Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thai Beef Salad

It's too hot to cook, and that's a fact. You may scoff at the notion that 90+ degrees is an extreme temperature, but in Seattle that's heatwave territory. We melt, okay maybe not melt, but we whine about that kind of heat, especially when it come with rain and humidity. Cold drinks, fresh fruit and lots of salads take the place of home cooking when it's this hot.

Salads are terrific summer fare, but some days I really crave red meat. I'm not talking about a huge steak or even a burger, though both of those choices are incredibly tasty treats. No, I want just a bit of tender, flavorful beef. This salad is a perfect way to meet that craving and still enjoy a light summer meal. Fire up the grill and keep the cooking heat outside, or pull a piece of already cooked beef from the fridge; this salad comes together in minutes and packs a hefty flavor punch.

Thai Beef Salad
serves 4
8 ounces steak, grilled medium rare, cooled (leftover is fine)
6 cups torn  mixed salad greens
1 cup torn fresh herb leaves (mint, cilantro, basil combination)
1/4 cup minced onion (green or red)
¼ cup sliced radish
1 small carrot, large shreds
1 medium English cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 small fresh chili, minced - I like jalapeno or poblano (optional)
a handful or two of fresh bean sprouts (optional)
Juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon canola oil or olive oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla)
1/2 tablespoon Ponzu or soy sauce
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar (or plain with a dash of sugar)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed (or garlic paste)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Sesame seeds to garnish (optional)
  1. Toss the greens with the herbs, onion, radish, carrots, cucumber, chili and sprouts if you're using them. 
  2. In a bowl, combine all remaining ingredients (lime juice through black pepper) for a dressing; taste and adjust seasonings. Add 1 scant tablespoon water if needed for balance. Note: the dressing is supposed to be rather thin. Use up to half of this mixture to toss with the greens, but don't drown them. Place the greens on a platter or in a wide, shallow bowl.
  3. Slice the beef very thin, reserving any juices to combine with the remaining dressing in a small bowl. Drop the meat slices into the bowl with the remaining dressing, tossing gently to coat each slice.  Drain any excess dressing from each slice and arrange the beef over the salad. You could drizzle some remaining dressing over all, if the salad looks dry, but that's not usually required. Top with sesame seeds if you like and serve immediately.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Summer Brunch Menu

 Almond-filled Sticky Buns
Mini Frittatas
Canadian Bacon Slices
Fresh Fruit

It seems life is busy for everyone we know, packed full of important must-do and want-to-do things that fill up the calendar and keep us all going in different directions. Today we enjoyed a pause in the activity and lingered over brunch with some neighbors. The menu was simple, much of it prepped ahead of time, and offered variations of a few old favorites. My goal was to enjoy interesting company and good conversation, not to spend ages in the kitchen fussing over complicated items. 

Photo: Almond-Filled Sticky Buns look quite tidy in the pan
Awesome Sticky Buns are RL's favorite breakfast treat, but I rarely bake them unless we can share a large batch with company. This familiar recipe was reworked last night on an emergency basis - I ran out of brown sugar to sprinkle inside the dough before rolling it up. Drat! I did not want to drive to the store again. Hmmmm, white sugar with cinnamon could substitute, but it wouldn't bring enough flavor to the party. A can of Solo Almond Filling would substitute for the brown sugar as an experiment. 

Photo: Solo Almond Filling is a favorite for coffee cakes, and now sticky buns
Result: the flavor addition was terrific, but the warm sticky buns were too moist to eat neatly out of hand. We were polite and used forks, at least at first, and no one complained about the flavor or the messy fingers. 

Photo: Soft, gooey, messy and definitely GOOD
This almond filling substitution still needs some tweaking, but it's definitely worth working on... after we deal with the nine-bun pan that still remains uneaten. 

Two varieties of Frittata Muffins provided some tasty protein choices. Note: These mini frittatas were prepared earlier and went directly from fridge to a 375 F oven, requiring an extra 8 minutes of cooking time to set the centers, roughly 23 minutes in total. 

