Thursday, February 28, 2008

Braised Beef Roast with Puréed Veggie Gravy

This puréed veggie gravy - sweet and tangy, thick and flavorful - MADE this dish. The "gravy" is really nothing more than the veggies that cooked with the beef roast - red peppers, carrots, and onion - blended with the roast beef juice and deglaze sauce from the roasting dish. So easy and SO delicious.

First, season a 4lb beef/pot roast with black pepper and smoked paprika (save the salt for now, it'll dry out the meat) and brown on high heat in a big, oiled skillet on all sides. When all sides are browned, move to your roasting/braising dish or slow cooker. Also, get that oven to 300 degrees if you plan on cooking everything in there...

Have your sous chef cut up a big red bell pepper, a couple of carrots, and a nice-sized onion in to chunks of ~1 inch - and just peel and barely break-up a few cloves of garlic. Add those raw veggies to your roasting dish. If you do not have a sous chef, give us a call and we'll come over to help you make - and eat - this meal.

Pour one cup of red wine - along with two tablespoons of red wine vinegar - into the skillet you used to brown the beef and deglaze, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 1 can (8oz) of tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and a good amount of salt and pepper. Continue to stir and bring up to a nice hot temperature.

Pour that mixture all over the meat and veggies, cover tightly, and add to the oven. You're going to be looking at ~45 minutes/pound of slow and low cooking, and probably 3 hours in an actual slow cooker. This cooking length will cook the meat thoroughly - we're going for a real braised, pull-apart doneness with this one - but you could certainly go for ~20 minutes/pound for a more medium-rare doneness, remove the beef, and then keep cooking the veggies...

Take out your roast and set aside, covered. Next - if you have a hand blender, remove half of the veggies AND half of the liquid from the pan and add to a smaller saucepan and give those veggies a whir until they are combined. If you don't have a hand blender, you could do this in a food processor. Or, you could get that sous chef to mash everything up with a potato ricer and combine!

Taste the "gravy" for seasoning and add more of your liquid if too thick, more veggies if too thin. Pour over some of your beef roast and add some of the other half of veggies and enjoy! We also had boiled some turnip and cabbage to have along with the beef and veggies.

Ours came out great - the veggie sauce/gravy was sweet from the peppers and carrots and tangy from the vinegar and delicious. Where this REALLY shined was the next day, when we sliced some of the beef real thin and warmed it up on the stovetop IN the gravy.... then we plated it on a piece of bread, open-faced sandwich style! Yum!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Buttermilk Bacon Skillet Cornbread

Our first attempt at cornbread came out tasting unfamiliar to us - it was dry, it wasn't sweet, it was crumbly... we were like eh? what happened to this?

Little did we know - there is a difference between Northern (where we're from) and Southern (where we're not) cornbread. Unfortunately, we only discovered this AFTER we got our cornbread recipe out of the otherwise-fantastic Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. This invaluable recipe resource was a wedding gift to us from my cousin Emily and her family - and it's been used quite a bit.

However, this Southern cornbread recipe - one tablespoon sugar? Shortening, not butter? We gave it a shot and later - through online research - learned that Southern cornbread is more of an everyday bread so it's less sweet and more like actual bread. The cornbread WE were looking for was the denser, sweeter cornbread we were used to - being, youknow, from the North and all...

So we gave it a second shot and scored a homerun with this Northern Bacon Skillet Cornbread... It was sweet and smokey and delicious.

  • 4 bacon slices, cooked and bacon fat preserved
  • 1 cups corn meal
  • 1 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened

Preheat your oven to 425 and cook up your bacon. Drain the bacon pieces on paper towels and pour out the bacon drippings into a small bowl. When cooled, break up the bacon into ~1/4 inch chunks.

Take your cast-iron skillet and pour in the ~2 tablespoons bacon drippings (or just use a 13x9x2-inch metal or glass baking pan). Tilt skillet to coat bottom and sides of pan with bacon drippings. (Or, if cooked earlier and the bacon drippings have congealed, you can use a paper towel and just "grease" the skillet as you would with shortening.) Place skillet in oven until bacon drippings are hot, about 6 minutes.

While that's heating, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into large bowl - and add the cornmeal. Stir in sugar. Whisk eggs and softened butter in another bowl to blend, then add to dry ingredients along with the buttermilk. Stir - "creaming" the butter in with a fork - just until blended. Before your very last stir, throw in the bacon chunks and perform the final stir...

Transfer batter to that prepared hot baking pan - batter should sizzle when it hits the pan. Bake corn bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean and top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool as long as you can stand, but best warm! Cut corn bread into wedges - or squares - and enjoy.

Dense, smokey, sweet, crispy edges, cakey inside... We enjoyed ours with a great field greens salad with beets and oranges, and a nice piece of one of two chickens - hot off the grill outside! Grilled chickens, cornbread, and salad - our own version of Southern Cooking!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fondue 2008

It’s time for our yearly installment of melted cheese - our Valentine's Day tradition. Last year, we said we were going to try smoked gouda for this year's cheese selection, but we got sidetracked. Michael was in Milton trying to find some Kirsch - we had run out last year and our local package stores didn’t carry the firewater.

Across the street from a liquor store, he spied a cute little wine and cheese shop called Esprit du Vin, so he thought he’d check it out. After explaining to the cheese purveyor what our plan was, she said no no no, you must try Comté along with your Gruyere. Comté is a French Gruyere that is very mild in flavor, very reminiscent of a baby swiss, it’s light and fairly neutral thereby balancing out the stronger Swiss Gruyere.

