Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Perfect Holiday Meal: Beef Wellington

 The toughest part about making this dinner is that everyone likes their meat cooked a certain way. This is one of those times when everyone has to agree on the level of doneness and then deal with it. Some like it barely cooked to the point that its still mooing, while others like it well done. This isn't really one of those roasts for either extreme, but this certainly is a show stopper for your next holiday meal!

Also, 90% of Americans are deathly afraid (not allergic, just afraid) of both mushrooms and pate, don't be. As much as some people might like to think that they can taste the liver in the pate, or the mushrooms, you can't. The flavors blend so nicely together, just like a Caesar dressing with anchovies, you shouldn't taste an overpowerment of one over the other. This is one of those recipes where trying to substitute these items for something else just won't cut it, so friends, don't do it!

Since the beef tenderloin is the most tender part of the cow, it just happens to be one of the most expensive cuts, but if you call around to a few butchers you can find the best price. Last year we went to a local super market and paid about $11.99/lb (maybe even more), but this year I went to a butcher on Route 1, Hilltop Steakhouse (The HUGE neon cactus) and paid $8.99/lb. The roast still cost almost $60. After seeing how much this made, I would cut it down to maybe a 4 lb roast, but this did make excellent leftover sandwiches.

Beef tenderloin ( I used a 6 lb roast)
1 package white button mushrooms, chopped fine
1 large onion chopped fine
8 oz pate
Red Wine (just a splash)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 package thawed puff pastry
1 egg
Salt n Pepper

1. Heat oven to 425. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the roast and place in a baking dish. Place tenderloin into the over for about 40 minutes. You can baste the loin with the rendered fat and juices. Because my family like their meat barely pink, I left mine in the oven for much longer at a little bit lower temperature. Once the loin is cooked, place it somewhere cool to rest and go on to the next steps.
Roasted to medium rare and cooling (don't throw out the bits at the bottom!)

2. In the mean time, melt the butter in a pan and saute the onions and mushrooms. Cook these until all of the liquid evaporates. Also, this is where you will want to add your splash of wine. Season with salt and pepper. This is called "duxelles" or in my world, mushroom mixture. :-D

3. Prepare the puff pastry. Sprinkle a bit of flour over your counter top and roll out, then place on an unbaked cookie sheet. Once the meat has cooled, place it in the center of the pastry.

4.  Spread your pate evenly over the whole roast. Then add the mushroom mixture (duxelles). Roll out the second sheet of pastry and gently place over the top and crimp the edges. However! My tenderloin roast was split into two (by the butcher, I didn't know), and each roast fit perfectly inside each puff pastry, so we actually had two beef wellingtons. 

5. Brush the beaten egg over the top of the wellington and bake in the oven at 425F for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake for another 20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Pate: You can really use any kind of spreadable pate you can find. I used a delicious one that I got at Market Basket for $4.69 and included truffles (Hey no one ever said this dish was cheap!).

Mushrooms: Use any kind you like, really. You can mix and match, I am sure they would all taste great! However, the reason I used button is they are the cheapest and you don't exactly taste them since they are finely minced.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Meat with Sauce and Pasta

Tonight was one of those "I have NO idea what to make" nights so then I did what I normally do and took a peek in the refrigerator to see what there might be for leftovers. Pot of tomato sauce? Check. Sausage? Check! Pasta? Check check check! An onion?! YES! It was in there too!

Also, this is one of those "please don't judge based on the photo" night, it looks, um, not good, but trust me this is such a comforting and EASY food to prepare.

Now I had to figure out what I wanted to turn these ingredients into. Well, yesterday I went up to the middle of New Hampshire with some friends to visit their family. They served us a great little lunch which was delicious, turkey sausage in a very thick vegetable tomato sauce. So I decided I wanted this again and thats exactly what I made! You can use any tomato sauce you like, but I had some leftover from my christmas lasagna, nice and chunky, yum!

1 package turkey sausage links
1 bell pepper chopped or 1 cup frozen chopped
1 onion sliced thin
3-4 garlic cloves crushed
handful frozen chopped spinach
Tomato sauce
Olive oil

1. In my cast iron skillet I brought a table spoon of olive oil to heat, over high heat and added the onions and peppers. Saute for a minute or two.
2.  Add the sausage links and garlic pieces. Once the sausages are fairly cooked through, slice them in the pan. Let this mixture of sausage and vegetables to cook for a long time over medium. I'd say 10 minutes or so. Add a splash of water here and there if it starts to get too sticky. And continue stirring.
3. Pour in some tomato sauce and stir, not too much, you want this to be really thick. Once the water has evaporated add more sauce. You can do this a few times until you get a consistency you like.
4. Once the water is evaporated from the meat you can turn off the heat, add the frozen spinache and allow the mixture to sit for a minute.
5. Serve over pasta and enjoy!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Dessert: Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Ritz Crackers

This year I made a few different chocolaty yums for Christmas desserts. Usually, I try to make a variety of cookies, but this year is the year of chocolate (in my mind, that is!). After looking through Foodgawker one very popular dessert I had been seeing numerous times was not only delicious sounding, but also extremely easy to make. Chocolate covered peanut butter ritz cracker sandwiches. Since this recipe is so simple and quick, you could potentially have time to make these before your party!

