Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Perfect Weeknight Main Dish - Beef Stroganoff

Do you have that one go-to meal? It's relatively cheap, quick, you can make it without a recipe in front of you? This one is mine.

It's evolved a bit over the years. There have been many different variations. I used to make it as a slow-cooker meal with stew meat. Then it became a slow cooker meal when I had fresh venison. Venison stroganoff -- god, I wish I knew a hunter right now.

But now, this recipe has become a 30-minute meal. I use a better cut of beef since it isn't marinating or braising for any long period of time. On the nights I have more time, I barbecue the steak in the backyard. Grilled steak flavor in stroganoff is unequaled.

Steak. Butter. Onions. Mushrooms. Sour Cream. Nutmeg. Egg Noodles. Salt and Pepper. Doesn't that just scream "COMFORT FOOD"?

Saute the onions in butter until golden. I season them with salt and pepper to help extract the extra liquid. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.

Add more butter to the pan and saute the mushrooms. You don't want to over cook them. And do not add any salt to this stage. You want the mushrooms to stay plump and just starting to turn brown.
Add those mushrooms to the same bowl as the onions.

Take more butter. Hey, it's comfort food. Comfort food is NOT Low Fat, Low Calorie food!

Brown the sliced steak (I like to cut it into about 1 inch strips), and I cook it to about medium doneness. Season with salt and pepper/
Add the onions and mushrooms and saute it all together for about 2 minutes.

Add the sour cream. How much. That's up to you. I start with about 3/4 cup and then add more depending on how juicy the meat and veggies were. You certainly don't want a runny stronganoff. There have been times that I've had to add flour or arrowroot powder to help thicken it up.

Just as it thickens up, add a nice dash of nutmeg and stir.

In the meantime, I've made a big batch of hot buttered egg noodles. Yes -- more butter.

Heap the stroganoff on the noodles and I usually garnish with chopped parsley (but, I forgot this time). I can just taste it now. I'm thinking I have to stop at the grocery store tonight.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Pan-Roasted Vegetable Panini

My four year old son said something just the other day that makes me feel like this isn't for naught:

"Mommy, you're a really nice chef ... and a princess, too."

My heart felt so good. Can you imagine?

O.K. Another sandwich recipe from Ramsay. But, I'm not complaining about this one. This one hit a home run with me and Carlo. The twins, however, didn't like it. They're 4. It was full of vegetable. No peanut butter or jelly. Should I say more?

Zucchini, red and yellow bell pepper, red onion, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, pine nuts, basil pesto, fresh parmesan and "panini buns". O.k. I had no idea what Ramsay was talking about, so I bought some ciabatta rolls.

I don't think I've ever had such good ciabatta rolls before. In the past they've always been hard, tough, chewy. These were pillowy soft, doughy, floury, full of air. They were perfect.

I lightly toasted the pine nuts. (Yeah! I didn't burn them -- in fact, they could have been a little darker.)

Chop the veggies.

This pepper was so juicy it stained my fingernails. Note to self: buy some disposable rubber gloves for cooking.

I bought this onion at a farmers' market. It was perfect. How can a red onion be perfect? It smelled oniony. It seeped its oniony juice when I cut into it. It made my kitchen smell like I was a real cook.

Saute the onion with the thyme until just soft.

Add all the other veggies and saute about 10 minutes until everything is soft and reduced a bit in volume. You know when it's cooked enough when the veggies start emitting a wonderful roasted aroma. The edges were just starting to brown up a bit. You get to that point right where you begin to wonder if you leave it on for 5 more minutes, it would burn. You know that point, right?
Slather the pesto on the bread. I opted only one side, but Ramsay recommends covering both halves. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top (I crushed my just a bit.)

Shave the parmesan.

Cover the pesto and nuts (or to taste).

Heap the roasted veggies on top. Add more cheese if you want. In my book -- there is never too much cheese, especially the melty gooey kind.

I don't have an official panini grill, but my Foreman grill worked like a charm.
I'd say I grilled the sandwiches about 3 minutes each, putting slow but firm pressure on the lid to help compress the sandwich. This is were all those wonderful pockets of air in the ciabatta really worked their magic.

Yes. It looks great. It tasted even better. This sandwich was well-balanced in terms of taste and texture.

It inspired me, in thought only though, to think of other types of sandwiches:

A tex-mex version would be really good. Some spice mix, sauteed marinated strip steak, sauteed onions and peppers, loads of pepper-jack cheese. Create a dipping sauce for this one with ranch dressing and cumin (or taco seasonin).

Or a type of Philly Cheese Steak (with steak or chicken) where I'd saute or carmelize some onions with a little green pepper, mushrooms, melt some cheddar, spread bbq sauce on it.

Or even just use the pan-roasted veggies, add some diced left-over chicken and instead of the basil pesto, try it with an artichoke based pesto or spread.
Oh, my mouth is watering.
So --

How long? About 35 minutes. We have a winner.

"Pan-Roasted Vegetable Panini -- Done."

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Friday, September 18, 2009

My Homemade Salsa

Yes, I'm back. Man was August and the beginning of this month busy. First I was on vacation. Just in our backyard, except for a quick trip down to Dayton, Ohio -- Vacation Mecca of the world! Right. My son A ended up getting car sick and complained that I was "driving too much." Then he developed a fever that night at the hotel. The next day, though he was over whatever it was and really perked up.