One frittata filling, my favorite, combined slivers of lox, green onion tops, chopped red onion, capers, mushrooms, ricotta cheese, lemon zest, dill weed and shreds of swiss cheese distributed in 6 large prepared muffin tins. The 6 large eggs whipped with 1/2 cup milk, freshly ground black pepper, Italian parsley and more dill seasoning filled the muffin tins 2/3 full, leaving some room at the top for the egg mixture to puff during baking without running over. Mmmmmm, good eating.

The second batch of mini frittatas combined cooked Basque chorizo chunks, diced sweet peppers, fresh cilantro, pepper jack cheese and chopped red onion. This egg mixture was flavored with a generous teaspoon of hot sauce, dried cilantro, salt and pepper and a dash of smokey Spanish paprika. Served with salsa, sour cream and avocado chunks this SW favorite made its way onto several plates.

The fresh strawberries were colorful but too lacking in sweetness and berry taste to serve them as is. Cut green grapes, a handful of shredded fresh mint and a quarter cup of our favorite Minty Honey Lime Sauce took care of that concern. Presto! a fresh fruit salad with flavor. Add a bowl of fresh, local cherries, a plater of warm Canadian bacon and brunch was complete. 

We all enjoyed the menu, but the best part of today's brunch was the company we shared it with. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Herbed Sourdough Crepes... for

Mushroom and Artichoke Crepe Cannelloni
Mushroom and Artichoke Crepe Enchiladas

SourdoughSurprises announced crepes would be the June sourdough challenge. Hooray! there are a gazillion possibilities for recipe choices; sweet or savory, seasoned or plain, filled or not, rolled or folded or stacked... see, a gazillion choices. I have typically made crepes for breakfast or brunch, on rare occasions prepared them for dessert or even an occasional appetizer. Somehow crepes never appear as a "serious" entree. It was time to remedy that.

Savory crepes tempted me this week, thin and lacey with a handful of chopped parsley and green onion tops stirred in to the usual batter. Please note, that's stirred in by hand, not in the blender, since green-colored crepes were not the effect I was after. Crepes are a traditional option for Italian cannelloni so that dish was an easy choice, though my filling was decidedly untraditional. RL favors spicier Southwest flavors, so another alternative was crepe enchiladas. Swap chunky salsa with chunky tomato sauce, add a generous splash of Green Tabasco to the mushroom and artichoke filling, change up the cheeses and presto! I had two variations using the same savory herbed sourdough crepes.

It's no secret that I love my sourdough starter for the subtle, sour tang it lends to breads, rolls, pancakes and waffles. Keeping that starter happy involves talking to it occasionally, feeding it weekly, and then dealing with a lot of excess starter. Excess starter is no problem when sourdough crepes are so easy, so tasty and so versatile.

Sourdough Crepes

base recipe from HeartlandRenaissance

makes an easy dozen 6"-8" crepes, or 8-10 of the 10" size

1 heaping cup sourdough starter
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley and green onion tops

pinch of dried basil
1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk (quantity will depend on consistency of your starter)
extra butter for cooking

  1. Combine all ingredients, except the extra butter for cooking, and whisk until well combined and no lumps remain. Add 1/4 cup milk and whisk to incorporate. The batter should be creamy - add more milk as needed to thin. (After your first crepe, you'll know if you need to add even more milk to get the batter to spread easily.) 
  2. Preheat a small frying pan over medium heat; cast iron or nonstick are good choices, 8" is a good size, but smaller or larger work too. Note: ridged bottoms in some nonstick skillets are definitely NOT crepe friendly, they want to hold onto the crepe when you want to flip it over. It's doable, but takes a bit lot more care. 
  3. Add a scant teaspoon of butter to the heated pan and let it melt. Pour in a scant 1/4 cup of batter, swirling and tilting the pan so it runs to the edges and coats the bottom of the whole pan. Hint: hold the pan with your favored hand, righty or lefty, and tilt and swirl while you ladle in the batter with your other hand.
  4. Cook for a minute or more till the batter sets and the bottom browns slightly, then flip over to cook the second side for 30 seconds or so (more if you like your crepes slightly crispy). I use a rubber spatula to loosen one edge and then flip with my fingers, but choose your own method.
  5. Ease the crepe out of pan and set aside on a sheet of waxed paper while you cook off the remaining batter. 
  6. Serve crepes plain or top with a sprinkle of sugar and a squirt of lemon to eat right away, or serve rolled or folded with your choice of filling. Crepes freeze really well, but defrost and bring them to room temperature before rolling or filling to prevent cracking.