So that’s what we went with this year folks – you can find exact recipes in some of our old posts. And as per usual, we dunked steamed broccoli, grilled kielbasa, Fuji apples, French bread and some raw red peppers. Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Perfect Pork Chop

Boneless pork chops are just so tempting when you're browsing the meat department at the local mega-grocery store, trying to think of something to make. They are the perfect serving-size, they look easy to cook (sans bones), they are healthy (pretty much), and they hint at being tasty (they ARE pork, after all).

But then you grill them, or pan-saute them, or bake them (shake-and-bake or otherwise) and you end up with DRY, flavorless pork. Your cuts of meat have turned into warm styrofoam and you - at least WE! - are disappointed with our choice, once again.

But wait! What is the method that we see in open kitchens in restaurants we visit and on the chef's stations of cooking shows we watch? Browning, then moving to the oven to finish. This method of cooking SEEMS daunting - at least to US! - because you are sending your quick-cook cut of meat off to the dark regions of the oven. We normally reserve oven introductions for long, slow visits... covered, with liquid or not. But, there's a reason you see this method in professional kitchens - and that reason is juicy, flavorful meat!

Not only that - once you get past the initial fear of sending your boneless pork chop off to the oven - it's easy, too! This may all seem elementary to some, but it took us a while to figure everything out. Here's what we do:

Take 4 boneless pork chops, maybe 3/4" inch thick, and season both sides with salt, pepper, and something else... we keep going with this oregano/basil/thyme/fennel mixed seasoning we have, but you could try smoked paprika, garlic-and-onion, maybe crushed red pepper - whatever you fancy. Also, get the oven preheated to 350.

Then heat a little olive oil - maybe 2 tablespoons - in a pan on pretty high (preferrably a non-non-stick pan... so, a stick pan. but definitely an oven-safe pan) and start browning your pork chops. After about 3 minutes on side #1, turn and brown side #2 for 1 minute and then turn off the heat and pop that pan into the oven. Since it's uncovered, it helps if you have a wire splatter screen to put over the top or you'll get some mess in your oven.

8 to 10 to mayyybe 15 minutes later (depending on the thickness of your pork chops) you're done! Pop them out, make a little incision if you want to make sure there is barely any pink left (this isn't poultry, but get to the doneness you want), and then let them sit for a minute or two.

If you want to go one final step - remove those pork chops to a plate to sit and put the pan back on high heat on the stovetop, then splash some wine into the pan - white or red, whatever you're having. Stir and let that cook for two minutes and you've got a great little pan sauce.

Voila! Juicy, flavorful boneless pork chops in less than 1/2 an hour! A quick side of rice, or couscous, steamed asparagus, or even just a piece of bread and some heated frozen veggies... pour some of that pan sauce on your pork chops and dinner is served - in less than 1/2 hour!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Soup

I still can’t believe that I didn’t use any cream in this recipe - it turned out really thick and creamy solely from the veggies! This cauliflower soup serves as my next installment of "let’s make blended soups in all the colors of the rainbow." Of course white is not actually in the rainbow, but who's counting? Let’s get started...

For the garlic, slice the tops of the cloves while keeping the head intact and also peel off any loose paper from the head. Set it on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and fold up the sides leaving a little steam chimney up top. Throw this in a 400F degree oven for 45 minutes. After this, the garlic will have sweetened and mellowed and it ready to be squeezed right out of the bulb!

In the meantime, sautee 1-2 ribs of diced celery and the white part of some scallions in some olive oil for 5 minutes. I then diced up 2 small potatoes and added those (not too much --- this is just to give the soup more bones). Then add your cauliflower! I used an entire head that I had chopped up, but it was kinda scrawny so I added a few florets that I had in a frozen bag –shhhhhh! After the cauliflower browned a bit, I added stock to the top of the veggies and the roasted garlic, 5-6 cloves.

Along with some S&P and thyme, that was it for seasoning! I just let that simmer for 30 minutes and then gave it the ol’ blendaroo!

What’s next? A brown soup?? Mmmmmmm... mushrooms...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bacon Toffee

Yup, bacon candy!

As we stumbled across blog posts for Bacon Toffee, we looked at each other and said "bacon candy?!?!" and laughed... but as we read the various rants and reviews and posts around the web - we decided we had to make some to bring to our Super Bowl party! Get it - pigskin? At least the Toffee was a bigger hit at the Super Bowl than the Patriots were... grumble, grumble.

The bacon toffee is similar to the Peppermint Bark we make around the holidays, but this candy is made FROM SCRATCH (oh, and this candy has bacon in it).

We started by crisping up 5 strips of good Boar's Head bacon (and saving the drippings for a Cast Iron Bacon Cornbread...) and set the cooked bacon aside. Then, we started 1/4 cup water in a small-ish, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. To that, we added 1 stick of butter and let that start to melt, breaking it up a little bit. Then, we added a big pinch of kosher salt and 1 cup of sugar. Then we stirred.

And we stirred. And we stirred. Keep the heat pretty high and keep stirring as the sugar melts and it all becomes a liquid, then starts bubble and turn sort of candy-like (kind of a sticky gel) and begins to turn tan. About 10-12 minutes of stirring later, you'll have a nice tan-brown "toffee" color and a sticky consistancy and you'll be ready to make your candy.

Quickly stir in the broken-up bacon pieces (I said to break them up, right?) and pour all of your stuff out onto a very-lightly greased cookie sheet. And that's it. No refrigeration needed, just wait as long as you can for it to harden up (maybe 2 hours) and then break it up and eat it!

(While you're waiting, fill that saucepan with water and start it on high to boil along with any utensils you used to clean off that hard candy residue).

Surprisingly - or not - excellent! Sweet candied toffee with just a hint of smokiness and a little meat mixed in! Not overly "bacon-tasting" at all, and certainly addictive.