Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My New Normal: Curried Red Lentil Soup

I'll spare you of all the gory details, but I have been experiencing a health crisis lately. To say that this issue got my attention would be an understatement at the very least. There is no more denying it, I have to make some serious changes and the first one is with my diet.

Like most die hard foodies, deep down I have known for sometime that I needed to make some alterations to my lifestyle. I kept telling myself that I would get started right after the new year, or after my birthday, or our anniversary, or after that big contest I wanted to enter, but my body got tired of waiting and took control.

I also need to start listening to the signals my body gives off. No more Googling and searching for the answer that I want to see. No siree, from now on, for the rest of my life, I'm afraid that I will be running to the doctor for the smallest ache or pain. I used to make fun of people like that, but now I am one of them, for I see that they are the smart ones after all.

My new normal started just over three weeks ago. Since then I have done my best to eliminate most animal fat and protein from my diet (can you imagine?). This dessert lover has actually stopped eating refined sugar and am very careful about how much fruit and honey I consume. It's a new day I tell you.

I am also very guarded about the amount of gluten that I eat. If you know me personally, you know how drastic this is, because I love me some bread. Oh sure, I've stumbled a time or two. Thanksgiving was a real challenge, so I allowed myself a few bites of forbidden fruit, and got right back on that horse. The 15 pounds that I have lost is my reward.

I promise that I won't go all Gwyneth Paltrow on you here, but in addition to my usual recipes, I am going to start posting some healthy recipes that I think are worthy. Oh yeah, there will still be recipes with cheese, beef, sugar and flour, but there will also be lots of farro, quinoa, tofu and leafy greens.

One of my favorite new recipes is not only tasty, but it is perfect for our cold late fall nights. Inexpensive, hearty and satisfying, curried red lentil soup, has a lot of flavor and is a great way to finish off those vegetable odds and ends rolling around in your fridge from your Thanksgiving dinner. So I hope you'll enjoy, and most importantly, take care of yourself.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
1 medium size yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 cup dried red lentils
3 tablespoons curry powder
6 cups vegetable stock
1 - 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and mashed or pureed in a food processor with a couple of tablespoons of reserved liquid from the can
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into the bottom of a large sauce pan that is set over medium high heat.

Once oil is shimmering and hot, add onion, carrot, celery and cumin seed. Cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are tender crisp. At this point add in the the lentils and curry powder, stirring to coat.

Add the vegetable stock and garbanzo beans; stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 20 - 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Stir in the cilantro, lemon juice, ginger root, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes longer, stirring frequently.

Serve piping hot.

Serves 4 - 6.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Happy Anniversary to Us From Uncommon Goods: Great Gifts, A Giveaway, and a Delicious Apple Crostata

Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway. Vickie Keller Hemphill who entered on Savoury Table's Facebook page is my winner. Congratulations Vickie!

Mr. H and I have just celebrated a big anniversary. It is hard to believe that the young, handsome man that I married and agreed to grow old with is still just as good looking as the day I met him.  Good thing for him that I have stayed that fresh young girl that he met all those years ago too (well, almost). Yeah sure, we both that a few scuffs on us but who wouldn't after all these years?

For our last milestone anniversary we took a weekend trip to Austin to see family and just hang out. We had planned to have a fancy schmancy dinner date but landed up sitting under the neon sign of Torchy's tacos with my son, niece, and nephew drinking margaritas and eating tacos. I wouldn't have had it any other way. One of our best anniversaries ever.

We didn't do anything big this year either, but something nice did happen to us in the form of a gift from Uncommon Goods. In case you aren't aware of this sight, it features unique jewelry, designer decor, tabletop and handcrafted gifts that are created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals or people.

Founded in 1999 and headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, Uncommon Goods makes it their mission to support and provide a platform for artists and designers. Half of their merchandise is made by hand and most of it is made here in the USA. This site is definitely my new go to for those hard to shop for friends and family on my Christmas list.

I was invited by Uncommon Goods to have a look through their sight, choose something on them and see what I thought before passing their information on to you. I have to say, it took me literally hours browsing through their beautiful Anniversary Gifts collection to finally settle on a beautiful personalized vase to commemorate our big day. I love the handmade character of this vase, its whimsical design is a charming addition to our tabletop, especially when filled with roses from my garden.

I, of course, enjoyed browsing through their beautiful Anniversary Collection for our vase. If you are looking ahead and shopping for something different for the holidays, visit their unique Christmas gift collection. Looking for just a little something? Click here, for their great selection of stocking stuffers.  They've even got a great selection of gifts under $50. I think you are really going to love their site.

Since I want to include you in our celebration, I've got a beautiful little gift to give to one of my readers compliments of Uncommon Goods. Valued at $32, I have a pair of recycled glass, stemless wine glasses that will go to one lucky winner who will be randomly chosen from the comments below. All you have to do to enter is visit one of the clickable links above and tell me the name of the one item you would like to receive (other than these glasses or my vase, of course).

