Saturday, February 28, 2009

Meat and 3

Meat and Three is what you get at some old school family restaurants, particularly in the South.  You pick your main entree, the meat, and then get three choices from a list of sides.  My husband asked for steak for dinner, and I really am trying to eat healthy here, so I made three vegetable sides.  Only one was fattening- the cauliflower gratin.  I also made a baked sweet potato and some steamed haricots vert.

Usually "3 cheese" is such a gimmicky Olive Garden thing- but in some cases different cheeses can really improve the flavor of a dish.  This is often true in cheese sauce, where you want to use the minimum amount of cheese to get the best flavor. If you were to use a mild cheese and add enough of it to get a good cheese flavor, the sauce could be unpleasantly stringy and would be more prone to the fat seperating out when heated.  I made a basic white sauce (bechamel) with whole milk, then added super sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan which are all strongly flavored.

Poured over steamed cauliflower, topped with some crushed croutons (what's on hand), and run under the broiler- delicious!  My kids loved this.

SO that's it.  Steaks well seasoned and cooked in the cast iron skillet- 

Oh, don't forget the wine!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Old Standby

Wednesday nights I have to make something for the rest of the family before I go out to Zumba, then I eat when I get home.  An old favorite fits the bill: homemade Hummus with sauteed zucchini and roasted red pepper, in whole wheat pitas.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mardi Gras

I almost forgot it was Fat Tuesday!  I found myself planing the meal while I was at the grocery store.  We had New Orleans "BBQ" shrimp,

Blackened scallops, collard greens, and macque- choux, which is a Cajun corn dish.

I have had macque -choux, but when I googled a recipe I found such a huge variation in ingredients that I just winged it with this stuff:

A good trick for slicing corn  off the cob is to stand it in a large bowl.  That way the kernels don't fly off everywhere.

I browned half an Andouille sausage,

added scallions, red peppers, and celery and cooked briefly,

then added the corn, diced tomato, some thyme and a little broth.

When the corn was tender, I boiled off all the broth and added a little cream.  Macque -choux is supposed to be decadent.

New Orleans BBQ shrimp is not grilled or with BBQ sauce.  It's shell on shrimp cooked in butter with Cajun spices and Worcestershire sauce.  I added a little beer, too. The idea is the spicy seasoning gets all over your fingers as you peel the shrimp and you slurp it off...messy. 

The seasoned scallops blackening in butter in my smoking hot cast iron skillet.  Be sure to buy the "dry processed" scallops if you want to get them nice and brown.  Frozen or wet pack will never work for something like this.

Woo hoo.  That was our crazy Mardi Gras!  It seems like the big retail holidays get ever bigger and more prolonged while all the fun little ones get forgotten about.  I guess that's my job as a mom- to keep the traditions alive.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oven crispy Ceasar chicken strips....with salad

Finally a good oven baked chicken that is not dripping in butter!  I've always been drawn to crispy oven baked chicken, but nothing compared to the flour>melted butter>Parmesan breadcrumb technique that I learned many years ago.  That is SO fatty though, and when done with boneless breasts it's lackluster anyway.
This does not qualify as diet food, but it's reasonable enough for everyday.  The grown ups had the chicken over a nice salad with slow roasted tomatoes, red peppers, and balsamic vinaigrette.  The kids had some raw cherry tomatoes and some fruit with theirs.  Everyone liked it.

For the "marinade" I mixed equal parts mayonnaise and grated Parmesan cheese with Dijon, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.  The chicken breast strips sat in there for about an hour...

While I roasted the tomatoes and peppers at 325'  to concentrate their flavors.

Next, I mixed about 3 parts Panko bread crumbs with 1 part Parmesan, salt and pepper, and just enough olive oil to lightly coat the crumbs so they crisp up.  For this bowlful it was about a tablespoon.  Keeping a good thick coating of the marinade on, I rolled the strips in the crumbs and baked than at 425'  for about 15 minutes.

They got nicely browned, crunchy, and tender and juicy inside with good caesarey flavor.

While the chicken was cooking I made a balsamic vinaigrette with more Dijon, olive oil, and fresh parsley, tossed in the vegetables, and then when I was ready to serve dinner I just mixed the mesclun into that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Impromptu Valentine Tea

Some of my family decided to make the 2 hour drive to come over on Valentines Day.  I didn't have much notice but I wanted to make something "valentiney," like tea party food, as the meal would be served mid afternoon.  The menu, clockwise from the top, was Pineapple and strawberries, chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce. smoked turkey and Gruyere mini melts, Star Cakes my daughters made with their Aunt, cream cheese brownies, Mom's homemade fudge, chicken salad puffs, and cucumber radish sandwiches.

For these puffs, I made Pate Choux (cream puff pastry) the night before and stashed it in the fridge right in it's piping bag.  The morning of, it was simple to just pipe them out and bake them.  The salad was rotisserie chicken breasts with toasted pecans, grapes, celery, parsley, and mayo mixed with a little sour cream and Dijon.

These melts were good.  It's just a thick bechamel (white sauce) with chopped deli smoked turkey and shredded Gruyere folded in, spread on sliced baguette and broiled.  A tiny dollop of cranberry sauce on top brightens the flavor and appearance.
Cocktail rye's with chive cream cheese, cuke slices, radish slices, yellow grape tomato slivers and fresh parsley.

The cream cheese brownies were from the Baker's chocolate box.  I like that recipe!

