Tuesday, January 24, 2012

soup night

Tonight I made kale and chorizo soup for dinner. It was very simple - just carrot, celery, chorizo, kale, chicken stock, water, a splash of sherry vinegar and a couple of bay leaves. It has to cook for about an hour to make the kale tender, but it's totally worth the wait.

I roasted up some kabocha squash tonight as well. The sweetness of the squash actually went really well with the soup.

product review: King Arthur Flour Almond Filled Sweet Bread Mix

For Christmas, I was lucky enough to get a bunch of loot from King Arthur Flour in a Yankee Swap gift. Said gift included, among other things, a box of their Almond Filled Sweet Bread mix. Even though we don't eat much bread, I decided to bake up the mix for a treat.

The mix actually comes in several components - there's the actual bread mix, a yeast packet, a powdered filling mix, and a powdered glaze mix. The first thing you have to do is combine the bread mix with some butter, eggs, warm water and the yeast packet. The dough gets kneaded until smooth and then is allowed to rise "until puffy", which the package advises should take about an hour. I'm not sure if maybe my kitchen was just abnormally cold, but I actually let the dough sit for over TWO hours before it finally got "puffy".

The next step was to combine the filling mix with some water to make a paste, and roll the dough out to a large rectangle. The filling gets spread on the rolled-out dough and then the whole thing gets carefully rolled up and shaped into a ring. The bread is allowed to rise again until doubled in size. Again, this seemed to take quite a long time for me, but it could have just been that my kitchen was cold.

The bread got baked for about 30 min at 350. The instructions on the box advised that the bread could be baked in a ring-pan or on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I opted for the baking sheet. The bread baked up beautifully. I let it cool for a while before mixing up the glaze with a little melted butter and milk and spreading it on the bread.

Cutting into the ring of bread, I could see the spiral of almond filling inside. It smelled amazing, and tasted pretty awesome, too. The bread was nice and tender, and the filling had a pleasantly almond-y taste. I will say that the glaze was a little over-sweet for my taste, but I also applied it with a pretty heavy hand.

My only real complaint is that the big round loaf is pretty awkward to cook and store. I wish I'd have just cut the rolled, filled dough into slices and cooked it like cinnamon buns...but it's certainly not King Arthur Flour's fault that I didn't think of that while baking. ;)

All in all, if you really like almond flavor, I'd highly recommend this mix. If you're only kind of so-so on almond, you might not be happy with the finished product, as it is definitely not a subtle flavor. Also, beware that this is not a "quick bread" - there is kneading, rising, rolling - it's fairly labor-intensive, but the end product is well worth it.

stuffed pork loin

My local grocery store had enormous pork loins on sale for $2 a pound last weekend. I couldn't NOT buy one, at that price. The one I got was around 7.5 pounds. I cut into thirds - one third, I then cut into thick boneless chops, the second third I left whole for future roasting, and the last third got made into this:

I made two cuts in the roast to open it up to a long, flat piece. The filling is a mixture of cob-smoked bacon, green onion, mushrooms, chevre, feta, and baby spinach. I cooked the stuffing all together and then spread it over the meat. I rolled the meat up, tied it with kitchen twine in a few places, then rubbed the outside of the roast with some Irish stout mustard (which is grainy and pretty sweet but also has a nice heat to it) and some grated garlic. It was over a week ago now, so I don't remember what temperature I cooked it at or for how long...helpful, I KNOW! But suffice it to say that it came out pretty tasty. The only complaint I had was that for some reason the bottom-most layer of the roast really dried out. None of the rest of it did...just the very bottom layer that was in contact with the pan while it baked.

Friday, January 13, 2012

stuffed chicken breast with shallot pan sauce

On the way home tonight, whilst wracking my brain to come up with some idea for dinner, it dawned on me that we hadn't had chicken breast in a while. This is quite likely because I find chicken breast pretty freaking tasteless and therefore don't enjoy eating it or cooking it. I started thinking about how I could make chicken breast not suck so much. Clearly it needed some kind of sauce, and it might not hurt to bury a little tasty treasure in it, as well. Something to give it a salty little zip.

Something like...prosciutto. I mean, really. Is there anything that cured pork products do NOT improve?

No. The answer is no.

I took four boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut deep pockets into them, then stuffed them each with a slice of prosciutto, about a tablespoon of chopped roasted red pepper, and about an ounce of fresh mozzarella cheese. I tied each piece of chicken around the middle with kitchen twine so that the goodies wouldn't fall out, then seared them each side, two at a time, in a hot pan with olive oil and a little butter. Once seared, they went into a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I decided to make some sauce! I was totally making this up as I went along, mind you. I had an idea of what I wanted it to taste like, but I wasn't exactly sure how to get there. What I ended up doing worked, so yay for that! What I did was take the pan I'd seared the chicken in and put it on medium-low heat, then added a tablespoon of sherry vinegar. I let it steam and fizzle until it was almost cooked away, then added half a cup of water (I didn't have any stock! Kitchen fail!), and scraped the good bits up off the bottom. I added a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of butter, and big shallot which I'd minced. I turned the heat down and let it all cook down for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. I tasted it and lo, it was too salty! I added a little more of everything else - water, butter and vinegar, and let it cook for a few more minutes, then tasted again. And lo, it was TASTY! Wicked tasty, in fact. The chicken was done at that point, so I plated it and then added the lovely chicken juices from the baking pan into the sauce as well. I spooned a little of the sauce over each piece of chicken and served it with roasted cauliflower and spring greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