Leave your answer in the comment section of this blog or at Savoury Table's Facebook page, and I will randomly choose a winner on Saturday, November 5th, 2016. Be sure that I have a way to contact you if you win. Unclaimed prizes will be awarded to someone else after 24 hours. Open to readers in the US only.

We hope to take a trip to a tropical location early next year, but until then it was a big steak dinner, a nice bottle of wine and a great dessert. Our starter and main course was up to someone else to prepare and clean up after, but the dessert was all up to me.

Since Mr. H is a huge apple pie lover, and I don't make them nearly enough for his liking, this anniversary I made him one of the best. Rustic and full of juicy apples, this apple crostata is not only easy to make but it is also delicious. This just may have to become an anniversary tradition.

Apple Crostata

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for garnish
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tablespoons ice cold vodka or water
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 medium size apples (I used a combination of granny smith and honey crisp), peeled, cored and chopped into 1" cubes
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

Place flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture looks like cornmeal.

With the processor turned on, slowly add the vodka or water until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl and forms a ball.

Remove dough from the bowl of the processor. Form into a disc shape, wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Combine remaining sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

Place apples, brown and granulated sugars, cinnamon, allspice, flour and lemon juice in a medium size bowl. Mix well to completely combine. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and place on a well floured surface. Roll dough out to a 11" circle. Carefully transfer dough to a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Mound apple mixture in the center of the dough leaving about 2 - 3" of dough around the edge. Pull dough up towards the apple mixture and pleat to secure. Repeat until all of the dough is formed around the apples.

Brush dough with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.

Place into preheated oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until it is golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, sharp cheddar cheese or ice cold heavy cream poured over (an English favorite that I love) and enjoy.

Serves 6.

Uncommon Goods provided me with a product of my choosing from their website to review. All opinions provided here are my own. No monetary compensation was given in exchange for this post or my review.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's Cooking In Our New Kitchen: Cottage Pie

It has been a long time since my last post and I am sorry about that, but at least I left you with a good one. That coconut lime sorbet is da bomb. No kidding.

For the past couple of years I haven't been publishing as frequently as I'd like due to our downsizing and remodeling. We moved from our big house in the suburban bubble that we lived in for about 13 years and settled into a more urban area. We found we no longer needed the high taxes, the fancy new schools and the three floors of dust. We wanted to simplify our lives by lightening our load and moving closer to everything.

As you might have heard me talk about in the past, our new/old house really needed everything done to it. Inside and out, pretty much everything needed attention. Even though we've done a lot to it, there was always one big, fat, ugly elephant in the room, the kitchen.

Our old kitchen was an absolute smelly wreck. Thank goodness it was pretty big for a 1962 kitchen or we probably would have passed on the whole thing. Well, we put it off for as long as we could and this summer (July 7th to be exact), work commenced.

The old kitchen served this house well for over 50 years, but it was time for a much needed update.

We decided long ago that most of the work on this place would be done by us, with our own hands. After doing lots of research, we decided on a DIY friendly Ikea kitchen. We designed our kitchen, chose our cabinets, hardware, flooring, and paint colors. Yeah boy, we were on our way, then we started the demo.

For anyone who hasn't demo-ed a kitchen, I'm here to tell you that this is the worse part of the whole thing. It is dusty, dirty and dangerous. At any moment you could break all of your fingernails, lose an eye or get a divorce. Thank goodness none of these things happened. We made it through.

Since we are doing it ourselves it has taken longer than it normally would have. It has now been three months and counting. There is trim work still going on, but I am cooking once again. I have to say that we love our Ikea kitchen more than we dreamed. It is sturdy and stylish, with every bell and whistle available because they were all so affordable. Best of all, it smells so goooooood.

Still lots to do, but it is once again a working kitchen. Next week will be tiling and hunting down that elusive perfect kitchen island. 

Now that things are getting back to normal I think it is time to start cooking and posting again. In the past three months we have had more grilled food and dinners out than I care to think about. I guess I could have posted about these, but by the time we cleaned up the construction zone and doctored our cuts and scrapes, I was just too tired to get out the camera.

Since comfort food has been missing around here for far too long, I'm putting it back on the menu tonight. With the leaves turning and a cool snap in the air, I've decided to treat my boys to a cottage pie. With a layer of cheesy potatoes topping a ground beef, vegetable and gravy layer, this casserole is the definition of comfort food.

Cottage Pie

Separated from its fraternal twin the shepherd's pie by the use of beef instead of lamb, cottage pie is a favorite fall supper at our house.  

2-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" cubes
6 cups chicken broth (or enough to cover potatoes for boiling)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 ounces grated medium or sharp cheddar
1-1/2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups beef broth
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place potatoes in a large saucepan or small stock pot set over medium high heat, and cover with chicken broth. Bring to the boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender, approximately 30 minutes.

Drain potatoes, return to pan or large bowl, add the cream and white pepper. Mash or whip potatoes until they are smooth. Fold in cheese; set aside until ready to use.

