Friday, November 19, 2021

Adult Cranberry Sauce



If you're a fan of adult beverages, you will be a fan of this adult cranberry sauce. This recipe packs a bit of a punch, for we are not boiling out the alcohol. We are leaving all of the alcohol in the mix for your eating and imbibing enjoyment. So make sure this gets placed only at the adult table. The kids can get their sauce straight from the can.  [NOTE: This dish can be made and refrigerated up to one week in advance.]

INGREDIENTS
1, 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vodka
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier


DIRECTIONS
  1. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine cranberries, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar. Then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened and reduced to approximately 3 cups (about 15 minutes).
  2. Transfer to a medium bowl and cool, stirring often, until tepid (about 30 minutes). Stir in vodka and Grand Marnier. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and and refrigerate until chilled and set (at least 2 hours). Serve chilled or at room temperature. 





Thursday, November 18, 2021

Slow Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes

 





The frenetic pace and challenge of getting turkey and side dishes to be served together at precisely 6pm on Thanksgiving day is exhausting. So over the years, I've been working in "make-ahead" recipes that makes serving the meal a whole lot easier. Make-ahead gravy. Make-ahead stuffing.

Back in 2018, I added make-ahead, garlic mashed potatoes. And I'm here to tell you they were the best mashed potatoes ever. First off, I avoided all of the chemistry class theatrics required of boiling potatoes from scratch with cold water. And that method requires great precision in order to serve piping hot potatoes with piping hot turkey at the same time.

And this method is foolproof. You cannot screw it up. Anyone who can read can make perfect mashed potatoes. While the recipe calls for peeled potatoes, I really like the skins, so I don't peel mine. As a bonus, the skin is the tastiest and most nutrient-rich part of the potato. This recipe makes 20 servings. My experience is that the majority of folks come back for seconds.
My sons and their cousins always clock in for thirds. 

Ingredients
5 pounds of russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, each potato peeled (optional) and quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1-1/2 cups whole milk

8 tablespoons butter
2 cups of half & half
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Chopped chives, for garnish


Directions

  1. Peel (or not) and quarter potatoes and place in slow cooker with garlic and 1-1/2 cups of milk. Set slow cooker to high and cover. Cook for 5 hours.
  2. After 5 hours, turn slow cooker to warm. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the slow cooker.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. When melted, add half & half to the pan and heat to warm (do not boil). When warm, add mixture to slow cooker. Using masher, blend potatoes with butter/half & half mixture.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste....a half of a teaspoon at a time for the uninitiated.
  5. Cover potatoes in slow cooker (still set to warm) and serve whenever you want.




Wednesday, November 17, 2021

How Long to Thaw my Bird?

 

If you bought a frozen turkey to cook on Thanksgiving, you need to plan ahead because a bird that size takes a lot of time to shed it's icicles in the refrigerator. In order for you to slide your fully thawed turkey into the oven on Thanksgiving, Thursday November 25th...use this guide as to when to take it out of the freezer and start the thawing process in your fridge.






Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Hot Italian Sausage Stuffing

 



If you are cooking a spatchcocked turkey for Thanksgiving, you'll want to bake your stuffing in the oven. If you are roasting a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, you'll want to bake your stuffing in the oven. You don't ever want to bake your stuffing in the turkey's body cavity. Let me explain why.

If your turkey is cooked to perfection, the stuffing in the cavity is going to be undercooked. That sort of error leads to salmonella, in which case your guests will suffer horrific gastrointestinal pain and/or death. If your stuffing in the cavity is cooked to 165º perfection, the meat on your turkey will be overcooked and taste like a spoonful of the Sahara desert.

So do the right thing. Bake your stuffing by itself in the oven. It will taste fantastic with no chance of flat-lining your guests. This recipe is incredibly easy. It uses simple, store-bought ingredients and comes together very quickly. 


INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds hot Italian sausage
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
16 ounces mushrooms, chopped

10 tablespoons butter
4 cups chicken broth
2, 12-ounce bags Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Cubed Stuffing


Directions
  1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat olive oil until it is shimmering. Then add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms. Cook until there is no pink in the sausage and all of the vegetables have softened (about 8 minutes).
  2. In a large saucepan, heat butter and chicken broth over medium heat until all of the butter has melted into the broth.
  3. Preheat oven to 350º.
  4. In a large casserole, add the two bags of cubed stuffing. Add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms then stir thoroughly to mix. The add broth/butter mixture and stir again to thoroughly mix.
  5. Cover casserole and bake for 60 minutes. Serve.