So then I was back at work and trying to catch up on my work. Didn't get much done because of a huge issue which developed in one of our lawsuits. Then I was called to jury duty. Man -- that sucks. There's no other way to describe it. I wasn't even called to a voir dire. Luckily though, even though jury service lasts a minimum of 5 days, since my service covered Labor Day, the court actually counted the holiday as one day served (even though we didn't get paid our $20 for the day), so when I told my boss that I could come back to work a day early, he gratiously offered me the day off, so I was able to spend it with the kids at the Children's Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art. What a great day for the most part. But I am so completely backed up with my work. I'm toying with the idea of taking work home. I won't get paid for it, but I hate being so behind.

But, I'm back here, trying to get caught up on what I've been cooking. I'll start simple today, though. One of my own...

Something as simple as homemade salsa? Sure, I'll blog about it.
Why? Because this is my blog and I want to. That's why.

Besides, I had to get rid of those tomatoes -- "Green Bags" only keep them fresh so long.

So, tomatoes, fresh parsley (I wanted cilantro, but my plant petered out on me), canned mild diced chiles, cucumber, onion and salt and pepper.

Tomatoes -- Such a wonderful end-of-summer joy.

Well, you know what to do. Chop up everything. I took the seeds out of the cucumber.

Finely diced the onion.

Seeded the tomatoes. I don't know about you, but I love doing that. I just run my thumb through it and get my hands covered in the seeds and juice. Real hands-on cooking.

Mix together with salt and pepper to taste; then dig in with the corn chips. I also especially like making fresh salsa because I know my kids will eat it. They forget that it's made of vegetables. Four year olds and vegetables just don't mix, you know. I sneek it in when their not looking - even if it's in plain sight.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Menu - Indian Spice -- Shrimp Pilau -- Wilted Spinach with Mustard Seed -- Grilled Pineapple with Mint and Toasted Coconut

There are some foods that are not just a feast for your mouth, but also for your eyes, and nose. For example, I present this meal.

Shrimp, chicken stock, onion, basmati rice, curry powder, garlic, olive oil, cardamom pods, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Believe me, people. This recipe was a real treat for your sense of smell.

Diced garlic and onion.

Create the spice blend of fresh thyme, cumin, coriander, and cardamom seeds.

Start sweating the onions and garlic in a Dutch Oven.
Mix in the spice blend. At this point, your nose will be directly in your pan inhaling deeply. Please be careful. It is hot.
At the raw basmati rice and brown with the spiced onions.

At the stock and shrimp. (Yes, put the shrimp in raw - I forgot to take a picture of this step.) Cover the Dutch oven with a parchment tent and bake.
Try not to open the oven too much, but I understand it if you want to keep putting your nose in the pan.

Remove from the oven and try not to grab handfuls of this dish directly from the pan. I promise you will be tempted.
Meanwhile, while the shrimp is in the oven, make the wilted spinach.

Spinach, onion, garam masala, ginger, salt and pepper, canola oil, and mustard seed (whole or coarsley crushed).

Start by sauteing the sliced onion with the spices.

Until they're just about golden.

Add the spinach, in batches if necessary. It's amazing how quickly they reduce down when cooked.
It's that easy. Plate it up and dive in.

I will give you this warning. As great as the shrimp and rice tasted straight out of the oven - it didn't make great left-overs. Usually things taste even better the next day after all the flavors meld together -- this one didn't. The spices lost their impact and actually tasted bland. So be prepared to finish all the shrimp.

I wasn't too crazy about the spinach. Cooked spinach just isn't my thing. Don't get me wrong - I could see someone who likes spinach adoring this side dish, but not me. It was the perfect side for the shrimp, though. Ramsay certainly knows about pairing his food.

Something else he knows? Dessert.
Word to the wise: You might want to start this earlier in the afternoon, though.
A very ripe pineapple. My poor boys kept saying that we were going to eat Spongebob's house. Shredded coconut, mint, and sugar.

Cook the water and sugar to create a simple syrup infused with fresh mint leaves. Set aside to cool.
Toast the coconut. Set aside.

Cut your pineapple into about 16ths, and place on a well-greased grill.

Keep an eye on them and watch them take forever to brown.

Seriously - it took forever. I think Ramsay said it would take about 8 minutes -- I was outside for 25 minutes and I had the flame about medium-high.
But finally, they did brown and start oozing their juices.

Place in a bowl and mix with the mint syrup. Ramsay recommends, if you have time, to make this dessert up to and including this step the night before so that the pineapple can "marinate" overnight. That would have been a good idea. The syrup just didn't pack enough mint kick. But, I put it in the fridge for the rest of the afternoon (about 3 hours).

But that didn't stop us from creating a completely awesome dessert.

So, I added one extra ingredient to the pineapple -- coconut cream pie flavored ice cream. Oh My God. What else to say?
Yes, the cold grilled pineapple was wonderful, but it lost some of its grilled goodness when chilled. I think perhaps it would have been more satisfying (if we didn't add ice cream to it) if it were served fresh off the grill with the syrup dizzled over it, or even instead of a syrup, maybe make a minty sugar icing to dot the serving plate. -- By the way, we had some left over ice cream and pineapple, and it made an awesome milkshake.

How long? 2 HOURS! Entirely of preparation and cooking. This does not include the refrigeration time for the pineapple. That was very disappointing considering how wonderful the rest of the meal was (spinach excluded). I was exhausted on my feet by the time I served dinner. Then because so many pans, bowls, grills were used, there was about another 35 to 40 minutes of clean up.
So, dear readers - beware. This is NOT Fast Food.
"Shrimp Pilau with Wilted Spinach with Mustard Seed, and Grilled Pineapple with Mint and Toasted Coconut ... Done."

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