I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

October 31, 2009

Meat & Puddin' for two

Oh what to do....got meatloaf & gravy, but no potatoes to mash and serve with it.

This was my quandary a few nights ago as I conjured up a meal from ingredients I had in my freezer, fridge & pantry. This is something I do often as I generally have enough food in my home to cook for a family of 4 for a week. I didn't want to go to the store this night and challenged myself to suck it up and get creative. Not wanting to go to the store is a fairly common event in my life as I am a self admitted food hoarder. I buy things because they look good, are on sale, are interesting or because I think that I might be out of them and God forbid I run out. At one point I had 5 jars of julienned sun-dried tomatoes from Trader Joe's in the pantry. I think this is when I realized I had a problem.

My half hour drive home from work definitely has its benefits...I can unwind, enjoy the solitude and conjure up what to make for dinner. This particular morning I defrosted a package of bone in country pork ribs (stocked up when they were on sale!) and thought about a dozen different ways to make something tasty...and then it hit me. Pork Meatloaf. With bacon in it. (Pork fat rules!!) And some other stuff mixed in . And maybe gravy. Got green beans (yay!). And then I hit a wall.
The man I love's face popped in to my head with a sad face because I had not tackled the starch/carbs yet. Knowing I had no potatoes and only Fried Rice a Roni in the house for easy substitutes, I racked my brain to find an alternative.

Thanksgiving on the brain helped, because as my thoughts went from meat & gravy to starch and to my plate at the table...and what is always dressed in a little in gravy at the table in late November? My moms awesome stuffing! I mentally patted myself on the head because I had a beautiful loaf of Challah left over from a recent shopping/hoarding expedition that I had yet to put to use.

Mental inventory of the kitchen revealed the lack of sausage, which is a key ingredient in stuffing in my house.

So my thoughts turned then to a bread pudding type side dish with no sausage (sniff), but with the fresh eggs from my Papas chickens, wild mushrooms and caramelized onion cheddar. Can you say winner winner???

For the meatloaf....first I trimmed out the meat from the bone, it was about a pound and a half piece, good for 2 people :) Then we hauled out the Kitchen Aid mixer with the grinder attachment and ground up our meat. If you are grinding this yourself, it is best if the meat is chilled to the point of being almost frozen when grinding.

Take the trimmed bone, add water enough to cover it (about 3 cups), chop up a small onion, 1 carrot & 1 celery stalk. Simmer for about a half hour - an hour, skimming any fat off the top. Strain and set aside.

Then we cut up:
1 small onion, fine dice
1 carrot, fine dice
1 garlic clove, minced
3 strips thick cut bacon, chopped fine

Saute in olive oil until tender, add 1/2 cup red wine and simmer until almost all the wine is evaporated. Let cool and add to the ground meat.

Add 1 egg, 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, 1 1/2 T salt or salt based seasoning (i.e. garlic salt, Lawrys...whatever your preference) and crack some fresh pepper in to it.

Mold in to a log and bake for 45 minutes at 375. The loaf should read 160 degrees internally when you bring it out. Let the loaf rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

For the Puddings....

Dice up 1 1/2 cups stale bread-can be egg bread, challah, sourdough or whatever you have hanging around.

Whip together:
1 large egg
2/3 cup Milk (can be any % fat you want, it will just be richer with a higher content)
1/4 cup grated cheese (I used the caramelized onion cheddar from Trader Joe's)
About 1 T salt
dash of white pepper
1/2 cup chopped wild mushrooms (re hydrated and squeezed dry or if fresh, saute for a few to release the water)

Drench bread in the milk mixture and let it sit for a few minutes to let the bread absorb everything. Stir around if needed. Butter 2-4oz ramekins and scoop bread mixture in the ramekins. Bake with the meatloaf for about 30-40 minutes. They will hopefully look like this!

And then the gravy.....

Homemade gravy is not really that hard to make and sure beats the heck out of any package mix I have ever opened.

If you have fat drippings from the meatloaf (you should have a little), scoop or drain that in to a small sauce pan. Add about 3 T butter and 4 T Flour. Stir together over low heat until it is all blended and starts to smell a little like peanut butter (I am not crazy, I promise, it will). Start adding your homemade stock a little bit at a time, whisking the mixture to blend it and make it smooth. It should thicken up as it hits a boil. Season with salt and if it is too light (pork gravy tends to be), add a little Magi seasoning to make it more "meaty".

And the gravy absolutely goes on the bread pudding...decadent yes, but oh so tasty. I do hope you enjoy!