Not that this helps much, but I always try to see if I can cut out some fat from recipes. In this one, the best thing you could do is use low fat ritz or butter crackers, they taste just the same! This recipe is so easy that you might even want to have your kids help spread the peanut putter on the crackers. Oh also, I am sure you could use any nut butter as long as it isn't so thin that it might leak.

1 package chocolate chips
2 sleeves ritz crackers
peanut butter
parchment paper

So basically, make a lot of sandwiches, spread peanut butter on one cracker and top it with another. The hardest part will be the chocolate and the easiest thing is to read the directions on how to melt it without scorching or over tempering it.

If you use a double boiler like I did, keep in mind that the longer you allow the chocolate to stay over the heated water, the more dried out the lovely, thick sauce will be, so either work really fast or keep the heat on very very low.  If the chocolate begins to dry out, you should be able to save it by adding more chips and re-melting it all together.

One tip that I found very helpful from another blogger is to use a fork to lift the sandwich out of the chocolate. Why couldn't I have thought of this? It really made life so much easier! Once the sandwich is fully covered, tap it against the side of the bowl and then run the bottom of the fork over the rim of the bowl which will take off the extra chocolate. Set these aside on parchment paper.

They freeze well!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Time: Buttery Sugar Cookies

As you know, I hate baking. I am not a baker at all. Well, its Christmas season so naturally it is "lets attempt to bake something" season as well! When I was younger, much younger, my mother used to do a ton of baking; cookies, cakes you name it! I remember having to frost dozen after dozen of cookies, sugar cookies, italian mound cookies (I don't know the name!), ginger get the idea. Sadly, this tradition ended a while ago, but I hope to help revive it when my nephews are old enough to understand.

Yucky dried dough before addition of water
So lets talk a bit about sugar cookies, or as today I made, buttery sugar cookies. These are the cookies that you can cut into all kinds of fun shapes, so before you do anything, dig out those cookie cutters, its time for some fun! Luckily I found my tub of cutters that I bought from Joann Fabrics a couple years ago after Christmas (gotta love clearance sales!) so I paid probably $2-4 for 40 cutters. Not bad!

I don't have a secret recipe that I use every year for these cookies, but I did find one from a source I trust the most. I followed the recipe to a T and when I went to roll out the dough, it was a disaster. It was just pure crumbled muck. I almost threw it away and started over, but I really didn't want to at all. Baking is almost like torture so I decided to keep it. One thing that came to mind was clearly the dough was too dry, so I wet my hands and kneaded the dough and holy mackerel!!! The dough formed nicely!

So here is the recipe I used...and again if it comes out too dry, like, if you take the dough out of the fridge and it just crumbles to dust, try my wet hand kneading trick.

1 stick butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ¾ cups flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Cream butter and sugar until pale. I like to use the paddle attachment on my Kitchenaid. Then add the eggs one at a time and mix.
2. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients.
3. Slowly add the dry to the wet mixture, mixing slowly as to not allow the flour to jump out of the bowl all over your kitchen (don't believe me? Try it!). Don't over mix, maybe for about a minute until everything is combined.
4. Put the dough on wax paper, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
5. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350F
6. Divide the dough into smaller more manageable pieces, lightly flour and roll out to about 1/4" thick and begin cutting your shapes! Place cookies on a non stick baking pan, about an inch apart and pop into the over for 10-15 minutes. Don't allow these to brown, they should be quite pale. 
7. Cool and decorate!

Pay NO Attention to the Photo Ground Beef Curry

Yes, I know this pic doesn't look appealing, but TRUST me!

Its close to Christmas and in my house that only means one thing. The kitchen is a disaster area from cooking non stop for days for the Christmas Eve party at my dad's house. Its a disaster now, and it probably will be until at least the day after Christmas, grrr.

But, as I was preparing the fillings for my 20 pound lasagna I realized I had about a pound of extra ground beef, but what to do with it? I really like Indian food as you know and I had some tomato paste already opened and ready. I happened upon this recipe which I tweaked slightly and am now a fan of it. Also, the photo makes this look less than appealing, like something you might find on the carpet if you own pets, but it does taste like heaven.

