Friday, December 30, 2011

French Bistro Steaks with Provencal Butter

I had never heard of a hanger steak before studying abroad in France.  And to be perfectly honest, I had no idea what the English translation of "onglet" was until years after my return to the US.  I guess I just wasn't a "foodie" then.  But hanger steak has become one of my favorite steaks to cook.  It's not super expensive and it has a ton of flavor.  The only problem is that it can be a bit harder to find than say flank steak or a ribeye.  But I'm willing to make the effort to search it out because it really is worth it.  This recipe was one that I found in my Ina Garten cookbook some time ago.  It was one of those recipes that kind of sits in the back of your mind for ages until one day you finally think, "gee, there was that one recipe I wanted to try..."  That day finally came for me last week when we had a hanger steak in the fridge and no plans on how to use it.  And we just happened to have all of the ingredients on hand.  Serendipity.  Actually, I had to run out and buy herbes de provence, but we were so close.

Anyway, butter and steaks go together like pb&j.  If you Google "steak" and "butter" you end up with thousands of recipes for cooking steak in butter, or serving steak with a compound butter on top.  This compound butter was an interesting variation on the garlic compound butter, or herb-filled compound butter that you usually see because it incorporated everything but the kitchen sink - garlic, anchovies, capers, herbs and lemon zest.  It was a very interesting flavor combination and it paired well with the meatiness of the hanger steak.  And, like all compound butters, it was easy to make and imparted a lot of flavor.  We served the steak with a simple arugula salad and I thought it was a really, simple nice meal.
Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Butter-Blanched Southern Greens

I love Trader Joe's.  It is one of my favorite grocery stores, partially because they have great frozen meals and great pre-washed and prepared greens.  They also have the happiest, nicest people working there.  This is the first time that we have tried their Southern Greens Blend, which includes mustard greens, turnip greens, collards and spinach.  This is also the first time we have tried our new Jean-Georges cookbook, Home-Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes The recipe almost sounded too simple to be worthwhile.  But blanching greens in butter seemed like an interesting approach and sometimes simple is good, so I decided to give it a try.  I had to cut down on the amount of butter because 12 tbsp for a pound of greens (or 6 tbsp for 1/2 of a pound) seemed like an obscene amount.  So I cut the amount of butter by 2 tbsp for 1/2 lb of greens.  And we used the mixed greens rather than the mustard greens as the recipe called for.

Alex and I were both surprised by the amount of flavor the greens picked up from the butter.  He was worried that the greens were going to be bitter and/or bland, but somehow they weren't.  We were trying to decide just how we would change the recipe, but I'm afraid that adding any additional ingredients would mask the delicate (but rich) flavor of the butter.  We didn't use the optional mustard oil that the recipe called for, but maybe we will try that next time?  Altogether this was a pretty decent first recipe from our new cookbook and a fun new way to cook greens!

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ming Tsai's Classic Shortbread and Five-Spice Shortbread

Shortbread cookies aren't exactly the sexiest of cookies.  Shortbread is a little plain, a little safe, and some might say a little boring.  But they are wonderfully easy to make once you have your dough prepared. I love cookies that come from chilled logs of dough because you don't have to mess around trying to measure out equal sized balls with a tablespoon or get dough stuck all over your hands.  You just wrap the dough in parchment paper, chill it and then slice.  Perfect.  And pretty freaking tasty.  A long time ago I made a recipe for Orange Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate Chips and I was shocked by how tasty those cookies were.  I really need to make them again soon.  I will add them to my list...  Anyway, I decided I needed to try to make some shortbread cookies last week when I was trying to think of holiday baking projects.  And I ended up picking this recipe because I loved how Ming Tsai came up with one base recipe for four batches of dough and then a bunch of variations for each batch.  I wanted to make all four batches the other night, but decided that I would bake two batches and save two for future experiments at a later date.  With these two batches I decided to go with his basic Classic Shortbread and Five-Spice Shortbread recipes.  For the remaining two batches I'm thinking chocolate dipped (maybe with some crushed hazelnuts or some orange zest) and then Ming Tsai's Double Chocolate-Ginger Shortbread.

These cookies were simple and quite delicious.  The cookies weren't as buttery or as flaky as I had anticipated, given how crumbly the dough was.  They also weren't super sweet, but I have never had an intensely sweet shortbread before so I imagine that is pretty typical.  I wish that the flavor of the five-spice had come through a little more on the five-spice shortbread cookies.  The five-spice wasn't adhering very well to the dough.  Perhaps I should have let them warm up a  little more so the spice would adhere better?  I would say that these two batches were good, but not amazing.  We will have to see how the next two batches go.  We should be baking those two batches shortly, so stay tuned!

