Monday, February 27, 2006

Sirloin Steak Salad

Closing night of the Olympics! Dinner in front of the TV. We started with Dungeness crab dipped in butter that had been melted in a pan with sliced fresh garlic and the juice and zest of 1/2 a Meyer lemon. Add a simple salad and that should have been enough. But nooooo. I had this steak salad in mind, adapted from a recipe in the March 2006 issue of Gourmet Magazine, that I had already prepped and had to make. Besides, all that sitting, watching TV makes a person hungry. Luckily, it was all low-carb, my eating life-style of choice. This recipe serves two generously. For lower calorie consumption, leave out the crab and butter.

1/2 pound boneless top sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain and tossed with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and a grinding of Tellicherry pepper
1/3 cup good olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (do not cut up)
1 4" long sprig fresh rosemary
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon really well aged balsamic vinegar. (Barring the expensive stuff, just use 1 1/2 tablespoons of regular balsamic or half balsamic and half red wine vinegar)
Kosher salt and freshly ground Tellicherry pepper to taste
Enough spring mix salad to mound on two large plates
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, broken into coarse pieces

Place the salad mix on the plates and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet over high heat, add olive oil, garlic and rosemary sprig and cook until garlic turns golden, turning often. Discard the garlic and rosemary and add the steak all at one time to the skillet. Using tongs, toss the strips of meat until browned all over and medium rare, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the meat evenly on top of the salad mix, retaining the oil in the skillet. Return the skillet to the stove and add the shallot and vinegars and boil for 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper if needed and pour over the salads, distributing evenly. Top with the toasted walnuts and dig in!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Simple Balsamic Glazed Halibut

Tuco's Wine Market & Cafe, (the subject of another post coming your way soon) at 130 G Street in Davis, sells both an 8-year and a 12-year old Fondo Di Trebbiano Balsamic of Modena balsamic vinegar. Both are fabulously expensive and, for me, must haves for my pantry. At the moment I have the baby balsamic which set me back a whopping $58. Having just entered the world of hautes balsamics, on-line research shows a wide range of prices and, according to what I Googled, I got a good price by buying it at Tuco's.

When I bought a beautiful halibut fillet from our local co-op, I knew I would use a few precious drops of my newly purchased and closely guarded elixer to garnish the more modest balsamic glaze for the fish. I do believe I may use an eye-dropper to dispense this rich, syrupy-thick vinegar which has the lingering taste of ripe raspberries on its finish.

1/2 lb. Halibut fillet, about 1 1/2 inches thick

1 tablespoon "regular" (read everyday, inexpensive) balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and fresh ground Tellicherry pepper to taste

Make a marinade by combining the vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.
Place the halibut in a lock top plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Lock the top and turn over several times to fully coat the fish. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Prepare a small roasting pan by drizzling with a small amount of olive oil. Place the fish directly into the pan, juices and all, and roast in a hot oven (400 to 425 degrees) until flaky but still moist.

To plate, using your eye-dropper, place about 6 drops of your Fondo Di Trebbiano balsamic vinegar on the plate. Run the sharp tip of a knife through each drop, connecting the dots, so to speak.

We ate this with steamed artichokes, but I would also recommend slim green beans (haricot verts) sauteed in butter and topped with just a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice, a bit of the zest, and a few toasted, slivered almonds for flair.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Another Beach Night, Another Birthday, Another Cake

This past Wednesday night was such fun: Dinner with the Beach Night group plus two other couples whom we enjoy so much. Moi was asked to make the cake for the birthday boy (could I refuse? wouldn't think of it!). Each time this group gets together it warms my heart. Love and laughter abound; food and wine are shared. It never fails to make me feel grateful for such good friends.

Well now, this particular cake was not without its structural challenges. And a bit un-photogenic to boot. Three layers of chocolate cake with dulce de leche and whipped cream between each layer, plus more dulce de leche on top and then the whole thing enrobed in whipped cream and topped with shavings of bittersweet chocolate. It really was prettier than it looks here.