Monday, November 15, 2021

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

 


When the turkey is ready for carving, all of the sides and gravy have to be ready to go. So I've been been using this recipe for years to make my gravy ahead of time. I make it the morning of Thanksgiving. Then when I take the turkey out of the oven, I just add some of the turkey drippings to the gravy and reheat it.

Ingredients 

1 stick of butter 
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4  cups warm turkey or chicken stock 
Turkey drippings


Directions

  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
  2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
  3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings or to gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.



Saturday, November 13, 2021

Spatchcocked Turkey

 


A turkey is an enormous bird with enormous organs. Once those organs are removed, we are left with an enormous bird with an enormous cavity. Essentially a basketball with white meat on the top and sides and dark meat on the bottom...which just so happen to cook differently from each other.

I have used three different methods to solve this problem. The first involved starting the cook with the bird upside down. While it worked, getting a piping hot, 24-pound turkey to perform a somersault inside a blazing oven is a gigantic hassle. I also used a cooking bag, which resulted in perfectly cooked and incredibly moist meat. But alas, there was no golden, crisp skin that is the reward for roasting.

The method I've used the most is to preheat a gigantic cast iron pan in the oven. Then I set the bird right on the pan. The dark meat is in contact with the cast iron, which heats it more quickly while the white meat enjoys a leisurely roast. This method requires an expensive, oversized pan that only gets used once a year. But behold, there is a much simpler method. Brighter folks than me have discovered that the easiest way to cook a turkey is to remove the cavity.



It is genius. It is simpler. And it enables you to cook that enormous bird much faster. Start with setting the bird on the counter, breast side down. Using kitchen shears, cut down the right side of the bird's spine. Then do the same on the left side of the spine. Then remove the spine from the bird and save it to make turkey broth for your gravy.



 

Now flip the turkey over, breast side up. Press down hard in between the two breasts to crack the breast bone. Voila! There you have it. The cavity is gone and you only have to contend with a large, flat slab of turkey. Place the bird on a cooking pan and rub it thoroughly with olive oil. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Skip adding any spices or herbs as they will just burn at the higher temperatures you will be cooking at.

Your turkey is now ready for your preferred method of cooking. You can oven-roast it, grill it or go low and slow in your smoker. I am a fanatic for the crisp, golden skin, so I always choose to oven-roast it. To accomplish that, I preheat my oven to 400º (that flat slab of protein means I can do a hotter and much faster cook). Slide that spatchcocked beauty into the oven and cook for 12 minutes per pound (e.g., a 10-pound bird would cook for just 2 hours). If the skin starts to brown too much, loosely tent bird with foil.

When your bird is done, remove it from the oven and loosely cover it with foil. Do not encase it in foil, otherwise you will steam the skin and lose the crispness that everyone craves. Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes and then carve it up, serving with your favorite sides. Have a happy Thanksgiving!




Perfect turkey pairing: Let your guests choose between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir




Saturday, November 6, 2021

Brats in a Blanket

 



I am eternally grateful to the Germans for all of the wonderful things they have engineered. Porsche, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Leica, Sennheiser, Bosch, Zwilling J. A. Henckels...to name a few. I am especially grateful to the unknown butcher in Nuremberg who blended beef, veal, pork and spices to engineer the first bratwurst sausage in 1313 AD. Fast forward to 2021 and there are 1500+ different types of bratwurst available around the world. But I find that even those ubiquitous Johnsonville brats can put a big, huge honkin' smile on my face.

This Christine Gallary recipe requires that the brats be pre-cooked. So you can grill them, smoke them or simmer them in beer. You can even take the lazy way out by buying them from your grocery store pre-cooked. Any way works as long as the brats are pre-cooked and at room temperature (so give them 30-60 minutes of kitchen countertop time before you start). "Everything Bagel Spice" is readily available at Costco and Amazon.


INGREDIENTS
1 large egg
1, 8-ounce can of refrigerated crescent roll dough
4 tablespoons whole-grain mustard, divided
4 fully cooked bratwurst sausages, at room temperature 
2 teaspoons Everything Bagel Spice



DIRECTIONS
  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat oven to 400º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
  2. Crack egg in a small bowl and whisk until no streaks of white remain.
  3. Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into 4 rectangles (2 triangles each). Press on the seams in each rectangle to seal. Spread 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard on each rectangle.
  4. Place one bratwurst sausage on the short end of each rectangle. Starting at the end with the bratwurst, roll up tightly. Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Brush the top and sides of each one with the egg wash. Sprinkle each one with Everything Bagel Spice.
  5. Bake until deep golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.