Place ground beef into a deep skillet, set over medium heat. Brown the ground beef  then add the vegetables. Saute the beef and vegetables until the vegetables are slightly tender. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer.

Sprinkle the flour over the top of the beef and vegetables. Stir all together until everything is coated with flour.

Slowly add the broth to the beef, and stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Stir in the thyme, Worcestershire and peas.

Transfer meat mixture to a deep baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Spoon potatoes on top of the beef. Drag the tines of a fork over the top to make it uneven so it will brown and crisp better.

Place the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until it is heated through and browned to your liking.

Remove from the oven and cool 5 - 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Make This Now: Coconut Lime Sorbet

I have become the refrigerator shrew at work lately. Tired of things falling on my feet when I was on the hunt for something, I dove into our icy abyss, made some tough decisions and reworked it into an organized thing of beauty. In an effort to keep it that way I have vowed to myself and all my co-workers to organize it every time I work.

I has been about three weeks now and so far so good. We now live by the rule to eat it, throw it away, or have a really good excuse as to why it needs to be saved (for a maximum of a couple of days).

Sometimes my co-workers' habit of hoarding works out well for me. After being gone from work for a week or so, I hit the fridge for a quick re-work finding that the place looked pretty darned good with the exception of some misplaced yogurt and butter.

The freezer looked pretty good too. I only found 3 plastic quart tubs with mystery contents because for some reason no one likes to label anything they find important enough to save. Don't get me wrong, I love everyone I work with, but this drives me just a little bit crazy.

So, when this happens I take a consensus around the kitchen and we can usually come up with a reasonable idea about what lies inside, but one of these tubs needed no introduction. I had shopped for a Thai class a week or so before and guessed that the white mounds with green speckles must be the coconut lime sorbet that the class made for dessert.

To verify my suspicions, I popped the top and dipped in with a small tasting spoon. Much to my delight, I was right, only I had no idea how delicious this was going to be. Smooth, tart, creamy, this was the stuff dreams are made of and I'm not kidding. This sorbet is so refreshing, I immediately knew why it had been saved. It was just way too good to be thrown away, and so good that it didn't need any other reason to be saved, but it had been a week, so I was left with no choice but to eat it.

Oh, don't worry, I did share my frozen treasure with the others who were working that night and we all agreed, we were going to have to make more of this stuff. So here I am, once again sacrificing my girlish figure in the pursuit of selfless sharing with you, my blog readers. Don't worry about thanking me, the pleasure is all mine.

Coconut Lime Sorbet (adapted from Sur la Table's Delicious Thai at Home class)

As all good bloggers do, I tried my best to find this recipe on Sur la Table's website with no luck, so I am reprinting it here in its entirety, but give them full credit for this awesome recipe. Like I said, make this now, or at your next barbecue at the latest.

3 cups (about 1-1/2 cans) unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lime zest
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Place a 1 quart, freezer safe container with a tight fitting lid in the freezer to chill. Set up and pre-chill ice cream maker.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add coconut milk, sugar, salt and zest. Warm mixture, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Transfer to a medium bowl, add lime juice and cool over an ice bath. (I transferred mine to a bowl and placed it in the freezer until it was chilled, approximately 30 minutes.)

Transfer to an ice cream maker, and churn according to the manufacturers' instructions. Transfer sorbet to chilled container. Freeze for about 2 hours or until firm enough to scoop. (I prefer making this a day in advance and freezing it overnight.)

Yield: 4 servings

Because I can't stand to waste a thing, I used the full 2 cans of coconut milk and increased the rest of the ingredients slightly. This probably increased the yield by one generous serving.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Take Out Flavor at Home: Steamed Pork Buns

I always hesitate to post recipes for ethnic foods that I am new to cooking. I'm afraid that someone will read this who is an expert and be appalled at my amateurish attempt. How embarrassing. So, OK, I'm going out on a limb here, but I recently tasted a recipe that I have to share, and I hope that it will get the stamp of approval from most of you, expert or not.

Steamed pork buns are delicious little pastries filled with a sweet shredded pork filling. Steamed or baked, these buns are a favorite of dim sum lovers of which I count myself as one. I've eaten lots of pork buns in my day and think these are pretty darned good even if my assembly technique still needs a bit of work.

I wish I could take credit for this particular recipe but it is mostly courtesy of Sur la Table. I have made a couple of tweaks, most notably the quantity of pork. The original recipe calls for 2 pounds of boneless pork country-style ribs which I found to be at least 8 - 10 ounces too much for the amount of dough that the recipe makes. Of course you could always make 2 pounds which will leave you with plenty to nibble on.

I would love to give you a link to this recipe on their site, but unfortunately there just isn't one, so I am reproducing the recipe here in its entirety. To visit their site and access their other delicious recipes, please click here.

Steamed Pork Buns

1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 - 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for oiling the bowl
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch of table salt

In a small bowl, combine the water and yeast; when foamy add the oil and whisk to combine.

Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl and make a well in the center, add the yeast mixture and mix into a soft, pliable dough. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth, pliable and elastic (Dough should not be sticky at this point.  Knead in small amounts of additional flour if it is.) Place dough into a medium size oiled bowl (or place on a Silpat and cover with the oiled bowl like in my photo), cover with plastic wrap and place it in the warmest part of your kitchen to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Thank you for this tip Chef Celeste.

1 hour later . . .

Pork filling:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 - 2 pounds (2, if you like to have some extra to snack on), country-style pork ribs, bone in or boneless
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup hoisin sauce, divided
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (Sherry is a good substitute)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons freshly grated gingerroot
Lettuce or cabbage leaves (of any sort) for steaming

Pressure cooker method:
Heat a pressure cooker to medium-high and add oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork and sear on all sides until golden brown.

In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce and the remaining ingredients, whisking well to combine. pour sauce over pork, lock the lid and cook for 45 minutes on high once pressure is reached.

Alternate Cooking Method:
Place salt and pepper seasoned meat into a pan that has been preheated with 1 tablespoon of oil. Brown on all sides, add hoisin mixture, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until meat is fall apart tender, approximately 1 - 1/2 hours. This can also be done in a 325 degree oven.

Once meat is cooked, transfer to a medium bowl and shred the pork using 2 forks. Add 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and remaining 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce to the pork and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more cooking liquid if mixture seems too dry. Set mixture aside while preparing dough.

To Assemble Buns:
Line a bamboo or metal steamer with lettuce or cabbage leaves, leaving areas open to allow steam to pass through.

Divide dough into 8 - 12 equal portions, depending on how big you want your buns to be. Roll each portion into a round ball. Shape the balls into discs about 4" in diameter, leaving the middle just a bit thicker than the edges. Spoon about a tablespoon in the center of each round. Pull the edges up and pleat the dough around the filling, pinching as you work your way around the entire circle. As you can see from my photos, I need a lot of practice when it comes to forming my buns. Good thing I love making them!

To Steam Buns:
Pour water into a wok or large pot to a depth of 3 inches and heat over a medium high heat to a strong simmer. Stack bamboo steamers in the wok or place a steamer insert into the pot. Steamer should not touch the surface of the water. Arrange buns in the steamer at least 1" apart. Cover steamer and steam buns for approximately 15 minutes or until they are puffed and fluffy.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Saucy Mama Blogger Contest 2016: Craft Beer Battered Fish Tacos with Jezebel Slaw and Stacked Steak and Potato Salad

A couple of years ago I had the great fortune to be chosen as the winner of Saucy Mama/Barhyte Foods blogger recipe contest. Besides the obvious bragging rights, I also earned an all expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, a golden ticket to compete in the World Food Championships, and the opportunity to meet and hang out with the company's owner, Suzie Barhyte and her right hand woman, Colette.

Since my winning recipe was for a wafflewich, I participated in the sandwich category at the WFC. When it all shook out, I came in 13th overall, and since I was not in the top 10, I did not advance to the finals.  Still, I am pretty proud and feel like it was a decent showing seeing that I was competing against 49 other incredibly talented sandwich artists.

Always up for a great opportunity, I decided to throw some recipes in the pot again this year in hopes of representing the Saucy Mama brand at the WFC once again. Out of Saucy Mama's long list of products, I chose my all-time favorite Pacific Rim Ginger Marinade, Poblano Ranch Dressing, Apricot Ginger Mustard, Creamy Horseradish, Lime Chipotle Marinade and Zesty Cocktail Sauce, and started creating.

We were invited to create recipes that fit into 4 of the WFC's categories: Burgers, Bacon, Steak, and Seafood. Since I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, I decided to concentrate my energy on steak and seafood.

I'll spare you of the long, drawn out description of my creative process, let's just suffice to say that I had a great time and was very happy with my final products which follow at the end of this post. I'm sorry to say that it is too late this year for you to enter your genius ideas into this contest, but if you'd like to get a jump on next year's contest, or learn more about Barhyte Foods and Saucy Mama's products, please click here to visit their site and order some of their superior products so you can start creating.

Crispy Craft Beer Battered Fish Tacos with Jezebel Slaw

In my opinion nothing is better than crispy fried fish, unless it is super crunchy fried fish wrapped up in a soft warm tortilla with spicy and sweet Jezebel slaw. These definitely aren't your grandma's fish tacos..

8 - 10 taco size flour tortillas
¾ pound cod fillets (about 1/2 “ thick), or any other firm white fish, cut into 1” strips, dried
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1 – ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼  teaspoon onion powder
1 – 12 ounce bottle of your favorite craft beer, very cold
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus a couple of cups more for frying fish
¼ cup apple jelly
2 teaspoons Saucy Mama Apricot Ginger Mustard
2 teaspoons Saucy Mama Creamy Horseradish
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ cup cornstarch
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 – 10 ounce package coleslaw mix
1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion
Thinly sliced radish and lemon or lime wedges to garnish

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Wrap tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm.