You can certainly use any meat or vegetable you want, and even add nuts or a few raisins yum!

Ground Beef Curry

1 lb ground beef
1 onion chopped
2 potatoes chopped
1 tbsp garlic chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger grated
3 tbsp curry powder
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 small can diced tomatoes with juice
1 pinch chili powder or cayenne
1/2 cup water or chicken broth
1/3 cup fat free half and half
2 tbsp oil

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the potatoes first. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the onions. Cook another 5-8 minutes, don't let the onion burn. Add the beef and cook til brown.

Add garlic and ginger and stir, making sure these do not burn. Add the tomato paste and stir. Next add curry powder and chili powder. Add the diced tomatoes and juice and the water/broth and allow the potatoes to cook through, you can always add more water or broth if the curry gets too thick. Simmer on low for about 15 minutes or until everything is well cooked and the curry aromas have permeated throughout the sauce.

At the last minute, shut the heat and add the half and half. You don't want to cook this on high as it could curdle.

Please note: again, the pic makes this look like something you would wake up to one morning if you have a sick pet around, but really, the flavors were great! You could use any meat you want, or vegetables.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Oreo Cookie Truffles

So, this year I decided I wanted to do Christmas baking again. I don't think I did any last year and maybe not even the year before, but there is something about having the oven on when it is 18F outside, and having all of those wonderful smells wafting throughout the house. Well, you won't get any of that with this recipe as it doesn't require turning on the oven (this is for those of you who don't even know how to turn the oven on!), or cooking anything for that matter!

1 package oreo cookies
8 oz package cream cheese (I used light neufchatel), softened
1 bag chocolate chips

1. In a food processor, blend all but about 10 of the oreos.
2. Mash in the softened cream cheese with a sturdy spoon. I actually bent a spoon in this step.
3. Once the mix is fully integrated, you can form small balls, kind of like rolling meat balls. The size is up to you. I think I got 20-25 balls.
4. Pop these babies in the refrigerator for at least 30 mins.
5. Melt the chocolate chips VERY gently. When the chips are melted but there are still chunks, just keep stirring, it will melt with no added heat. If you add too much heat you will scorch the chocolate. I found adding some butter helped to bring the chocolate back to life, but its not fun, so avoid it!
6. Drop a ball one at a time in the chocolate. Using a fork, roll the ball around until fully coated, lift out of the chocolate and use the side of the bowl to scrape off any excess.
7. Place each ball onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and then pop into the freezer until ready to eat.

Don't worry about truffles being perfectly smooth, they shouldn't be! The beauty of the truffle is that each one is an individual, with its own shape and personality so just allow the chocolate flow however it

PS. While I am not adventurous lately, you could be if you wanted to add some flavors to the balls. You could add a little coffee liquer, rum, cointreau, pretty much anything! Just enough to taste, not so much that the mix is really soggy. It would be delicious!

Flirty French Macaron!

Nope! No coconut in these babies. These are actually a "macaron" and not a "macaroon" which most of us know as the chewy coconut cookies. If you've never tried a French Macaron here is your chance to try it, although, if you see them in a bakery I recommend trying those first. The thing I like about these "cookies" is that you can make them in every color imaginable with any flavor combo you can think of. I am boring and didn't color mine, mostly due to the fact that I have never made these before so I just wanted to do it once and then experiment later. So that is what I did!

I'll be honest, I have been wanting to make these for months, but I was too afraid. It just seems like so much work and EVERY blog post I have been seeing only shows the pretty pictures and talks on and on about the macarons, too much talking not enough direction! Well, in my blog post you will get more directions than pretty pictures! I am not at the point yet where my macaron will be pretty, but one day I will be a star, and you shall be too!

Also...this recipe as you will see is quite a bit different from all other recipes. Its written in weight as a measure, and I think with macarons you should weigh your ingredients because making these is like a scientific art form. If you have a digital scale, this will make your life much easier!

8.1 oz powder sugar
4 oz ground almonds/Almond flour
5 oz egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)
2.5 oz white sugar
Food coloring optional

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line 2 baking trays with parchement paper. You might want to stencil the size of macaron you want with a pencil to get equal sizes. These may spread out a bit while baking.

2. Sift the processed ground almonds with the icing sugar. Now do this again!

3. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then slowly add the white sugar and beat for another 4-5 minutes until the mixture forms stiff peaks and it looks glossy.

4. Add all of the almond mixture in and fold in gently. It might take a few folds before it really incorporates, but just keep doing it gently. I've read on other blogs to not allow yourself to fold more than 50 times or less than that.