Pairing: An Ice Cold German Pilsner




Saturday, October 30, 2021

Pasta al Limone

 


Saturday and Sunday dinners are always the greatest and heartiest...even more so now that the chill of fall has set in. Steak, stews, pasta...a lot of time, labor and ingredients go into weekend meals. So Monday dinner is actually penance for the sins of the weekend.

So it's also a goal of mine on Mondays not to spend a ton of time in prep and cooking. The beauty of this Emiko Davies recipe is that it is really, really fast. The sauce is easy to make and can be completed in the same time it takes to cook the pasta.

The sauce seems to work best with long, flat pasta noodles. In a perfect world, I would choose fresh egg pasta....store-bought as I do not have the patience to make my own from scratch. But truth be told, any long, traditional semolina pasta will work just as well.

Monday is a workout day for both Becky and I, so a little bit of added protein scratches an itch. My fave is to add a little warm, canned tuna that was packed in olive oil. I also add some red pepper flakes...a nice little contrast of heat to this tangy and creamy lemon sauce.


INGREDIENTS
Kosher salt
2 large lemons
2 ounces Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup)
12 ounces fresh tagliolini or other long pasta
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper


DIRECTIONS
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, finely grate the zest of the 2 lemons. Then juice the lemons.
  2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add lemon juice and simmer for 3 minutes. Add heavy cream and season with the salt and pepper. Simmer until the sauce has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Add pasta to water and cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to the sauce and cook over medium heat, adding some of the pasta water as needed, until pasta is well coated and glossy with sauce. Serve immediately with the grated cheese.




Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc






Saturday, October 23, 2021

Grilled Ham and Gouda Sandwich

 


In the Middle Ages, a family named Van Der Goude built a fortified castle along a stream in southern Holland. The area around the castle became a settlement where goods made around the countryside would be sold in the markets. Feudal rights were granted during that period and cities could become official trading centers for certain products.

I know you're smart enough to figure the rest out. The Van Der Goudes named their little slice of heaven "Gouda". And in 1184 AD they were granted the right to be the authorized trading city for cheese in the Netherlands. The cheese, which was made in the surrounding countryside, became known as Gouda Cheese. In America, we have totally screwed up the name by pronouncing it "goo-da". In the Dutch language, the "g" is a guttural sound and is pronounced "(g)how-da".

Gouda is made from cow's milk. Unlike all other cheeses, Gouda becomes sweeter the longer it ages. It's that sweetness that makes such a remarkable contrast to the salty and smoky ham. I'm sure you've had a ham and cheese sandwich before...but ham and Gouda are on a whole different level. Bon Appetit's brilliant recipe adds artisan bread, caramelized onions and torn frisée to the mix. This recipe makes 2 sandwiches, but I swear I could eat 4 of these sonsabitches all by myself in a single sitting.


INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
Unsalted butter at room temperature
4, 1/3-inch-slices of sourdough bread
4 ounces thinly sliced smoked ham, divided
3 ounces Gouda cheese, thinly sliced, divided 
2 large handfuls of frisée, torn into small pieces (about 1 cup)


DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook until onion is very tender and golden, stirring frequently, about 25 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper. Cool slightly.
  2. Butter 2 bread slices. Place bread, buttered side down, on a platter. Divide onion, ham, cheese and frisée between bread slices. Top each with a bread slice and butter the top of each slice.
  3. Heat another large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook until bread is golden brown and cheese melts, pressing occasionally with your spatula, about 4 minutes per side. Cut sandwiches in half diagonally and serve immediately.




Wine pairing: Gouda loves the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon







Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cheese Stuffed Baguette


I've always considered spaghetti and meatballs to be a complete meal. Protein, veggies and carbs. But my wife begs to differ. She's of the opinion that spaghetti and meatballs are not a complete meal unless there is a warm baguette to dip into the marinara sauce. Begrudgingly, I do believe she is correct.

But there is a way to elevate that simple baguette with one of Italy's greatest inventions. Mozzarella cheese. When you heat that beautiful baguette with some olive oil and mozzarella cheese tucked inside, you end up with an exceptional taste treat. Crisp, toasted bread embracing a wonderful, gooey layer of cheese. Now you are truly ready for some serious dipping. Thanks, Becky.