Rinse and pat dry fish fillets. Sprinkle fillets with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, Old Bay seasoning, ½ of a teaspoon of kosher salt, onion powder, beer and vegetable oil.  Stir well to combine. Don’t worry if a few lumps remain. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Spoon apple jelly into a small bowl. Microwave until jelly is just warm (you can also do this in a small sauce pan over a low heat on the stove). Stir in the mustard, horseradish and garlic; set aside.

Pour enough vegetable oil in a medium size frying pan to come to at least ½” to 1” up the sides of the pan. Place the pan over medium high heat and heat until the oil is hot and shimmering.

Place cornstarch and panko on two separate plates. Place them side by side with the bowl of batter in between.  Dredge the pieces of fish through the cornstarch, then the batter (shaking off the excess), then the panko. Gently drop the fish into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until it is golden brown on each side. Repeat with the remaining fish. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Place coleslaw mix and red onion in a large bowl. Pour apple jelly mixture (jezebel sauce), remaining salt and remaining pepper over the coleslaw mix and toss well to coat; set aside.

To serve, place fish pieces inside the warm tortillas, top with equal amounts of the slaw and top with radish slices. Serve while warm with lemon or lime wedges.

 Stacked Steak and Potato Salad

A hearty main dish salad is always a treat at my house and this is the best of the best. Satisfying, filling and beautiful to serve, this isn't just a salad, it is a special occasion.

8 - 10 ounce lean sirloin steak
1/4 cup Saucy Mama Pacific Rim Ginger Dressing
8 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ cup Saucy Mama Chipotle Lime Marinade
4 medium to large fingerling potatoes
1 teaspoon salt, divided
4 stalks large asparagus, tough ends removed then cut into 2” long pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 medium size ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 large heirloom tomato, sliced into ¼” thick slices
1 cup red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite size pieces
1/2 cup Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing

Place steak in a shallow bowl. Pour Pacific ginger dressing over the top. Turn steak over to coat on both sides. Cover and set aside to marinate.

Place shrimp in a shallow bowl. Pour chipotle lime marinade over all. Toss to coat. Cover and set aside to marinate.

Place fingerling potatoes in a medium size sauce pan set over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt and boil until they are fork tender. Remove potatoes from water with a slotted spoon or spider and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Set aside until they are cold, then remove from water, slice across and set aside until ready to use.

In the same water as the potatoes, cook asparagus for approximately 2 - 3 minutes or until they are tender crisp. As with the potatoes, remove from the water and shock in a bowl of ice water until they are cold. Place on paper towels to dry.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add ½ tablespoon to the hot pan. Once the oil is shimmering and hot, add steak, season with half of the remaining salt and pepper. Cook on each side for approximately 3 – 5 minutes until it has reached desired doneness. Remove from the pan, cover and keep warm. After the cooked steak has rested for at least 5 minutes, cut into 1” cubes.

Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel. Add the remaining oil. Once the oil is hot, add shrimp, season with remaining salt and pepper and saute just until they start to turn pink on the outside and white on the inside. Remove from the heat and place on a plate to cool.

To assemble, place large ring molds in the center of two dinner plates. (If you don’t have a ring mold, you can remove both ends of an empty 28 ounce can of tomatoes and use it. If you don’t have either, just stack it in the center of the plate as best you can. It will still be delicious and beautiful.) Gently pack the steak cubes into the bottom of the mold. Top this with a layer of the shrimp, then a layer of the potatoes, then the avocado slices, tomatoes, asparagus and lettuce. Gently remove the ring and drizzle with equal amounts of the Saucy Mama Poblano Ranch Dressing.

Top with bleu cheese or bacon crumbles if desired.

Serves 2

Friday, May 13, 2016

Del Real Foods Blogger Recipe Challenge: Tamale and Chorizo Brunch Skillet and Campfire Carnitas Tacos.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Nancy from Tag Sale Tastes gave me heads up about a blogger recipe contest from Del Real Foods. The brief for this contest was to choose five products from their large variety of Mexican main dishes and sides and craft a recipe (or recipes) using any or all of them that fit into one of their three contest categories, Best Kid- Friendly, Best Outdoor or Top Voted Recipe. All recipe creations must be made in 30 minutes or less.

I chose their cheese and green chile tamales, seasoned shredded beef, carnitas, chicken tinga and barbacoa. The first package that I opened was the tamales, because these are my absolute favorite. Being a real tamale snob I was skeptical about how good these could be, but was I really surprised when I had my first bite because they are really very good.

Shortly after trying the tamales I decided on making the carnitas. I cooked the contents to the package directions, The result was a pound of moist, succulent shredded pork, that was the perfect beginning for some great tacos.

For my Best Kid-Friendly recipe, I used Del Real's green chile tamales in my tamale and chorizo brunch skillet. Served with or without the salsa topping, this dish will please grown ups and kids alike.