Also, a note about roasted cauliflower: I love it. Even if you're not a fan of cauliflower, you should try it. Roasting it with olive oil gives it a wonderful nutty depth of flavor. Yum!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

steak night

We have steak pretty regularly anyway, but celebratory dinners at our house usually mean GOOD steak. This...was one of those times. I kept swinging between T-bone and ribeye before I got to the grocery store, salivating at the thought of both. Tender, juicy ribeye! Gnaw-the-meat-off-the-bone T-bone! How could I decide?!

When I got to the meat counter, I found two gorgeous ribeyes that made the decision for me. It was a total no-brainer. I brought them home, got my favorite pan ripping hot with some olive oil in it, and started them searing. Meanwhile, there was some asparagus that needed tending to. Once the woody ends were broken off, the asparagus spears went onto a foil-lined baking sheet with a bit of olive oil and a good dose of sea salt. I gave them a roll around the pan to coat, then popped the pan into a 400 degree oven. By the time I got the asparagus in the oven, the steak was ready to flip over (I sear for 3 minutes per side, usually).

Once the steaks were seared on both sides, I put them on another baking sheet in the oven and gave the asparagus pan a shake. To the pan I'd cooked the meat in, I added a sliced onion and some sliced white mushrooms. While everything continued to cook, I made up a vinaigrette of olive oil, white wine vinegar, some Irish stout mustard and a little salt. I tossed some mixed greens in the vinaigrette and plated the salad, then pulled one steak and the asparagus after about 3 minutes (I prefer my steak rare). I left the second steak in the oven for another 3 minutes (my husband likes his steak medium), then pulled it out and let it rest for a few minutes more while the onions and mushrooms finished cooking.

Everything eventually made it onto the plate, and it looked like this:

Ribeye is, generally speaking, well worth the extra money it costs, at least in my opinion. It's flavorful, tender, juicy, and just plain GOOD. These steaks needed no dressing or sauce of any kind. They were just pure, unadulterated beefiness. I wish I had another one for dessert. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

quick and dirty chili

I know, I know. It's sacrilege to make "quick" chili. It needs a long time to cook over low heat so the flavors can meld, blah blah blah. I KNOW. But sometimes...sometimes I get home from work and need to used a bunch of leftovers and I'm in the mood for chili right then and there. Sometimes I don't have three hours (or far longer) to let it simmer. That's where quick and dirty chili comes in!

I started with some bacon drippings in a big pot, and added a medium-sized onion, chopped up. While the onion softened over medium heat, I chopped up 6 cloves of garlic (I really like garlic, and some of the cloves were small, honest). That went into the pot when the onions were about halfway soft. After that, I had about two cups each of shredded beef and pork left over from the past few days' kitchen exploits which got added in. Next came spices - I used a mixture of 1 Tbsp chili powder, 2 Tbsp ground cumin, 1 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and about 3/4 of a tsp of sea salt. I mixed that in and let it cook for another couple minutes, then added a 28oz can of organic diced tomatoes with their juice, and half a cup of water. This all got a thorough stir and then I let it cook on medium-high for about 8 minutes, then spooned it into bowls and topped it with a dollop of sour cream and some chopped avocado. Ta-dah!

Now, I won't lie to you. It wasn't as good as honest-to-goodness, simmered-for-hours chili...but for a healthy, 20 minute start-to-finish meal that used up a bunch of leftovers and got us fed with a minimum of dirty dishes and labor? Pretty damn good. Also, for my Primal- and Paleo-adherent readers, I realize the sour cream is a no-no, but you could easily leave it off and it would be just fine. :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

porktopia, and some lettuce wraps

There was a 3lb boneless pork butt on sale at the grocery store yesterday, and I just couldn't pass it up. ;) This morning, I dosed it up with salt and pepper and a little ground sage and stuck it in the crock pot with a cup of water. By the time I got home tonight, the whole place smelled like pork-topia! The meat literally fell apart in chunks when I started to take it out of the crock pot. It was glorious, and I had to tell myself to stop eating it straight from the plate several times while I was prepping the other components for dinner.

One of the best things to do with shredded pork, in my opinion, is make Asian lettuce wraps. I take a portion of meat, shredded carrot, thinly sliced red pepper, sliced scallion, and pile it all on a lettuce leaf (I like Boston lettuce, if I can get it). I top it with a sauce made of hoisin, a little tamari, a bit of rice vinegar, some toasted sesame oil and some sesame seeds. My lettuce wraps also get a healthy squirt of Sriracha, though my husband skips that part on his. ;)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

beer-braised beef with onions, roasted kabocha squash, brussels sprouts with bacon

We're big fans of meat and beer in this house. Meat and beer, beer and meat. Once in a while I cook meat IN beer, and that makes my husband pretty happy. Today was one of those occasions.

