Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mushroom Crostini

Baby, it's about to be cold outside. For the whole rest of the year. Wind chills in Minnesota are expected to drop to as much as 70 below in the next few days. Being Minnesotan means you just suck it up and and hunker down.

One of the greatest gifts to Minnesota cold is The North Face Thermal Ball jacket. Just introduced, it is a remarkable piece of technology. Here's a lightweight jacket (just 11 ounces!) that provides all of the warmth of my 650-fill Spyder down jacket. Nothing short of brilliant. No longer have to walk around looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

Next on my list for staying warm are Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 winter trail shoes. These babies were made for sub-zero weather and all of the hazards of snow and ice. Best thing yet is their Quickfit lacing system, making them a breeze to slide on and off.

Third on my list for staying warm is a good Cognac. Sure, you can sip it by itself, but I love mine mixed in with a really strong brew of dark roast coffee. Now that's a little bit of heaven that makes your body feel like it's being warmed by the fires of hell.

Last on my list for staying warm is rib-sticking comfort food. Pot roast....braised short name it and I'll be cooking it. But before you do, I'd suggest preparing these little umami bombs for some delicious rib-stickin appetizers. The beauty of this mushroom puree that goes on the crostini is that you don't need fancy mushrooms. Plain old white button mushrooms will do. But if you feel so inspired, mix and match mushroom types to your heart's desire. Fire up that oven. Get cookin'. And stay warm. This Williams-Sonoma recipe serves 12.


For the crostini

1/2 cup olive oil
24 slices coarse country bread, each about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter
1 garlic clove, halved

For the mushroom spread

5 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms of your choice, chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup, drained oil-packed sundered tomatoes, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. To make the crostini, lightly brush olive oil on both sides of each bread slice. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Bake until the crostini are golden on the edges, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Using the cut side of the garlic, lightly rub one side over each slice of bread. Set aside. 
  3. To make the mushroom spread, heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add all the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, chopped parsley, thyme, rosemary, 1 tsp. salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.
  4. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a food processor. Process until very finely chopped. With the processor running, add the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil in a thin, steady stream, processing until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Spread each piece of bread with about 1 Tbs. of the mushroom mixture. Arrange on a platter and garnish each crostini with a sliver of sun-dried tomato.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Top Round Beef Roast

Tis the season. For family. Good cheer. Presents. And glorious holiday meals. When it comes to holiday meals, I'm an absolute fanboy of Prime Rib. And judging by the hits on my blog this week, so are my readers. In the last seven days, nearly 2,000 people have checked out my three recipes for making prime rib:

The way Costco prices their prime rib at this time of year, it is an absolute bargain...typically around $7.99 per pound. Buy the dry-aged prime rib at Lunds or Byerly's, it will set you back $26.99 per pound. Ouch. But there are other great beef roasts out there for around $4.99 per pound.

Specifically, check out any of these three beef roasts: Top Round, Eye of Round and Bottom Round. They are bargain priced and have that tremendous beef flavor that makes my mouth water. The difference is that none of these roasts have the delicious (fat) marbling found in rib roasts. So to make sure the meat is moist and at it's most flavorful, they need to be cooked medium rare. Cook them more than that and you have wasted your money.

My readers know I hate meat thermometers. I hate piercing my meat before carving. I prefer to cook by time. And so I am going to share with you Mark Bittman's absolutely foolproof method for cooking a perfectly done round beef roast. If you have an oven and can read, you are about to serve your family beef roast akin to a work of art.

There are two things you must serve with this roast. The first is real horseradish. Not a horseradish sauce, but real horseradish. The kind that unleashes every drop of mucus in your head. The second is a delicious au jus for dipping. Not just any au jus, but the very best. To me, there are iconic brands you never stray from. For Worcestershire, give me Lea and Perrins or give me death. For rib rub, only Famous Dave's will do. For au jus, only Johnny's French Dip Au Jus gets the job done. You'll find it in the condiment aisle.

One, 3-pound beef roast, top, eye or bottom round
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  1. Preheat oven to 500ยบ.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes to create a paste. Rub paste all over roast. Place roast  in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet, fat-side up, and put in oven. Cook undisturbed for 15 minutes (5 minutes per pound).
  3. After 15 minutes, turn oven off. Do not open oven door. Leave roast to continue cooking, undisturbed, for 2 hours.
  4. After 2 hours, remove roast from oven. Slice and serve.