Tamale and Chorizo Brunch Skillet. Eggs, slightly spicy chorizo and cheesy green chile tamales make the base for this fresh and satisfying dish that is perfect for breakfast, lunch or supper.

My second recipe was made with Del Real's carnitas. My recipe for campfire carnitas tacos are a combination of tender pork, green olives, potatoes and tomatoes. This is the perfect recipe for feeding the masses at your next camp out.

Campfire Carnitas Tacos. Del Real's moist and tender carnitas are dressed up with briny green olives, fresh tomatoes and potatoes to make a hearty one dish, campfire supper.

I have had a great time discovering the Del Real line of Mexican foods and send a big thanks to them for sponsoring this recipe challenge. To access links to the complete recipes for my dishes and to see what the other bloggers created, please click here. If you'd like to discover Del Real Foods and find out where you can buy them in your area, click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Proceed With Caution: Mississippi-ish Pot Roast

I've been hearing a lot lately about a pot roast recipe that has "taken the internet by storm". You've probably heard about it too, and maybe like me you haven't tried it because, well, because it just doesn't sound like something that would take the internet by storm in these enlightened times.

The ingredients are something that you find in one of those community cookbooks. Lots of sodium and a bunch of dried stuff, with the stars of the show being a pretty cheap cut of beef and a handful of super vinegary salad bar peppers. Doesn't sound like something that you would find outside of your grandparents' 1970s dinner table does it?

OK, so I got a wild hair yesterday, and with nothing better on the suppertime calendar, I bought the stuff that I remembered seeing in the recipes for this dish. Why I didn't just check the recipe on my phone, I do not know, but I didn't. I guess at my age, this is what is called living on the edge.

So I got home with my bag of groceries, checked the recipes on the internet and realized that I didn't have any dried au jus gravy mix. Refusing to go back to the store for a mix, I improvised. I crushed a few bouillon cubes, added a couple of dashes of garlic and onion powders, and very thinly sliced some yellow onion (because I think everything is better with onions).

I added the rest of the ingredients, threw it all in my slow cooker and let 'er rip for about 3 hours on high. The result? A pretty darned good pot roast. A surprisingly good pot roast in fact.  It was just a little bit spicy with a savory sauce that was really perfectly seasoned. Color me surprised!

Now, before some troll pops up and leaves a comment about me killing my family with high sodium and preservatives (like has happened before), I must warn you all. Don't eat this stuff every night. Serve with healthy sides. Use these ingredients with caution. Thoroughly enjoy every delicious bite!

Mississippi-ish Pot Roast

My recipe here is a bit different from the original, but the credit still belongs to Mississippi mom, Robin Chapman. As the story goes, she adapted a recipe that she got from her aunt for roast beef sandwiches. She passed it on to a lifelong friend of hers, who then published it in her church's cookbook. From there a popular blogger published it on the internet and the rest is history. For Robin's original recipe and a cute video of her on GMA, please click here.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 pound chuck roast
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1 envelope dried ranch dressing mix
1 envelope au jus or French onion soup mix (or like I did, 2 beef bouillon cubes crushed, a pinch of granulated garlic and onion powder and 1/2 of a small onion, finely diced)
8 - 10 pepperoncini peppers, whole or very coarsely chopped

Pour vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat or slow cooker if yours has a browning feature. Once oil is shimmering and hot, add chuck roast, that has been peppered to taste, and sear on both sides.

If using your slow cooker, preheat it to low or high (depending on how long your have to cook it) and transfer the meat to it. You can also use a deep sided skillet and cook, covered on top of the stove on low, or cook low and slow in your oven (about 300 degrees for 2 - 3 hours) until tender.

Once it is in the pan you plan to cook it in, sprinkle both packets over the top of the roast followed by the pepperoncini. There is no need to add any liquid if your roast is tightly covered. It will produce its own sauce from the moisture in the meat. OK, If you love some extra sauce, then you can add some water a half cup at a time, but you really don't want to overdo it.  Cover and cook for up to several hours (this will depend on your cooking method) or until tender.

Once done, you can serve in portions with rice or mashed potatoes or shred with two forks and serve on crusty bread rolls.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Last of the Cool Weather Cravings: Swedish Meatballs

I'm still trying to come down from our recent trip to Texas. The weather was beautiful and the wildflowers were everywhere. Austin is a great city and having my little family together really meant the world to me. All of these things together have me suffering from a serious bout of homesickness.

My malady has been made more serious by Colorado's unpredictable spring weather. Just about the time I think I can make it through, BAM! Here we go again. Wind, snow, rain, despair. OK, OK, I'll quite my complaining and make some lemonade out of lemons.

On days like these, there's really nothing I like better than cooking a casserole or a low and slow dish of some sort.  So when the dark clouds started rolling in, and the cold wind began to blow, I got hungry for something with gravy . . . and meatballs . . . and noodles. Swedish meatballs that is, and I'm not talking Ikea meatballs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking Ikea's little leatherette covered balls of brown stuff. They have their place I guess. I actually like the potatoes, gravy and lingonberries that accompany them most of all. Ideally, they'd be good, but unfortunately in my opinion, they just aren't satisfying.