The first thing I did was to put the bottom layer round side down. I didn't see what I'd done until I'd slathered the first layer of dulce de leche on it. So on I went, adding the whipped cream, the second layer, flat side down (big mistake), more dulce, more whipped cream, ending with the top layer of cake round side down, creating a flat top. Unfortunately it also created bowed sides and made the whole thing a bit unstable. Oh well, a good frosting of whipped cream over the entire cake hid numerous imperfections. The main thing was that 'L' liked his birthday cake, as did everyone else. And as you all know, that is THE thing to which I aspire.

There was lots of talk about my blog around the table. Some didn't know about it, others sang my praises. I found myself getting a bit self-conscious, which surprised me because I write this stuff, send it out into the blogosphere where anyone can read it and really don't give it that much thought. But when my friends talk about it and ask me questions, I get "oh gosh and golly, it's really not much" about it. ('A', I love it that you love my blog and my writing. You can tell whomever you want, whenever you want. I'll just buck up!)

Are you ready for the recipe? Thought you might be.

Three-Layer Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with Dulce de Leche and Whipped Cream Frosting

The day before making the cake, place 2 un-opened cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pan deep enough to cover the cans with water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for 4 hours. Place a lid loosely over the pan to reduce evaporation. Add boiling water if the level falls below the tops of the cans. Remove pan from the heat and allow cans to cool in the water completely. Wipe clean and store in the fridge.

WARNING: this is not the Carnation or Borden Officially Sanctioned Method of preparing dulce de leche. Because, I suppose, occasionally a can can and will explode. I've never known it to happen, but then I've never had a pressure cooker explode either although I've heard that on occasion they do. Officially, you can go to the store and buy this stuff already prepared but I will tell you that it just ain't the same. Still, I would be remiss if I did not warn you of the inherent danger of boiling sealed cans of sweetened milk. Be careful, and keep the water at a simmer.

For the cake batter:
Butter the insides of three 8-inch cake pans. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside of each pan. Butter parchment paper. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 325.

In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, melt 6 ounces of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharfen Berger. Set aside.

With a whisk, blend -
3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon each, baking soda, baking powder, kosher salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together until blended -
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat in the melted chocolate until thoroughly mixed.
Add 2 large eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Mix in 1/2 of the flour mixture followed by
3/4 cup buttermilk
followed by the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until the flour is fully incorporated.

Pour equally into the three pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
Cool pans on racks for 10 minutes, remove cakes from pans, place on racks and cool completely.

Whip 1 pint of whipping cream, adding 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup and a bit of sugar to the sweetness you desire. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and whip until stiff peaks form.

Lay strips of aluminum foil around the edges of the plate you want to serve your cake on. Place the first layer, flat side down and spread a generous amount of dulce de leche over the top and out to the edge. Top this with a generous layer of whipped cream. Place the second layer, round side down, on top of the first and repeat with the two fillings. Lastly, with the third layer flat side down and using a sharp serrated knife, gently slice the rounded top from the layer, creating a flat top surface. Spread dulce (you may have to open a second can) on the top just to the edges. Frost the entire cake with the remainder of the whipped cream. Or you can just frost the sides and pipe the whipped cream onto the top with a large rosette tip, leaving some of the dulce exposed. Using some of that great bittersweet chocolate, either microplane shavings or use a vegetable peeler to place curls of chocolate on top.

Lastly, as you proudly transport your beautiful creation to the table where your guests await with breathless anticipation, take a moment to look down to be sure that you've removed the foil strips from the edges of the bottom layer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Frozen Non-Fat Vanilla Yogurt with Raspberries

Craving ice cream the other night, I came up with this very satisfying, easy and quick to make substitute.
This recipe works very well with either Splenda or sugar, fat free half & half or regular.