INGREDIENTS
1 Italian loaf or rustic baguette
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
tablespoon dried Turkish oregano


DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat the oven to 400º.  Halve the loaf lengthwise almost all the way through, leaving it attached on one side. Open it, lay it flat and brush the insides with olive oil. Tuck in the mozzarella, then sprinkle with salt and oregano. Close, then wrap tightly with foil. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Unwrap loaf, let cool for 2 minutes, then slice and serve.


A complete meal





Saturday, October 9, 2021

Pastitsio


You are right. It does look like lasagna. That's because it is lasagna. But it is not from Italy. Pastitsio is actually a Greek lasagna. And while it looks for all the world like Italian lasagna, the flavor profile is actually quite different.

On the bottom layer, we have pasta. In this case, bucatini...which is like a thick spaghetti noodle with a hole in the middle. But any cylindrical shaped pasta will do. Next comes a hearty layer of cinnamon-kissed beef ragù. Then we top all that with creamy béchamel and a generous dusting of Greek kasseri cheese (you can use adagio or parmesan if you can't find kaserri).

Be forewarned that this is not a quick weeknight dinner. You want to save this recipe for a cold and rainy Sunday. It's a wonderful way to spend the afternoon in your kitchen...cooking up a really unique and delicious pan of Greek comfort food while streaming "Troy" on Netflix. I know that your family and guests will be duly impressed with the fruits of your labor.


INGREDIENTS
3 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2, 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
1 pound bucatini
1/2 pound kasseri cheese, grated
4 eggs
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup flour
5-1/2 cups whole milk


DIRECTIONS
  1. In a large pot, add a little olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt, cook until onions are just translucent. Add the ground beef and cook and stir until no longer pink, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add the 2 cans of tomato sauce and cinnamon, stir and bring to a simmer. Season with salt to taste. Let meat sauce simmer for 3 hours with a lid on, slightly askew. Stir occasionally.
  2. Grate the kasseri cheese and set aside, you want at least 4 cups. 
  3. Cook bucatini in boiling salted water until al dente (I cook a minute or two less than package directions). Drain noodles and when cool enough to handle, put them in a large bowl and mix one beaten egg into the bucatini noodles with your hands. 
  4. Preheat oven to 350º. In a lasagna pan, or other large pan, drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom or coat lightly with cooking spray. Put all of the noodles which were tossed with egg in the bottom of the pan and arrange evenly. Sprinkle with a third of the shredded cheese. Using a slotted spoon, cover the noodles and cheese evenly with all or most of the meat mixture, leaving room for the béchamel layer on top. Sprinkle another third of the cheese over the meat layer. You now have noodles, cheese, meat, cheese layered so far. 
  5. Make the béchamel sauce. In a heavy bottomed large pot, melt 1 stick of butter. Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk to combine well and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two. Slowly add 5 cups of milk, whisking the whole time. Cook and whisk until it just starts to boil (when it starts to bubble.) Turn off heat. 
  6. In a separate bowl, beat 3 eggs and 1/2 cup milk with a hand mixer. Add this mixture to the pot, slowly, whisking the whole time.
  7. Put back on medium-high heat and cook and whisk until thick and bubbly. When at the desired consistency, cut the heat and let the béchamel sit for a few minutes.
  8. In a small sauce pan, melt 1/2 stick of butter. After the béchamel has rested a few minutes, pour it over the meat and cheese layer, spreading evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the béchamel. Lastly, drizzle or spoon the melted butter on top of the cheese, this is what will brown the top of the pastitsio. 
  9. Put pan into preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, until browned and center is hot. If not browned enough, after 1 hour, turn on broiler and cook another 3 - 5 minutes, watching carefully until top is browned.
  10. Let pastitsio rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.



Wine pairing: Syrah








Monday, October 4, 2021

Air Fryer Tater Tots

 


Oh how I love my tater tots. And I love them even more when they are cooked in an air fryer. Golden crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth creamy on the inside. Cooking tater tots in an oven is so 19th century. 

I cook a half of a bag at a time so that I get all the tots in a single layer. Frozen tater tots already have oil on them, but if you're a crispy freak, you still want to add a quick blast of cooking oil. Preheating your air fryer for a couple minutes will also add to that golden brown texture. And then I am going to let you in on a secret ingredient that will forever guarantee that you will never, ever, have leftover tater tots.