I had the shrimp in my freezer, so the rest was just a matter of cutting and plating.  Easy and quick, but it felt special to graze on all those miniatures!  Sadly, the cakes were not that delicious- from a mix- even the little girls are getting too spoiled for boxed mixes!  I remember as a kid I hated boxed or bakery cakes with their grainy crisco frosting.  Only my grandma's cakes with real butter frosting would do!  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sort of like chicken Cordon Blue

This is a fast, cheesy yummy dish.  I really needed this to be quick so I bought some frozen roasted potato wedges.  My standards are really starting to slip.  If I ever post about hamburger helper somebody drive over here and stage an intervention!  Anyhow, the package was trying to be kind of upscale with "olive oil" and "organic" and "sea salt" but in any case they were not that bad.  I also quickly sauteed a bag of baby spinach to round out the meal.

First I seasoned boneless skinless chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and dusted them with fine breadcrumbs.  I browned them in a touch of olive oil.  This pan is my All Clad 16" braiser and I love it.  It goes right into the oven or broiler, great heat distribution, and if you get it at just the right temperature, you can use the tiniest bit of oil and foods don't stick.

Then I smeared a little honey mustard on the chicken, draped on a slice of deli ham, and piled on the shredded Swiss.   I poured a teensy splash of white wine into the pan to prevent burning, popped it under the broiler for a few minutes and ...

Voila.  Ooey gooey, smokey, salty with that tangy sweet mustard bite, and ready in about 20 minutes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Florentine Renaissance Bites (wonkish)

Wonkish- I think- means academic or cerebral or maybe just on and on with the details.  For people who have a deep interest in the subject.

For my January Book Club (at my house) we read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, which was set in Florence during the Renaissance.  This was a significant period in culinary arts as well as the other arts.  For one thing, the spice routes were well established so new and exotic ingredients from the East and South were available.  For another thing, Europe was relatively peaceful so trade flourished and people were exposed to different styles and preparations.  The rise of the Merchant middle/upper class meant a greatly expanded demand for fine dining (previously, as I understand it, there was royalty food and peasant subsistance food).  Caterina De Medici, the daughter of the famous family of politicians and patrons of the arts, is often credited with ushering in  the start of modern French cooking when she was wed to the King of France.

So anyway, from an actual medieval recipe in Kaspar's The Splendid Table, I made a sweet capellini pie- a sturdy pastry crust filled with a mixture of cooked angel hair pasta, ground almonds, sugar, butter, and whipped eggs.  The juxtaposition of sweet and savory together was a hallmark of the late medieval/early renaissance periods

 Since chestnut was a staple in Italy at that time, I made a light sponge cake rolled around sweetened chestnut puree:
For a savory, I wanted to utilize some of the exotic spice combinations that were popular at the time.  I chose to make small meat pies using ground turkey, onions, sultanas (yellow raisins), pine nuts, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves.  I used a touch of Penzeys Garam Masala, too, which contains a nice mix of a bunch of Indian spices like cardamom, fenugreek....

The dough was lightly sweet yeast dough with saffron.  These were baked in the oven.

 Finally I made a thin chickpea flour pancake filled with fresh ricotta and sauteed Swiss Chard.

By the time my guests got to the food these had lost the charms of the crispy hot olive oil-fried edges but in my opinion they were a happy discovery.

Apparently anyone who has spent quality time noshing street food in the French or Italian Mediterranean coast is familiar with Socca or Farinata, which is the name fort these pancakes.  There, they are cooked over an outdoor steel drum griddle and served plain.  In Florence, they are known as cecini, derived from ceci, a name for garbanzos.  The batter of the pancake is simply chickpea flour (Bob's Red Mill makes it) mixed with water to the consistency of heavy cream, and seasoned with salt and plenty of pepper.  Finish the batter off with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and then fry it, crepe style, in more of the same.  I really liked these.

A few days after book club I had a friend over for lunch and served the Socca filled with a mixture of feta and ricotta, as well as sauteed spinach.  We had a light and healthy Carrot Ginger puree soup as well, and, rather a nonsequiter, those crescent rolls from a tube.  Well, those were bought for the kids, but it's kind of hard to say no when they're piping hot on the table, you know?

Yes, I am still cooking.

I was in a post holiday slump. Yes, still.   We've had lots of comfort food, like-

Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic sauteed rapini. 

Made some "fat mints" (aka chocolate mint cookies) with the girls,

 Yeah, that was fun...for them.
They ate so much of the creamed butter/sugar/eggs and cocoa that the recipe was adversely affected as were their bedtimes.

We've had our share of Chinese take out...

Chicken and biscuits.

Split Pea Soup with cornbread.

Grill- pan seared swordfish with sun dried tomato and olive relish (Stonewall Kitchen), couscous with roasted vegetables, and blanched green beans.

Tandoori marinated chicken thighs with jicama, pepper, and cilantro slaw and a tomato yogurt sauce, served in pita breads.
My blogging kept me cooking healthy foods- when I slipped off with the blogging I also slipped on a few lbs, so I have a few reasons to want to get back to posting!

My little helper

Indulge me for a moment if you please.  Like all mothers I think my children are impossibly adorable.  My 5 year old is brilliant etc.  But my almost 2 year old LOVES to cook and eat- she insists upon helping me in the kitchen.  Here she is making pizza dough...

She actually got the hang (somewhat) of kneading it. 

Here she is with the sauce.  She doesn't talk all that much yet, but she says "mix" and "taste" when she helps.

She peeled this carrot very well.

And a wicked sweet tooth.