out after about 12 minutes, opened up the foil packet and flipped the wedges, then sealed 'er back up and stuck it back in the oven for another 12 minutes or so. Ta-dah! DOUBLE-SIDED ROASTY GOODNESS! :)

I made the rookie mistake of letting the roast sit on top of the stove while the cauliflower finished cooking, and it made it a little bit dry in places, but the flavor was quite nice and I'd definitely use that rub again if I can ever duplicate it...hah!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

pork stirfry

I got a big package of pork chops on sale...YAY! Three of them were sirloin chops, which are the ones with bone through the middle...BOO. Undeterred, I took a few minutes to cut the meat from around the bones on the sirloin chops and decided it was stir-fry night! I threw the meat into a bath of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, toasted sesame oil, Sriracha and white wine and let it soak while I chopped up veggies. I had a head of cauliflower I needed to use up, as well as some mushrooms, the better part of a green pepper and some carrots. I made ribbons out of the carrot because a) it's fun and b) I like them better that way because then you don't get a whole mouthful of just carrot taste (which I detest).

The veggies went into my big non-stick pan on medium. I put the biggest lid I have on the pan to trap the steam and help cook the veggies through more quickly. In a regular (not non-stick) pan, I heated a little olive oil until it was shimmery and started stir-frying the pork in batches and then removing it to a bowl off to the side. When the last batch was cooked almost through, I dumped the rest of the previously-cooked pork back into the pan. I added a little cornstarch and a handful of sesame seeds to the remainder of the marinade and dumped that into the pan as well, letting it come to a boil and thicken. The veggies were tender at that point, so I put them on the plates, added the meat and sauce, and voila! Nommy stir-fried pork with lots of healthy steamed veggies and no rice. Mark cleaned his plate in record time so I took that as a sign that he enjoyed it. :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

pancake tuesday

My husband grew up with the tradition of having "pancakes" on Shrove Tuesday. In the UK, their pancakes are what we would consider crepes. Mark likes his with lemon juice and powdered sugar, which is how we had them last year. This year, I wanted to branch out a little, so I picked up some all-fruit blueberry preserves (I really like Polaners. No HFCS or anything crazy. Just fruit and cane juice) and some ricotta cheese. I grated some lemon zest into the ricotta and spread it onto the pancakes on top of the blueberry preserves, then folded them up and served them:

They don't look like much on the plate, but they were very yummy! Mark didn't try my ricotta creation, but he DID buck tradition and have honey on his pancakes rather than powdered sugar...;)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

spaghetti squash

I had been reading a lot of recipes involving spaghetti squash and realized I'd never actually had it, so I bought one and gave it a try.

First of all, it's about the easiest thing to cook EVER. I just split the squash, scraped out the seeds, and put it in the microwave for 15 minutes. When it was done, I held each half (wearing an oven mitt) and scraped the pulp out with a fork. It does in fact come right out like spaghetti! I probably derived way too much amusement out of the pulp-scraping process. :)

The squash doesn't taste like spaghetti, of course - but it's bland enough that it's a perfect vehicle for pretty much any sauce. I whipped up a quick tomato sauce with Italian sausage, green pepper and mushrooms.

It was really good! I'll definitely be making spaghetti squash again.