Go to Amazon.com and buy yourself a jar of this "Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic" seasoning. This stuff is so f*cking delicious that it will take every ounce of will power in your body to not just rip off the cap and free-pour this incredible sh*t into your mouth. What this stuff does to a tater tot can only be described as "sinful".


INGREDIENTS
1/2 bag frozen tater tots (14 ounces)
Cooking oil spray
Kosher salt
Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic Seasoning

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat air fryer for 2 minutes at 400º.
  2. Place tater tots in a single layer. Then give them a light spray with cooking oil and sprinkle some Kosher salt over them.
  3. Cook tater tots for 8 minutes at 400º. Then remove drawer and shake to reposition tots (if you're incredibly anal, you can turn each tater tot over). Then season tater tots with a generous dusting of Truffle/Parmesan/Black Garlic seasoning.
  4. Return drawer to air fryer and cook tots for another 4 minutes at 400º (please note that 4 minutes will make them really crispy....so if you would like them a little less crispy, check them after 2 minutes).
  5. Open air fryer and serve tots. Add extra seasoning to taste.







Saturday, October 2, 2021

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

 



Fall is upon us. It's time to move on from summer fare to some heartier dishes. And one of my favorite fall dishes is spaghetti and meatballs. I've always made my meatballs with a traditional recipe, but last week I stumbled on this Cook's Country recipe for stuffed meatballs....and I was hooked.

There's only one important thing to keep in mind when making these meatballs. Moisture is the enemy. If your meatball is too moist, the cheese will ooze out of the meatball during cooking. In our perfect world, the cheese does not ooze out until you cut into the meatball.

So we will be using no white bread, milk or cream in our meat mixture. Panko bread crumbs are a necessity to minimize the moisture. Choose 93% lean ground beef to keep from getting too much fat into the meatball. Mozzarella string cheese is the easiest way to create 15 equal portions for stuffing. And after forming the meatballs, we will brown them in oil and then gently poach them in a simple marinara sauce. 


INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
3, 4-1/2 inch long sticks mozzarella string cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried Turkish oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes


DIRECTIONS
  1. Combine panko, 1/2 cup Parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons basil, half of garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add sausage and knead with your hands until incorporated into panko mixture. Add beef and knead until just incorporated. (Do not overmix or meatballs will be tough.) Using greased 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, divide meat mixture into 15 portions and place on plate. 
  2. Cut mozzarella sticks crosswise into fifteen, 3/4-inch cubes (each stick should yield 5 cubes). Place 1 mozzarella cube in center of each meat portion and pinch meat around cheese to enclose. Roll meat between wet hands to form completely sealed meatball. Place stuffed meatballs on plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. 
  3. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add meatballs and cook until browned on 1 side, about 3 minutes. Flip meatballs and cook until browned on opposite side, about 3 minutes. Transfer meatballs to plate. (Sides of meatballs will still appear raw.)
  4. Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onion and cook until just softened and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add oregano and remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  5. Nestle meatballs in sauce with 1 browned side up and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 4 minutes. Flip meatballs so second browned side is up. Cover and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil. Serve meatballs and sauce over hot spaghetti.



Wine pairing: Chianti







Saturday, September 25, 2021

Cilantro-Lime Flank Steak with Mexican Radish Slaw

 


My go-to steak for all things Mexican is flank steak. Huge beef taste for not much money. While a lot of cooks like skirt steak for Mexican grilled meats, I think flank is the wiser choice. It has better flavor...it's juicier...it cooks up better...and it's a lot easier to chew. Skirt steak skirts around the latter issue by making you slice the meat really thin. I want big honkin' pieces of meat to savor when I'm wearing my big boy pants. Skirt steak is more like chewing a plastic bag of rubber bands while they are still in the plastic bag.


Pairing a grilled flank steak with strong Mexican flavors can be a challenge. But this Mexican Radish Slaw is an outstanding pairing for this meal. So much so that there are actually three different ways to serve it up. The first choice is to combine some sliced steak and slaw in a flour tortilla. Second would be to slice the steak and serve it over the slaw. The third way would be my choice....put some beautiful steak slices on my dish and plate the slaw to the side. Pass the Malbec, please.