Mushroom-Artichoke Cannelloni 
(filling for 6 small crepes)

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

1/3 cup chopped artichoke hearts

1/8 teaspoon each dried basil and thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
sprinkle of flour and 1/4 cup milk or broth
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup homemade spinach/parsley/walnut/feta pesto
1/4 cup ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese plus more for topping
1/8 cup of chopped walnuts
1/2 cup or more of your favorite red pasta sauce
  1. Spray a small skillet with cooking spray and saute the mushrooms over medium heat until they give up their liquid and it cooks down. Stir in the artichoke hearts, basil, thyme and nutmeg, cooking until fragrant. Sprinkle with flour and stir to incorporate, add the milk and stir until it thickens. Remove from the heat and let it cool a bit; stir in the pesto, ricotta, Parmesan and walnuts. Taste and adjust seasonings. (At this point I want to eat spoonful after spoonful.)
  2. Lightly coat the bottom of a baking dish or several ramekins with a skim coat of pasta sauce. 
  3. Divide filling into equal portions. Place a line of filling down one side of a crepe and roll to enclose. Place seam side down in baking dish. Repeat, arranging filled crepes next to each other but not overlapping.
  4. Spoon remaining red sauce on top, sprinkle with additional Parmesan.
  5. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until cheese melts and filling is heated through.  
Mushroom-Artichoke Enchiladas
As above, with some or all of the following adjustments:
Add a teaspoon of Green Tabasco sauce to the filling (more or less to your taste)
Substitute your favorite chunky salsa for the red pasta sauce
Swap pine nuts for the walnuts and cilantro for the parsley
Top with pepper-jack cheese rather than Parmesan

Friday, June 14, 2013

Turkey Meatballs with Spinach, Walnuts and Cheese

The Daring Kitchen Cooks June 2013 Challenge - Meatballs 

It has been a while since I have cooked with this amazing group, but this month's theme was too good to pass up. "The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is! Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs from around the world and to create our own meatball meal celebrating a culture or cuisine of our own choice." I think June just might be meatball month, since they are popping up all over the internet lately; here, here, here and here... and many more!

Just say "meatball" and boom! I think Italian spaghetti and meatballs, then Swedish meatballs with potatoes and lingonberry jam, followed by Mexican albondigas soup, Greek avgolemno soup with meatballs, and the list goes on. Then my foodie brain slowly wanders off into non-meat territory with Japanese rice balls, Italian arancini, Middle Eastern falafel... Which to choose for the June DC challenge? Even though polpette are not typically served over pasta or even sauced, I decided to prepare Italian spaghetti and meatballs with a red sauce and got busy organizing ingredients. The first sample meatball was just fine naked, all by itself, it didn't need any sauce for flavor. But I continued on with the plan and oven-simmered a batch of 12 meatballs in Spicy Red Bell Pepper Pasta Sauce from my local Safeway store. We loved the result. Go with the sauce.  

My personal challenge was to create a moist, tasty meatball using lean ground turkey, a protein often thought of as bland, often dry and easily overcooked. So why use turkey? "Outside pressures" to cook healthier and cut back on red meat prompted the choice, and I'm delighted to report that this experiment was deeeeee-licious. RL loved the meal and nagged coached me to write down the recipe before I forgot quantities and procedure.

The Daring Cooks Challenge suggested we plan a meal to incorporate the meatballs. My imaginary multi-course Italian menu begins with Fruit and Nut Crisps served with a soft cheese, followed by Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs, then a salad of Greens with Grapes and/or Italian Pepper Salad, and finished with Almond Cookies  and Nutty Chocolate Apricot Bites. Reality check: instead of that big meal, we will likely dine on a small plate of this recipe, accompanied by a green salad dressed with citrus vinaigrette. I know I will make these meatballs again and again, and continue to marvel at turkey meatballs that are packed with flavor, have a nice crunchy bite and are healthier than any of my previous versions!      