2 cups of non-fat, plain yogurt
½ cup sugar or ½ cup Splenda granular
1 ½ cups regular half & half or 1 ½ cups fat free half & half
1 tablespoon vanilla
Place a large piece of dampened cheesecloth in a colander with ends laid over the sides. Put yogurt in colander, then colander in a bowl and refrigerate about 2 hours until all liquid (at least 1/3 cup) has drained through the cheesecloth into the bowl. Discard liquid.
In a large bowl, combine the drained yogurt, sugar, half & half and vanilla and whisk until blended and smooth.
Freeze in an ice cream maker for 20 to 25 minutes. It will be the consistency of soft set ice cream. Serve immediately or place in a covered container and freeze for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Any longer and it may be too hard to scoop.
To serve, scoop into bowls and sprinkle with fresh or frozen, slightly thawed raspberries. A few shavings of bittersweet chocolate wouldn’t hurt either.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Salade Compose au Confit de Canard

I’ve become a big fan of the “composed salad”. Instead of putting your greens, veggies, etc. in a bowl and tossing it all together with your favorite dressing, consider the artful placement of said items on individual serving plates. You know, like they do in restaurants.

This salad was inspired by our recent trip to Paris and southwest France where salade compose is high art. Add to that my new-found California source for duck legs confit and a wonderful toasted walnut oil*, and not only am I transported back to the sensual, palate-pleasing culinary experiences of our trip, I’m able to create a semblance of the experience in my own kitchen. A meal in itself, here’s what I did to compose this salad; yours can be as simple or as complex as your time and creativity allows.

The dressing:
3 tablespoons good sherry vinegar, such as Vinagre de Jerez.
1 heaping tablespoon French Dijon mustard
A pinch of Kosher or Maldon Sea salt
Generous grindings of Tellicherry peppercorns
1/3 cup toasted walnut oil

warmed duck fat from the confit (see below), 1 teaspoon, more or less

Place vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a glass container (I use a Bonne Mamman jelly jar, sans jelly) and whisk well. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly until combined and emulsified. Whisk in the duck fat. Set aside at room temperature.

The salad:
A mix of organic lettuce greens
4 hard boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
16 spears asparagus, peeled and roasted **
2 red beets, roasted**, cooled, peeled and cut into eighths
2 ripe tomatoes, washed and cut into eighths (optional)
Nicoise olives, pitted
Toasted walnut halves or pieces
1 confit of duck leg with thigh attached, sliced from the bone. Scrape the duck fat from around the meat and save for the dressing above.

Place greens in a bowl and toss with some of the dressing, just to coat. Mound a generous portion of greens on each plate. Arrange the rest of your offerings on top of the greens in any fashion that pleases you. I made the duck confit stand out as a special treat for this salad, placing it on top to show it off. To excercise your creative skills even more, you could add a round of warm goat cheese. Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve.

*When I’m in Davis (my hometown), I usually make a trip to my favorite market, "The Nugget" on Covell Blvd. A walk down the cheese aisle alone is enough to make me weak in the knees. On our recent visit, shopping list in hand, cooler in the car, I discovered Grimaud Farms of California confit of duck legs with thighs attached, along with foie gras and the coveted duck fat (this to be the subject of another post), not to mention whole ducks and geese. In the gourmet oils aisle, I found La Tourangelle toasted walnut oil, produced up the road in Woodland. Open the can and breathe in the gentle, nutty aromas - heaven. Happy cook - oh happy, happy cook!