To me, really good meatballs should start with lean meat (beef and pork) and finely chopped onions. Then they should be finished with beef stock and lots of fresh cream, and then they should be enjoyed by everyone with noodles or side by side with mashed potatoes. That's what I'm talking about.

So on this cold and rainy spring day (hopefully one of our last for the year) I made a big pot of Swedish meatballs and despite fighting the elements and my homesickness, it really turned the day around for me.

Swedish Meatballs

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 large slices of bread)
1/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 pound 90/10 ground beef
1 pound lean ground pork
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 - 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 - 4 cups beef broth
1/4 - 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place breadcrumbs in a medium size bowl. Pour milk over the top and stir; set aside.

Place 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large (11" - 12") skillet with deep sides. Set it over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions, stirring until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and saute for one minute longer; set aside.

Place the beef, pork, egg yolks, nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the breadcrumb and onion mixtures. Stir with clean hands or a large spoon until all ingredients are combined.

Portion out meatballs by the heaping teaspoon and roll into balls.

Add the remaining butter and the oil into the same big skillet that has been wiped out with a paper towel. Heat over medium high. Melt the butter and oil together. Once it is sizzling, add the meatballs and cook until they are brown on all sides, transferring to a ovenproof dish and keeping warm in the preheated oven until all meatballs are done.

Once all meatballs are done, remove enough pan drippings so that you have about 3 - 4 tablespoons of drippings left in the skillet. Sprinkle the flour over the drippings, whisking as you do until you have a thick roux.

While continuing to whisk, slowly add the beef broth until you have a sauce the consistency of heavy cream. Bring mixture to a simmer, whisking all the while, and cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the cream, reduce the heat and keep warm. At this point if the mixture becomes too thick add additional beef broth, cream or a little water until you reach the desired consistency. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Add meatballs to the sauce and serve immediately.

I admit that I neglected to count exactly how many meatballs this recipe will make but this will easily serve four to six hungry people.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Celebration Cake: Simple Tips to Make Your Next Cake Beautiful

My darling, adorable and beautiful niece got married a couple of weeks ago in Texas. Luckily she married a young man that we all really like. Not only is he handsome, but he has a quick smile, easy going personality and an even temperament which I find essential in a good husband. I should know because I married well too.

Several months ago when she announced her engagement, my darling, adorable and beautiful niece asked if I'd like to make their wedding cake. Since handcrafting anything for someone is an expression of love in my opinion, I readily agreed because as you might be able to tell, I love that girl.

As weddings often go, theirs grew from a casual little bohemian-style event to a more formal and much larger do. As it grew so did my anxiety over whether or not I was qualified to make a cake for the groom's family and friends who might not have a sense of humor when it comes to amateurs baking for this special day. I was confident that my side of the family would kindly overlook any uneven frosting or even a lopsided tier or two, I just wasn't so sure about everyone else . . .  but a promise is a promise.

After months of worry, night after night of baking cakes in my dreams, and a day long icing and stacking boot camp with a cake guru friend of mine, I felt ready to do it. My husband and I packed my car with my big 7 quart KitchenAid, my best Rodelle vanilla and almond extracts, and every cake pan in the Denver metropolitan area and hit the road.

After a beautiful drive through the Texas hill country during wildflower season, we arrived in Austin and I got baking. Since the bride requested a strawberry cake, which by the way is a very hard flavor to get right, I decided to take a big shortcut and use Paula Deen's recipe which uses cake mix and strawberry jello (yes it is true, I admit it),

Now, before you stop reading, I will have you know I must have tried no less than five different recipes with lackluster results. If the flavor was right, the cake color and texture was off. If the color was close, the flavor was weak and wimpy. I tell you, this cake drove me crazy and I am an experienced home baker. My friends, family and coworkers were so tired of trying strawberry cakes that they started to hide when they saw me coming with my all too familiar cake shaped bundle of foil.

So in the end I cried "uncle" and used the recipe I started with and swore my husband to a vow of secrecy until after the cake was eaten. So here I am coming clean to all of you. I used cake mix, strawberry jello and pureed frozen strawberries in sugar and everyone loved it. I honestly think that if I had made this cake from scratch I would be in an asylum right now.

For the icing I used my new (to me) favorite, Swiss meringue buttercream  (with a 1/4 teaspoon almond extract added in with the vanilla) which is not only pretty easy to make once you get the hang of it, but it elevates even a cake mix to the highest of heights. As I learned in my cake boot camp, the trick to a great looking cake is smooth icing and to achieve that, all you need is a good recipe, the proper tools and a few little tricks of the trade that I'm going to share with you now.