Turkey Meatballs with Spinach, Walnuts and Cheese
(plus homemade or store-bought marinara sauce)

makes approx. 24 meatballs

Add to a blender jar and mix until combined into a very moist, green paste with no big chunks remaining.
·      ½ cup crushed saltines (or homemade bread crumbs)
·      1 small package frozen chopped spinach (thawed but not drained)
·      1/8 cup chopped Italian parsley
·      2 chopped green onions
·      1 clove garlic, peeled & minced
·      ¼ cup feta cheese crumbles (or grated fresh parmesan)
·      ¼ cup walnut pieces
·      1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
·      salt and pepper to taste
·      1 tablespoon lemon zest
·      juice of 1 small lemon (approx. 2 tablespoons)
·      1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Place that luscious green blend in a mixing bowl, add the following 4 ingredients and mix gently but thoroughly by hand or with a spatula.
·      1.25 pounds lean ground turkey
·      1 egg
·      ¼ cup chopped walnuts (yes, in addition to those above)
·      ½ cup dry parmesan (yes, from the green can)

Note: this is a good time to cook a small patty in a skillet, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. You really don’t want to skip this step.

Use a scoop or tablespoon to shape the mix into small meatballs. Brown in a skillet sprayed with cooking spray OR broil briefly until browned.

Add enough of your favorite marinara sauce to surround or even cover the meatballs and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat, covered, on the stovetop OR bake uncovered for 15 minutes in a preheated 350 F oven. Serve alone or over pasta, they are delicious either way.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Baby Back Pork Ribs

Rubbed and Slow-Cooked in the Oven

The latest TV ad for McDonald's McRib sandwich has me longing for the taste of juicy pork ribs, not the disappointing fast food sandwich but meaty, saucy, fall-off-the-bone tender spareribs. How do you like your racks of pork ribs? BBQ'd? Oven baked? Stovetop braised? Cooked all day in a crock pot/slow cooker? Whatever the method, I am convinced that really good ribs require an abundance of time and patience. They just won't be rushed. Some cooks might argue for the 20-minute pressure cooker approach to save time, but I'm not going there with my spareribs. Okay, maybe I'll experiment with a fast batch of sweet and sour appetizer riblets... maybe... someday... but not soon.

This time I coated two racks of Baby Back Pork Ribs with a spicy, homemade dry rub, tucked the serving-sized chunks away in the fridge for hours to absorb some flavor, s-l-o-w I mean really s--l--o--w cooked them in a warm-not-hot oven wrapped in foil for hours, then lightly brushed the meaty side with a sprightly sauce to finish, uncovered, in a moderate oven. They would finish well on the grill, but no one (not mentioning any names here) wanted to man the barbecue for a few minutes just to finish the ribs. No problem, they were delicious  from the oven. Two baby back rib racks were more than enough for five healthy appetites, with a piece or two left for a next-day lunch.

The really big deal was finding a shortcut method to remove the tough silverskin membrane on the bony side of the rack. Why remove it? If you leave it on (1) the rub seasonings won't penetrate the meat and (2) it cooks into an unpleasant, inedible leathery skin on the ribs. Here's the secret. Insert a butter knife or other dull implement under the membrane along one edge and slip it gently toward the opposite edge. Twist and rotate the knife a bit as you move sideways along the length of the rib rack. Presto, that silverskin lifts up and peels away. The internet is packed with posts, even videos, that explain or demonstrate the process, so why didn't I discover this years ago? Sigh.

My dry rub mixes vary depending on whim and what's available in the pantry, but the blends typically include black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, smoky paprika, oregano, thyme, dry mustard and some heat from ground ancho or chipotle chile powder. Cut the rib rack(s) into smaller 2 to 3-rib portions and lightly coat both sides of each chunk with a tablespoon of the rub. Pack the rib pieces into ziploc bags and hold in the refrigerator for at least 4 or 5 hours or even overnight.

Line a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan with two layers of heavy aluminum foil. (You will thank me later for that suggestion.) Place the rib pieces on the foil meaty sides up and not overlapping. Slice a lemon or two into rings and scatter on top of the ribs. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan, maybe half a cup. Use another piece of foil to tent a cover over the top of the meat, sealing the edges to the foil on the bottom. Bake for about 4 hours at 225 degrees F. Uncover and check for tenderness. Lightly coat the meaty top side of each piece with your favorite homemade or bottled sauce and bake at 375 degrees F until the sauce develops a rich mahogany color. This week I used a bottled Hawaiian BBQ sauce and added some lime juice, molasses and a little brown sugar for an almost-tamarind flavor. Serve the extra sauce, warmed, in a pitcher along with the ribs.