Wine pairing: Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Red-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Daikon

Red cooking is a unique, Chinese method that brings extraordinary flavor to a dish. When using the red cooking method, meat is slowly simmered with soy sauce, sugar and aromatics like star anise and cinnamon. Unlike the lightning fast stir fry typical of Chinese dishes, red cooking is done low and slow. It's a braise in a wok, making the meal more stew-like.

Because it's a braise, you want to use a very fatty cut of meat like short ribs. If you try and use a leaner cut, your meat will be very dry and the dish a lot less flavorful. I prefer the boneless short ribs at Costco, which I bought two days ago for just $7.99 per pound. Buy your short ribs at Whole Foods and you'll be playing double that.

This is an absolutely brilliant recipe from David Tanis, City Kitchen column writer for The New York Times. Cook and prep time will run you a little under two hours...but what a wonderful way to wile away a chilly Saturday afternoon. This recipe serves four to six people.

2 pounds boneless beef short ribs or chuck, cut in 1/2-inch strips
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
2 teaspoons grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 small strips orange peel
4 dry red chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons potato starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
1 pound daikon radish, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Cilantro sprigs
1/4 cup slivered scallions          


  1. Put meat in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, skimming off any foam. Drain meat in colander, discarding liquid.
  2. Transfer meat to medium bowl and season lightly with salt. Add soy sauce, wine, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, orange peel and chiles. Mix to coat and marinate 15 minutes.
  3. Put 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add sugar and stir until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add marinated meat and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until meat is tender, 40 minutes to an hour, adding water occasionally to keep meat barely covered.
  4. To prevent meat from overcooking, remove and set aside, then bring remaining cooking liquid to a rapid simmer over high heat and reduce to intensify color and flavor. (Or thicken sauce with potato starch.) Return meat to wok and coat with reduced sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add daikon, season with salt and pepper, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
  6. Put beef in a serving dish and arrange daikon on a platter. Drizzle both with sesame oil and garnish with cilantro sprigs and scallions. 

Wine pairing: Rombauer Zinfandel

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Steak Roulade with Horseradish Crust

It's the it's time to step up your game in the kitchen. Today's recipe, from The Food Network, let's you do that. The flavors and presentation are stunning, yet the preparation is nowhere as complex as the end result would suggest.

Also, this recipe is easy on the pocketbook. The flank steak delivers huge beef flavor while costing but a fraction per pound compared to sirloin. Most of the other ingredients are waiting in your pantry.

We're talking about 45 minutes of prep and another 55 minutes of cook time (actually, 45 minutes of cook time and 10 minutes of rest before serving). It's a spectacular entree that will knock the socks off of your guests! This recipe serves four.


For the Steak
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light-green parts only, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
One, 2 1/4-to-2 1/2-pound flank steak, trimmed
1/2 pound sliced provolone cheese (about 8 slices)

For the Crust
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons drained horseradish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Prepare the stuffing for the steak: Preheat the broiler and place the peppers cut-side down on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil until the skin is charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel the peppers with your fingers or a paring knife. If necessary, lightly rinse to remove any remaining skin and pat dry.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

3. Gently pound the steak with the flat side of a mallet or heavy skillet until 1/4 inch thick. Lay out on a cutting board with the long side facing you and season with salt and pepper. Place the roasted peppers evenly over the meat, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with the cheese slices, then the leek mixture. Roll the meat away from you into a tight cylinder, tucking in the filling as you roll.

4. Make the crust: Mix the breadcrumbs, rosemary, parsley, horseradish, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a medium bowl until moistened. Brush the steak roll with a bit of olive oil and press the breadcrumb mixture over the top and sides. Tie the roll with twine in three or four places, making sure it's not too tight (you want the crust to stay intact).

5. Place the steak roll on a rack in a roasting pan and roast until the crust is golden and a thermometer inserted into the center registers 130 degrees for medium-rare, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully cut off the twine, then slice the roll crosswise into 1-inch pieces. 

Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Best wishes to Kathy Pinkham for a speedy recovery!!