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts with Butter-Braised Radishes, Kohlrabi and Brussels Sprouts

I have been DYING to make this recipe for a very very long time.  I absolutely LOVE so many of the components - duck is one of my very favorite meats, and brussels sprouts are amazing.  As far as I am concerned, radishes and kohlrabi are okay, but I figured if you butter-braised them they would be amazing too.  And my God were they.    But more on that in a bit.  We took a few shortcuts while cooking the veggies because I was way too lazy to use (and then clean) all of those pans.  I think the recipe as written called for two separate pots of boiling salted water and two saute pans.  And that was just for the veggies.  The duck recipe called for a pan, a bowl, a baking sheet and a cooking rack to go on top of the baking sheet.  If we had used all of the pans Thomas Keller wanted, they would have taken over our entire kitchen.  Actually, I'm not even sure we have that many pans and pots.  And we certainly don't have space on our stove top for that many.  Thomas Keller's recipes are flawless, but they are far from simple.  Believe it or not, this was one of the less labor-intensive recipes.

I am obsessed with this dish.  It never ever would have occurred to me to butter braise radishes and serve it with kohlrabi and brussels sprouts.  I was worried that the kohlrabi and the brussels sprouts would be soggy and flavorless since they were blanched without any seasoning, but they were totally delicious.  And the duck was so good.  The skin was perfectly rendered and the meat was tender and juicy.  We have never rendered the fat out this low and slow before throwing the duck in the oven, but the cooking method worked really well.  The meat was perfectly cooked.  The recipe called for orange zest to be grated over the duck while it marinated, but we didn't have any oranges in the apartment so we just skipped that step.  The next time we make the duck (and there will be a next time), I'll make sure to pic up some oranges so I can see how that affects the flavor.  This was a great hearty and rich winter meal with enough butter to make it feel decadent, but enough veggies to make the dish feel balanced.  I loved it.  Sure it had a ton of steps (and necessitated a lot of clean up), but I thought the end result was well worth it.  Once again, Thomas Keller has proved that he is an absolute genius and I am just a baby in comparison.  And once again I am reminded that we really need to make more recipes from this cookbook ASAP.

Recipes after the jump!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kruidnoten (aka Alex's Dutch cookies) - Takes 2 and 3

I have been asking Alex to write a guest post on the blog for weeks now about his newest attempts with Kruidnoten.  Last year he made his first batch while I was on vacation with my mom.  They weren't perfect so he wanted to make a few more attempts at refining/perfecting his recipe.  This post is about attempts 2 and 3, both of which he made in the past few weeks.  His first batch of 2011 was from a few weeks ago while I was working around the clock on a deal.  My main complaint about the cookies (which he agreed with) was that the spice blend was too overpowering and perfume-y.  I felt like I was eating potpourri every time I took a bite.  The texture was soft and almost like a peanut butter cookie.  He made the next batch with a few tweaks to the spice blend this past Thursday or Friday.  He wanted the cookies to be spicier - a little peppery, but less aromatic/perfume-y.  According to Alex, the cookies are traditionally fairly hard and spicy.  I guess that is why their name literally means "spice nuts."  You can leave out or change the ratios of spices to suit your own tastes (and your spice cupboard because his final recipe uses everything but the kitchen sink).  Per Alex, some recipes note that you can even just substitute pumpkin pie spices for the speculaas.  Since I know nothing at all about these cookies (except the little that Alex has told me) and I think of the cookies as being similar to gingersnaps, I guess that makes sense.

Rather than making the final batch of cookies hard, he baked them until they were crispy, but with a bit of chewiness remaining.  It was a very pleasant texture, unlike the first batch that was super dry and the second batch that was a little softer.  I have to say that I vastly prefer his last attempt at cooking the cookies far more than the previous two.  The spice blend was better, the texture was better - everything was better.  I would recommend making the cookies small, because the flavor is pretty powerful and one small cookie goes a long way.  The first and second batches were just too big for me.  And Alex is happy enough with his final batch that he's done experimenting.  It looks like he has found the kruidnoten recipe that he will be making at Christmas-time for years to come.

Recipe after the jump!