INGREDIENTS

For the Steak
1 bunch cilantro
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup pickled jalapeño rings*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

One, 1-1/2 pound flank steak


For the Slaw
14 ounces shredded cabbage*
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
1 teaspoon salt

1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 or 2 thinly sliced fresh jalapeños 
 

DIRECTIONS
  1. Make the steak marinade. Place the first 8 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are liquified.
  2. Place steak in a ziplock bag and pour contents from food processor over the steak. Close bag, toss to mix well. Place in refrigerator to marinate for 4 to 24 hours.
  3. About an hour before you grill, combine the first 4 salad ingredients in a bowl and toss to mix. Set aside. Then remove steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Set it on a sheet of foil on the counter let it come up to room temperature. 
  4. Prepare your grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  5. When coals are hot, grill steak over coals for 3 minutes per side. Then remove steak, tent with foil and let steak rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Grab slaw bowl and add cilantro and jalapeños. Toss and put the slaw on each serving plate. Slice steak thinly across the gain and add to the plates. Serve.

* Blogger's Notes: Pickled jalapeño rings are usually found in the condiment section of your grocery store, likely near the olives. To make the slaw easy, buy Dole pre-shredded cabbage/cole slaw in the produce section. Steak cooking time is based on grilling over blazing hot lump charcoal. If you are using briquettes or gas, add 1 to 2 minutes per side. Setting a chunk of mesquite on your coals will add a big wallop of flavor.




Wine Pairing: Malbec






Saturday, September 18, 2021

Air Fryer Pepper Bacon

 




I am completely in love with my air fryer. This awesome device enables me to pump out shoestring French fries that put McDonalds' fries to shame. Same goes for tater tots...perfectly golden crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth, creamy soft on the inside. The engineering behind it is not rocket science. It's simply a convection oven on steroids deployed in a small cooking area, so that everything comes out perfectly crispy. It's just as effective as deep frying, but with none of the unhealthy baggage that comes from cooking in hot oil.




So to make air fryer pepper bacon, we need to start with the bacon....which comes from the belly region of the pig. Bacon has alternating layers of fat and muscle, unlike pork belly, which has solid layers of fat and muscle. To give bacon it's intense flavor, it is smoked. There are two basic woods used for smoking bacon...applewood and and hickory. For this recipe, I want you to choose applewood smoked bacon.

Here's why. Hickory is your brash, loud, obnoxious little sister. When she walks into a room, everyone shrinks and hides because her personality takes up all the space in the room. Hickory smoke is overpowering. Hickory gets to ride in the front seat of the convertible with an enormous gold crown on her head while bacon is relegated to the trunk, tasked with keeping the spare tire company.

Applewood is your cool, suave and understated older brother. He knows he's good and doesn't need to call attention to himself. Applewood smoke is very subtle. It gives the bacon a sweet, fruity taste with just a delicate wisp of smoke. When bacon and applewood sing their duet, you will know immediately that bacon is the true star.



Now when it comes to pepper, there is no contest. Tellicherry black peppercorn is the best tasting pepper that will ever cross your lips. But to realize that level of perfection, you need to use whole Tellicherry peppercorns and a grinder. There is no substitute for fresh cracked peppercorns. And here's the best news. You'll find my favorite, 14-ounce jar of Kirkland Tellicherry peppercorns at Costco for just $5.49. BAM!


INGREDIENTS
1 pound of applewood smoked bacon
Whole Tellicherry black peppercorns in a pepper grinder


DIRECTIONS
  1. You will have to cook the bacon in batches, as you want to cook each batch of bacon in a single layer. Depending on the size of your air fryer, lay 5 to 8 strips of bacon in a single layer in the bottom of your air fryer.
  2. Grind the peppercorns over the bacon to your level of taste.
  3. Turn air fryer temperature to 390º and cook for 8 minutes (no preheating necessary). Start checking bacon at 7 minutes.




Pairing: Bacon and Pinot Noir is a marriage made in heaven








Saturday, September 4, 2021

Chorizo Quesadillas

 


Chorizo is a type of sausage....and oh how I love me sausage! It is highly seasoned, used in both Mexican and Spanish cuisine. Mexican chorizo is made with fresh pork (raw and uncooked) and is blended with vinegar and chili peppers. 

Spanish chorizo is made with garlic and smoked paprika. It is sold fully cooked (smoked) and dry...to be sliced like salami. Mexican and Spanish chorizo are not interchangeable. So make sure you are buying Mexican chorizo to make these quesadillas.