Sorry for the blurry picture - part of the blur is steam, and part of it is from my camera not being able to focus on brown food on a brown plate. I should have known better. ;)

The roast I used was a 2.5lb bottom round roast. The bottom round cut is down on the cow's back leg. This muscle sees a lot of action, of course, so it tends toward leanness and can be tough. One way around this is to roast it and keep it quite rare - another is to braise it, which is what I decided to do.

I liberally seasoned the roast with kosher salt and black pepper, then browned it for a couple minutes each side (including the edges) in a Dutch Oven with a mixture of olive oil and bacon drippings. Once the meat was nicely browned on all sides, I removed it to a plate, then dumped a bunch of sliced onion and garlic into the pot. I let the onion and garlic cook for a minute or two, then added two bottles of Wolaver's Brown Ale, a little salt, some rosemary, and added the roast back in. I covered the pot tightly and turned the heat down to low. It simmered for about two and a half hours, total. By the time it was done, it shredded easily with two forks! The onions cooked down in the beer were spooned over the top of the meat for serving.

For the Brussels sprouts, all I had to do was clean and trim the sprouts, cut them in half, and spread them in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. I chopped up four slices of bacon and added it to the pan over the sprouts, and put the whole thing in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

The kabocha squash was a little more work. It has seeds that need to be scraped out, then I pared the skin off, sliced the squash into slices, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and laid them out on a foil-lined baking sheet. These went into a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes, flipping them over halfway through. They came out crispy on the outside and creamy inside, and were really quite addictive.

Mediterranean tuna salad

I don't normally post lunch stuff, but I was talking about this dish on a message board earlier in the week and someone requested that I make a post about it, so here you go!

This salad is a product of my unmitigated hatred of the standard tuna-and-mayo-type tuna salad. I like tuna by itself, but it's kind of dry and bland to eat just a packet of tuna on some lettuce for lunch. It needs some acid, some fat and some salt, so I gave it all three, plus a little sweetness to boot. I like this salad because it's not only super-quick but actually healthy as well - high protein, good fats, low carbs, gluten-free, magically delicious - it ticks all the boxes. Plus you get a good dose of greens, which never hurts.

Note: if you can find a really good Italian oil-packed tuna, use that and skip adding the olive oil listed further down in the recipe. Also, if you find said Italian oil-packed tuna, please send me some because it's amazeballs and I can only find it once in a blue moon around here.

Another Note: Kalamata olives are Greek cured olives. They're available in most bigger supermarkets nowadays. If you're lucky enough to have a market with an olive section and can get nice fresh (ie: not jarred) Kalamatas, it's totally worth the extra expense and the little extra time it will take you to pit them. They're fabulous. The jarred ones packed in brine work perfectly well too, though.

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

3.5oz of tuna (I use the kind in the pouch. If you used canned, just make sure you drain it well first)
juice of half a lemon
olive oil (a good extra-virgin if you have it, but even plain is pretty good)
Kalamata olives (green olives work well in this, too)
jarred roasted red pepper
salad greens

I just kind of do this to taste, so I've never measured anything. Helpful, as always, right?! I chop up the olives and red pepper, toss it with the tuna, add lemon juice and olive oil to taste, toss again, and then pile it on top of a heap of salad greens and nom away.

Variations: sometimes I chop up pickled banana peppers and add those as well. They're pretty vinegar-y, so I back off on the lemon juice if I add them. If you like capers, you could easily add some of those. Marinated artichoke hearts are good in this, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

stuffed pork chops

Oh hey, you're still here? Me too. Sorry about the hiatus. I'll try to do better. :)

Last night I stuffed some pork chops. With more pork. It was one of my better ideas, even if I do say so myself. I didn't get a chance to take a picture because we basically stuffed said pork into our faces as soon as it came out of the oven, but here's what happened.

I took:

4 boneless center-cut pork chops (these were NOT the double-thick ones, just regular thickness)

...and cut pockets into them, carefully, so as not to stab myself and/or cut through the chops.

Then I took:

some sliced baby portabella mushrooms
a slice of prosciutto, and
about an ounce of fresh mozzarella cheese

...and crammed it into each porkchop pocket. Hehehe...pork-pocket. I tied the chops up with some twine so that the cheesy goodness wouldn't all ooze out, then I salted and peppered them liberally. I took a heavy skillet and got it ripping hot (don't use non-stick for this, or if you do, don't get it super ripping hot with nothing in it because it will give off fumes that are Bad For You), added a little olive oil, and then seared the chops, two at a time, for two minutes per side. This two by two by two thing not only had a nice symmetry to it, but more to the point, it created a good sear on the outside of the chops.

Chops then went into a 425 degree oven for about 12 minutes. I took them out and let them rest while I steamed some asparagus, et voila - pork-stuffed pork chops of epic nomminess.

Try it. You'll thank me!