Pasta al Limone: Pasta with Lemon Sauce

This dish was one that Alex pulled out of a hat (or off the internet) a few nights ago for dinner.  We had been planning on making something else, until we realized that we had run out of one of the major ingredients.  So this was something of a last second substitution.  And as far as last second substitutions go, it wasn't bad.  It wasn't my favorite, but I didn't think it would be.  And maybe that's beside the point.  It was a perfectly fine and better yet, it was very easy to make.  I think I might have preferred basil to the parsley (or maybe a combination of the two).  My one complaint is that once it cooled down a little it tasted a little oily/greasy.  But overall, not a bad dish.  Not an exciting dish, but not a bad one.  I think if I were to make it again I would throw in some fresh asparagus (when it's in season) for some extra freshness and sweetness.

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolate Almond Bark with Sea Salt

I'm not sure if people outside of NYC are familiar with Jacques Torres, but they have this amanzing hot chocolate there that they call Wicked Hot Chocolate.  It is very rich and deeply chocolately, but it has this really nice spice to it.  I personally happen to think that dark chocolate works wonderfully with spice (and salt, but that's another story altogether).  A few months ago I stopped at Jacques Torres with a friend to grab some hot chocolate and my friend told me I had to try this pumpkin seed bark/brittle that they only make around the holidays.  It was amazing - just as good as the hot chocolate!  They paired pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), with some dried cranberries, chocolate, caramel...  It was so good.  And I wanted to make it at home.  But when it came down to it, Alex wasn't a huge fan of the idea of dried cranberries and I was too lazy to try to recreate the recipe from a memory that was several months old.  So I decided to make this Chocolate Almond Bark with Sea Salt instead.  Things in the Boyne appartment often end up a little loosey-goosey like that.  I had this really nice brick (it literally looked like a gold brick) of dark chocolate from L.A. Burdick that I had been saving for future baking experiments and we always have sea salt in the apartment.  The only thing we needed was Marcona almonds (although I'm sure you could substitute hazelnuts and this recipe would still be delicious).  So I swung by Zabars on my way home and we were in business.

Although there were several steps involved, this bark was really easy to make.  You have to really enjoy the combination of dark chocolate and sea salt to like this bark (which I do so I really enjoyed it).  There isn't a lot of sweetness to the chocolate itself and the caramel only provides so much sweetness, so if you are into sweet chocolate barks you will need to combine semisweet and dark chocolate.  I really like the bittersweet taste of dark chocolate so I wouldn't use semisweet, but that's just me.  Make sure to use good-quality dark chocolate.  The recipe calls for it but there are plenty of times when I'm not sure that you could taste the difference.  Since this recipe is so simple and relies so heavily on the flavor of the chocolate itself, you really need to make the effort to track down some high-quality chocolate.  Trust me when I say that it will make all the difference in the world if you do.

Recipe after the jump!

Mesclun Salad with Warm Mushroom Vinaigrette

Like the Dinosaur Kale and Feta Panini, this salad was partially inspired by a dish I saw at inotecca over the weekend.  The funny thing about that is that prior to last weekend Alex and I had never eaten at inotecca before.  And while I enjoyed the meal, it wasn't impressive enough that I thought while dining that I would be drawing so much inspiration from the restaurant.  Even funnier is that I didn't order either of the two items that inspired this salad and the panini.  The table next to us did order the salad and from what I remember from the menu and/or could tell from staring at them, it was a mixed green salad of sorts with roasted mushrooms on top.  I don't think there was any cheese, but I couldn't say for certain.  We had a few cups of the mesclun from the farmers' market left (as well as some cremini mushrooms) and I wanted to make a fun, earthy salad, so adding mushrooms seemed like an interesting idea.  I pan roasted the mushrooms with evoo, garlic, shallots and rosemary and then added a splash of sherry vinegar (plus some more evoo at the end) so that the mushrooms were both a topping and the dressing for the salad.  They were pretty tasty.  Then I shaved on some really nice Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  The one thing that I didn't do and I wish that I had done is to make some homemade croutons.  I think that the buttery flavor and the crunchy texture of the croutons really would have taken this salad to the next level.  As if was, the mushrooms were really lovely and the flavors were good, but it felt like it was lacking a little something.  Lesson learned - next time I will make croutons!