Tools that I personally recommend:

The first tool you will need is a smooth moving turntable and a good one does not come cheaply. This one is made by Ateco and will set  you back about $100, but it is the best in my opinion. Where most little turntables are sluggish and jerky, this one has a smooth whisper glide rotation that keeps you from getting those stopping and starting marks on your icing. I have a couple of little flat plastic ones and they are a waste of time and money. You can also use a lazy susan if you have one tucked in the back of a cabinet somewhere. I have also seen them quite reasonably priced at IKEA.

The next secret is using an icing tip which is a super big tip with a grooved side and a smooth side (use the grooves next to your cake for traction) . This tip will enable you to get an even amount of icing all over your cake which gives you a leg up on an even coating. You will also need some pastry bags. I like the disposable ones, but they are usually found in a smaller size at most retailers. If you can't find bigger ones, buy a more readily available large reusable bag for your icing tip.

The next thing you will need is a nice straight edge that is at least as long as your cake is high. That way as your turntable spins your cake around you get an even finish on your icing as long as you hold your straight edge firm and parallel to the side of your cake. This straight edge can also be used to remove any icing that might be around the base of your cake. Putting waxed paper under the cake to catch around the bottom has never really worked well for me, so I loved this tip that my friend gave me.

After you have your cakes iced you will need a big spatula or even better, a cake lifter to move them. This way you won't have to worry about clumsily picking up beautifully iced cakes only to have to try to repair fingerprint marks. A Wilton cake lifter will only set you back about $10. Worth every penny in my opinion. (Be sure to download the always available coupon at Michael's or JoAnn's on your smart phone when you go to pick up any of these things. It can easily save you 40% - 60% on one item.)

Silicone fondant mold (about $10 at craft and hobby stores).

Since my cake was for a formal event I wanted a bit more of a polished look so I made some marshmallow fondant and fashioned pearls by pressing it into the corn starch dusted mold and painted them with a little mixture of white luster dust (sold at cake and craft stores for about $4 a tube) and Everclear. Grain alcohol and luster dust makes a nice edible and paintable mixture but evaporates quickly so it doesn't make your fondant soggy.  You could also dust it on the fondant dry, but I love the even coverage of the mixture. Another great tip from Jenn the cake guru.

Now you are ready to decorate:

Bake your cake layers a day or so in advance, wrap them tightly in plastic and store them in the refrigerator (or freezer for up to a week, give or take). This will make them moister and firmer so they are easier to ice. This also breaks things up so you will have a whole day to decorate them when you are ready.

To end up with a straight cake you'll need to start with level layers. Use a serrated knife to cut off any domes that might have formed during baking.

Place a dollop of icing on your cake plate or base to keep your cake in place.

Place your first cake layer upside down on top of the dollop of icing on your cake base or plate. Ice the top of that layer before placing the second layer on top of that upside down. Doing this will give you an even top to start with. Just a note: as you can see I didn't trim enough off of the bottom layer so there is a gap around the edges and the the base. If this happens, just pipe a little icing around the bottom to fill in the space.

Make a little extra icing so you can crumb coat your cakes. This thin layer of icing not only helps to cover up darker cakes when you are covering them in a light icing, it also primes your cake so you do not get crumbs mixed in with your finished icing. After you crumb coat it, stick it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour or until the icing is firm and then put the finish coat on it. This step will rid you of those pesky crumb specks forever!

Once your crumb coat is chilled, use an icing tip to apply an even-ish coat of icing to the cake. Try to leave a ridge around the top of your cake so you can build a sharp edge when you ice the top.

When you apply the icing, try to build up a ridge at the top of the cake. This will help to give you a crisp, sharp edge around the top instead of slumping, rounded edges.

To finish your cake, place your straight edge parallel to the edge of the cake. Since I am right handed, I curl my left arm around the back of my turntable as far as I can so I can turn it towards me in one swift motion as I drag the straight edge around the cake with my right hand. You might have to do this a couple of times to get a nice straight edge. Be sure to clean your straight edge every time you stop and start.

To smooth the top, first spread the icing on the top with a spatula starting from the center working out to the edges. Then, starting from the edge working toward the middle, smooth it with the straight edge keeping your hand as flat and straight as possible. Repeat as you work your way around the whole cake. Remember to clean your straight edge after every swipe.

Once your cake is iced you can take a cake comb and texture it like I did on the wedding cake (I used the large tooth edge) or  embellish as desired to help cover up any little mistakes that you might have made. As you can see, my cakes still have lots of room for improvement, but they have come a long way since I first started.

For my daughter's birthday cake shown here, I trimmed it in her favorite French macarons. They weren't perfect, neither was the cake, but she LOVED it.

I am no professional by any means and I guess that is exactly why I wanted to write this blog post. If you zoom in on my daughter's or niece's cakes, you will see many imperfections. There are lines and air bubbles and even places where some of the cake faintly shows through, but to the naked eye at the wedding it was lovely and the couple of honor was thrilled.

I hope my experience and what I learned along the way will give you the courage to stretch yourself and make your own celebration cake for someone you love. If I can do it anyone can. I guarantee they will love it and so will you.