5. Place the mixture in a piping bag and carefully pipe small circles. If you don't have a pastry bag, use a strong large ziploc bag, one corner cut and a piping tip placed in that corner.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until they are just firm to the touch. These need to be allowed to cool completely before you try taking them off the pan.

7. While you are waiting for these to cool, you can make your filling...whatever your little heart desires! My macarons in the picture are cardamom flavored (1 tsp sifted with the dry ingredients) with lemon butter cream filling, but the possibilities are endless, which is why I love macarons so much!

When you look at other blogs you will see perfect little macarons, and like I said earlier, hopefully I will get there but it takes practice. As you see mine are all cracked, but whatever, they taste great!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Perfect Persimmon!

Woah, it's been a while since I've made an update. You'd think being unemployed I would have all the time in the world to make updates galore! Right? Well, you're half right. If you are smart then you try to keep busy applying to jobs and then going out somewhere to take your mind off the fact that no one wants to hire you. Ha anyway, I digress. So, one of my favorite things to do when I am not being all important and learning something new about the industry I was working in is to go to specific stores. Not necessarily to go shopping with a purpose, but to look around and see if there is anything different to try. One of my favorite places to visit is an Asian market called Hong Kong Market in Malden, MA. This store is huge. No, seriously its HUGE. Not only that, but they carry a ton of produce, some of which I can't pronounce and others of which I would have no idea what to do with it if I bought it (yet, I'd love to know!).

Well, this time around I decided to get out and see what I might find, plus I had to actually go shopping for christmas gifts there. When I walked in I came across a special fruit that I hadn't eaten since around this time last year and boy was I excited. This fruit is the almighty      PERSIMMON!

I'm sure you have heard of a persimmon, but what exactly is it? It is delicious, that's what it is! Its a lovely round, orange, sweet fruit which kind of looks like a tomato. Actually, I take that back. Not all persimmons are round, some are actually sort of cone shaped, like a really large strawberry if you will. Persimmons are a large berry that grows on trees and can come in either non-astringent or astringent (the strawberry shaped one is astringent). The most popular non-astringent persimmon is called Fuyu which is what I bought at the market. From doing a little research, you can eat the Fuyu when it is slightly hard still or even when very soft, but if you happen across an astringent variety (Hachiya) you will have to allow it to ripen before eating.

So now that you bought some persimmons, what do you do? Well, I honestly have never cooked with them as I love them raw. They have a very sweet flavor, and I can't really compare its flavor to something you might already know. Its just very unique and delicious. You could use persimmons in cakes, pies, puddings, cookies, savory dishes...really its endless! Plus, persimmons are good for you; high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin A and C and much more!

Next time you see a persimmon in the grocery store, pick one up (most likely will be Fuyu non-astringent), take it home, let it ripen and eat it. You may actually find a new favorite winter fruit!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mexican Stuffed Peppers: Chiles Rellenos Ole!

Happy December! I can't believe its already after thanksgiving and 24 days before Christmas. Its true, time flies in your old age! Well, here is a recipe that will help warm you up during this cold winter, so you gotta try it out!

I was at the asian market today (wearing shorts of course) and saw some poblano peppers on sale, quite cheap! I really wanted to try Chiles Rellenos, but I know how fattening they are so I never got around to ordering them in a restaurant. This recipe is much healthier for you, and packed full of flavor!

4 Poblano Chili Peppers (Can use regular Bell Peppers)
1/2 lb ground beef
15 oz can tomato sauce
1 onion chopped
2-3 garlic cloves chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour and or corn flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup shredded cheese
Chiles in Adobo Sauce

Char the peppers over fire until they are blackened and put them all into a paper bag to steam. The skins should be easily removed. Once the char is removed, gently open and scrape the seeds out, but be careful, you want the pepper to remain whole.

In the mean time while the peppers are steaming, beat your eggs, flour, pinch of salt and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.

In a saute pan, brown the beef, drain the fat and cool. Add some of the adobo sauce and a couple chiles from the adobo, not too much it will be spicy! Add salt, cumin, chili powder and half of the oregano and set aside.

In another pan, saute the onions in a little oil until translucent, add garlic and cook for a minute and then add the tomato sauce, some oregano and a pinch of salt. Allow this to simmer for about 10 mins.

When the tomato sauce is done simmering, pour it into a small baking dish and add a little more oregano. Next, stuff the peppers with the meat mixture and place the pepper in the sauce. Top with a little bit of the cheese, then pour the egg mixture over the top and add the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375F. The eggs should puff and brown slightly.