How good was that? GOOD, really, really good.. better than good... so good that we enjoyed a second batch of ribs on Sunday with another set of friends. Served with potatoes and a pair of hearty salads, the ribs were still the rock stars of the menu. We barely had room for ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lemon Parsley Sauce

Canadian Bacon and Asparagus Crepes with Lemon Parsley Sauce

Spring is asparagus season, a perfect excuse opportunity to consume pints of hollandaise sauce. Oh, wait. I'm supposed to be cooking healthier foods to lower my triglyceride count and keep RL's heart and arteries in tip top shape. Drat, there goes my favorite Blender Hollandaise with its requisite two sticks of butter and two or three egg yolks per batch. Sigh. "Good bye butter." 

Asparagus adds a sprightly Spring note to countless salads and pasta dishes, all without hollandaise. Roasted or grilled asparagus is delicious without sauce, fresh off the heat and sprinkled with lemon zest or parmesan shreds. But I am going to miss that decidedly decadent hollandaise on veggies, over crab cakes, and topping Eggs Benedict, etc. "Get over it, Dee!

I planned to serve asparagus in breakfast crepes with strips of lean Canadian Bacon and top it with a lemony sauce that did not rely on butter. The resulting lemon, parsley, mustard concoction worked, but it's really a work in progress. The recipe needs a little tweaking to improve consistency and appearance. Less cornstarch will be the first adjustment. The unusual color might be due to the green Tabasco sauce or the egg yolk from a friend's Polish hen. Warmed, the sauce had good flavor and spread well over and under the crepes. Chilled, the next day, the sauce was an immobile blob that refused to spread as a sauce. It just sat there, it didn't even jiggle. It redeemed itself later on as a dip for vegetables when thinned with some sour cream. 

While it was definitely not hollandaise, this lemon parsley sauce was flavorful enough that RL said he would cheerfully eat it again. That comment was a huge endorsement, since he was quietly dubious about the whole dish when he arrived at the table. Just in case the whole breakfast crepe thing with That Sauce was a disaster, he started his breakfast with a plate of pickled herring. LOL, that man plans ahead. 

Lemon Parsley Sauce

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (divided)
lemon zest (optional)
1 generous tablespoon cornstarch
½ tablespoon honey Dijon mustard
1 bunch flat leaf parsley (leaves only, not the long,bare stems)
1 very large egg yolk
1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce (more to taste)
salt and white pepper, to taste (RL insists some salt is essential)

Place the chicken broth, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and some zest (if you are using zest) in a small saucepan. Add the cornstarch and whisk or stir to incorporate. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently if not constantly, until the sauce clears and thickens somewhat. Keep warm while you work on the other ingredients.

Add the parsley, honey mustard, egg yolk and 1 remaining tablespoon of lemon juice to the jar of a blender and pulse to begin pureeing. With the blender running on a slow speed, slowly add the broth mixture and continue to puree until no visible chunks remain. (Green bits and dots are okay, but not big, fat chunks.) Add green Tabasco, salt and pepper to  taste.

To hold, pour the sauce from the blender back into the small saucepan and use the lowest low burner setting. Stir the sauce occasionally to keep it from clumping on the bottom. Taste again and re-season as needed. Add a pinch of sugar or squirt of honey if the honey mustard needs a boost. (RL always adds more salt and lots more green Tabasco. Me? not so much.)

Note: for the filled crepes I make the crepes ahead of time, or hold a batch of freshly cooked crepes in a warm oven.  Steam or roast the asparagus, heat the strips of Canadian bacon briefly in the micro, and have the sauce warming below a simmer on the stove. For each crepe, fill, roll and transfer to a plate in a warm oven. Repeat until the crepes and filling are gone. Plate and top with a generous portion of the sauce. Serve extra sauce in a pitcher for those who like their crepes well sauced.

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