This is a very easy recipe to make and comes together in just minutes. To make it a complete meal, I like to serve quesadillas with fresh Pico de Gallo salsa and some Mexican rice. When I made this last night for Becky and I, I upped the Scoville units a bit by using two jalapeños. Becky moderated the heat by dipping the quesadillas in sour cream. They were delicious!


INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Mexican chorizo sausage 
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
4, 12-inch flour tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterey pepper jack cheese


DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet until oil is shimmering. Then add sausage, onion, garlic and jalapeño and cook until meat is brown and onion is tender.
  2. Lay out tortillas. Cover the lower half of each tortilla with 1/4 quarter of the meat mixture and a 1/2 cup of cheese.
  3. Fold the empty top of the tortillas in half over the filled lower half and then cook each for 1-1/2 minutes per side (3 minutes total for each tortilla), using a skillet, grill pan or grill at medium-high heat. Then cut each tortilla into quarters and serve.



Pairing: Pacifico






Saturday, August 28, 2021

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in Tomato Cream Sauce

 


A great meal always starts with the right ingredients. When I'm going to grill up a steak, I can choose between grass-fed or grain-fed. I always pick the latter as I appreciate all of the extra fat and marbling associated with grain-fed beef. To my tastebuds, grain-fed tastes better. The same kind of thing happens when you buy sea scallops. You get to choose between dry or wet scallops....and they are light years apart when it comes to taste.


Fresh scallops look like the photo above. Note that they are dry, which is precisely why they are referred to as "dry scallops". If you set them on a paper towel, they give off next-to-no liquid. When you cook them up, they are sweet. They taste like the ocean. These are the scallops you want to buy. 


The scallops in the above photo are not fresh. They have been previously frozen. They are referred to as "wet scallops" and when you see them in the store they are often sitting in a white, creamy liquid. They have been treated with a preservative and whitening agent called sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). 

If you put them on a paper towel, they will give off a ton of liquid. STP increases the water retained by the scallop, often by as much as 30%. So frozen scallops end up being a poor value, compared to fresh, as you are paying for a lot of water. Sodium tripolyphosphate also gives the scallop an unpleasant chemical flavor. It's impossible to get rid of that taste. Your only choice is to mask it by pre-soaking the scallops in a mixture of water, lemon juice and salt. 

So if you are going to prepare this variation on a Melissa Clark recipe, start by making sure you have the right ingredients that will celebrate the incredible flavors of this dish. Dry scallops are more expensive and a little more difficult to find...but any decent grocery store should have them in their showcase in the seafood section...right along with their fresh fish offerings.

Melissa's recipe is a tip of the hat to a classic dish at Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York. Her recipe called for poaching the scallops in the sauce. I much prefer the taste and texture of a golden crisp, pan-seared scallop. So I modified her recipe to accomplish that. I use her spectacular sauce recipe, which is spiked with Worcestershire sauce and celery seeds, as the crowning glory for the pan-seared scallops. There will be left-over sauce, so grab a baguette to mop it all up. Embrace my essential mantra of "no sauce left behind".

Pan-seared scallops are definitely one of the easiest things to cook on your stovetop. For success you only need three things: dry scallops; those scallops at room temp prior to cooking; and a really hot skillet (cast iron preferred).


INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
Pinch of celery seeds
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2/3 cup dry vermouth or white wine
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup heavy cream

1 pound dry sea scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup fresh chopped chives for garnish


DIRECTIONS
  1. Take scallops out of refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking so that scallops are at room temperature.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter, letting it melt. Add shallots, celery seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until shallots are opaque, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until jammy....about 10 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and stir in vermouth. Cook until about a third of the liquid evaporates...about 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire and cream and simmer, reducing heat if needed and stirring occasionally until sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon...about 6 minutes. Then cover skillet and keep sauce warm over medium-low heat.
  4. Thoroughly pat scallops dry. Then heat oil in a new skillet over medium-high heat until very hot and sizzling. Add the scallops to the skillet in a single layer (if they do not sizzle when you put them in the skillet, your pan is not hot enough).
  5. Season scallops with salt and pepper to taste and fry for 1-1/2 minutes on one side (until a golden crust forms underneath). 
  6. Then flip scallops and fry again for 1-1/2 minutes until crisp, lightly browned  and cooked through (opaque).
  7. Transfer scallops to serving plates and pour sauce over the scallops. Garnish with chives and serve. 


Wine pairing: An oaky Chardonnay