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dinosaur Kale and Feta Panini

As today was my first trip to the farmers' market in quite some time (since the Sunday before Thanksgiving if we're entirely accurate), I got really excited and picked up some fresh bread and some kale with the brilliant idea of making a grilled cheese.  I love grilled cheese and I have been tempted to throw some kale in there for awhile.  This panini was really the combination of a bunch of ideas from several different sources.  The idea of adding kale to a grilled cheese first came from a cashier at Trader Joe's who told me that he puts kale in his mac n cheese.  It seemed like an interesting idea and I have been toying around with the idea of adding squash to my mac n cheese for awhile, so why not add some kale?  But that got me thinking about the combination of kale and cheese. Then one day I was flipping though Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing and I saw that she had a Kale Panini in there with farmers cheese or feta cheese, blanched kale and pickled chilis.  When I had been thinking about a grilled cheese I had been thinking more of a fontina or other creamy cheese that melts really well with something else saltier thrown in to give it a little more flavor, but a panini using feta seemed to make sense.  I think Alex was a little worried by the idea of the kale dominating the cheese (and I was too) so we decided to go with feta because it is assertive enough to hold its own against most ingredients.  And then today we were eating lunch at inoteca and they had a speck, mozzarella and pickled red onion panini.  So Alex threw in the idea of quickly and lazily pickling some shallots and throwing them in our panini for some sweetness and some acidity.  I had originally been planning on sauteing the shallots in with the wilted kale, but that sounded even better.  Alex has been on a roll lately with the suggestions.  I'm not exactly sure what has gotten into him, but I like it!

So throw it all together and bingo, bango, you have a panini!  And it was a  really tasty panini if I do say so myself.  I thought the flavors worked really well together.  The feta was salty and creamy (thanks to Andrea Reusing for that idea), the shallots were sweet and punchy, and then the kale was garlicky and savory.  If was just very satisfying.  It had enough of the grilled cheese aspect to it to resemble comfort food, but was sophisticated and complex enough to make it new and exciting.  Plus the addition of the kale made me feel a little less gross afterwards.  As much as I love grilled cheese, sometimes it just sits like a lump in the bottom of your stomach, but this sandwich didn't do that at all.  I think it had a lot to do with the proportions of cheese to kale and the addition of the shallots.  Go team Boyne!

Recipe after the jump!

Mesclun Salad with Apples and Warm Duck Bacon Vinaigrette

After a really long and difficult few weeks at work, I was dying for home cooking.  The months of November and December have been really bad for home-cooked meals (which I'm sure you can figure out just by looking at the scarcity of posts).  We had a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving (and my last home-cooked meal before that was the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving), then I went to Hawaii.  Saturday, December 3 was my next home-cooked meal and the last one before tonight's dinner.  Let's just say that I have been eating a lot of takeout and my body has been seriously craving a return to normalcy.  More specifically, I was dying for some salad and some freshness - a welcome counterpoint to all of the fairly mediocre meals I have been eating at my desk for the past two weeks.  I just really needed some greens.  And what better way to get some greens in my diet than to hit the farmers' market and grab some from Windfall Farms.  Actually when I first walked up to the stand I thought it was 5 lbs of Dirt - the farm at the farmer's market up by us that we hit every Sunday.  The people working there were the same, so maybe the two farms are related in some way?  I don't really know but I know that both stalls have absolutely amazing greens.  I wanted to buy the baby mesclun mix because it was beautiful and combined a bunch of different and delicious greens.  To counteract the slight bitterness of the greens I wanted to do a warm bacon vinaigrette.  Alex had the idea of tossing in some thinly sliced pears, but I didn't think that pears and these particular greens would work well together.  I tend to like pears better with a more tender green.  So we compromised on throwing in some thinly sliced honeycrisp apples to add some crispness and brightness to the dish.

This salad was such a wonderful way to end my 2 week long home-cooked food drought and to celebrate that work should slow down a bit for the rest of the year.  I thought all of the components really worked well together.  The sweetness of the apple was a wonderful touch (good job Alex) and I loved the duck bacon vinaigrette because it had a really nice balance of salty and sweet.  The duck bacon was a little gamier (in a good/interesting way) and a little lighter than pork bacon.  Here's to finally being able to cook and eat dinner at home again!  And here's to more upcoming blog posts...

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Things I love about Hawaii...

My family has been going to Hawaii every few years since I was a junior in college.  There have been a few trips that I haven't made with them, but I think this trip marked my fourth and my parents' seventh trip.  So we have been there a few times and we have our old favorites (Matsumoto's and Fatty's among them), but every time we go we discover new and wonderful places.  This list includes a few of my favorites on Oahu, including Waikiki, Kailua and North Shore.

List (and more pictures) after the break!