**To roast the asparagus, peel the stems with a vegetable peeler, snapping off the tough ends. Place asparagus on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with Kosher salt and a drizzle of good olive oil. Roast in a 500 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, turning the asparagus to brown on both sides halfway through roasting. I usually just shake the pan to turn them, rather than turning each one individually.
To roast the beets, wrap each washed and trimmed beet in foil, place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes to one hour. Open foil packets and cool beets to room temperature. Peel and slice.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chicken Breasts on a Bed of Leeks, Carrots & Asparagus

An easy, breezy dinner tonight. Clay lit a camp fire and we sat at its edge, toasty warm, our dinner plates illuminated both by the light of the fire and the almost full moon. For the past week our north coast days have been sunny and balmy. Nights have been getting brighter and brighter as the moon waxes toward fullness. The frogs are croaking in full froggy orchestral splendor and you'd think spring had already sprung. This has local folks talking and wondering - will it rain again, topping our already 63 inches? This isn't our usual week-long-January-spell-of-sunshine followed by more gloomy winter. We already had that. This is different. This is like...Spring! And while it's true that in our part of the world the groundhog, if we had one, would not have seen his or her shadow on Feb. 2nd, meaning spring is just around the corner, this is just a bit spooky, it being Feb. 11th and all. Lawn mowers and weed whackers can be heard daily as folks take advantage of the dry spell to clip the fast-growing grasses and budding berry canes, and the tension is building as we wait to see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.

Oh yeah, dinner. Clay decided that I'll have to make this again and remember to take a photo. When I do, I'll put it on this post. 'Til then, here's the recipe. This will feed two hungry people or four not so hungry people. Adjust accordingly for fewer or more-er. Note: The photos were added on 2/27/06. The grains you see on the plate are available at Trader Joe's and are called Brown Rice Medley, or at Indian Harvest Specialtifoods and called Black Pearl Medley . It's a mixture of brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds. They are especially good steamed with vegetable broth.

4 leeks, white and pale green part only, cleaned, cut in half lengthwise then crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick pieces
4 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces
Kosher salt and fresh ground tellicherry pepper
Olive oil

More olive oil
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1-2 teaspoons Golden Whisk Pomegranates au Merlot sauce
1 heaping tablespoon frozen orange-pineapple juice concentrate - not reconstituted
Kosher salt and freshly ground tellicherry pepper

Set oven to 350.
Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into a small roasting pan. Place the cut leeks and carrots in the pan, sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper, drizzle with just a bit more olive oil and shake the pan to mix it all up. Cover pan with foil and place in oven for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and add asparagus. Put back in the oven without the foil for 12 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add a bit of olive oil. Before the oil reaches the smoking point, add the chicken breasts, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sear until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Turn over and brown the other sides, adding more salt and pepper, another 5 minutes. Using tongs, place the chicken pieces on top of the veggies and put back into the oven, maintaining the temperature.

Maintaining heat at medium-high, de-glaze the skillet with the chicken broth, scraping up the browned bits of chicken. Add the pomegranate au merlot sauce and the frozen orange-pineapple juice and boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Quickly pour the sauce over the chicken breasts and vegetables that have been finishing in the oven and you're done.

The carrots and leeks melt into sweet, caramelized goodness; the still bright green asparagus giving just a bit of crunch. Juicy chicken breasts add their own note of tender flavor and the sauce (don't look at me like that... orange-pineapple juice concentrate - still frozen - just do it) is truly wonderful. Get that campfire going and fill up your plates.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Blog Withdrawal...

My hands are shaking, my right cheek is twitching, my heart is pitter-patting in a most uncomfortable way, and visions of happy food bloggers from around the globe, busily typing away on their keyboards, posting wonderful foodie things to the food blog community, are relentlessly taunting my dreams, filling me with a dread of being left behind.

But, I cannot blog just yet. I've been on an imposed hiatus. There is year end bookkeeping to do, reports to get in, and the horrible job of getting-that-tax-stuff-to-the-CPA work to finish. I cannot blog. I cannot blog. I cannot.........!

I will soon though. I promise. Really, I will. Don't dispair and don't give up - a blogger's worst nightmare - because no matter how much we say we are doing this for our own satisfaction, it's just not true. We need you to care, to laugh (or cry) at our stories, to try our recipes and tell us how great they, and we, are. You're the reason we blog. Well, you're the reason I blog.

So don't forget me. I'm still cooking, I just can't blog about it right now. Check back soon. Please!