October 21, 2009

Smokin' hot wings, episode #1 & #2

Most of the people I know are able to go face down in platter of hot wings and call it a day. What kind of hot wings is another story....In my personal opinion (yes, I have many), the wings themselves must be good sized, the outside somewhat crispy (can be fried, grilled or baked), good seasoning with dry run or slathered and the sauce has to have the perfect balance of heat +flavor. Too much heat and I am miserable and feel like I have wasted a good meal and too much vinegar and you feel pickled.

There really is not much better than gnawing crisp & juicy morsels of meat from the bones that are doused in hot sauce with bleu cheese dressing on the side. Unless it is the salt and vinegar wings from Albertsons (have to figure out how to make those!). Or unless you are at a restaurant in North Carolina called the Wild Wing Cafe where you are offered your choice of 33 different sauces (how to choose????). But on a totally random note...don't bother trying to get hot wings in Ireland. We did once or twice based upon my BFF Clover's extreme craving and love of the wing and were served "not so hot" wings in a pool of ketchup and wings with a drizzle of pesto. Letdown city.

My newest personal food challenge is to make killer hot wings at home...from scratch...and somehow not have them be uber fattening (i.e. no deep frying allowed). My first try was a baked recipe that involved basting with sauce, dredging with flour, baking, repeat the basting dredging and more baking. It was unfortunately not our favorite, both Brock and I decided they needed to be crispier-the "batter" was a bit squishy and you lost some of the flavor of the sauce with the flour. The friend who gave this idea to me assures me it is awesome, so I am assuming it was operator error and will most likely make another attempt on another day.

Last nights wings were a take on wings that we had enjoyed at a local restaurant (now closed "sad face", hoping he will re-open at some point!) called Cookes Smokehouse. The owner/chef smoked his wings before battering & frying them and slathering in his sauce and they were terrific!

One of the best kitchen gadgets Brock has gotten for me/us is our cook top smoker (http://www.cameronsmoker.com/) . If you are anything like me in lacking patience and working full time, you will understand the very genius of this little contraption. Instead of building a fire in your Little Chief smoker and letting something smoke for hours and hours upon end (which is wonderful, but I don't always have the time for it!), you are able to pop in the food, smoke it for 20 minutes to an hour and have an incredible product in a fraction of the time. Instant gratification is gooooooood! Extra bonus is that it is portable enough to take camping/fishing (mmmmm...smoked trout!) and can be used at home on your outdoor burner or gas barbecue. Aside from meat and fish you can smoke just about anything on there and it turns out delicious. We have done pork chops, chicken thighs, ribs, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes!

Sorry, got a little excited....Back to my hot wings.

As I have mentioned before, chicken as a meat is not my favorite unless it is brined prior to cooking-infusing some flavor and moisture makes all the difference and this goes especially for something you are going to smoke as the cooking method definitely tends to dry out meat.

So first we trimmed up the wings...

Then we brine them in:
4 cups water
1/3 cup salt
2 T Cider vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup (not packed) brown sugar

Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours, remove from brine, rinse and pat very dry.

Prep your smoker
Tin foil on the bottom for easy cleanup, good spray of oil on the rack to avoid sticking and 1 T Pecan (or whatever youprefer) chips under the drip tray

Brush the wings with a little olive oil, no need for salt or pepper because of the brine. I used deee-licious olive oil from Rancho Olivos from a recent jaunt up in to wine country. It has just a hint of garlic in it and a terrific flavor! They have tasting Friday through Sunday and are right across the street from Brander Winery & Tasting Room-great spot for a picnic & tasty wines! http://www.ranchoolivos.com/ Thank you to Christine for introducing us to her friends!

I also heart that they were smart enough to make a pretty little pouring spout in the bottle. Smart people and so thoughtful!

Cram as many wings in the pan as you can...20-25 is the max unless they are skinny wings (hope not!).

Smoke for about 20 minutes, longer if you want smokier (up to 35 mins) or less if you want it lighter.

You can hold them like this and do more if you need...they will stay tasty in the fridge for at about a day.

Grill on the BBQ, brushing a thin layer of your preferred wing sauce on as you heat them up and crisp the skin.

Serve with more wing sauce and bleu cheese for dipping.

We declared this method a winner and will definitely be doing it again!

On another note, you will see that I served these with mini double stuffed Yukon gold potatoes... another take on pub grub that is really quite fun! A lot of work for anything more than 2 people, but since I cook for Brock and I 90% of the time, it works for us!

Roast 8 mini Yukon gold potatoes at 350 for about 30 minutes, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Mix in butter, milk, sour cream, cheese, chives, bacon & seasoning in whatever combination you find appealing and mash until it is smooth. Refill the skins and bake again at 35 for about 15 minutes.

You may notice that my plate looks like it was meant for an 8 year old or an anorexic sorority girl...I am doing my best to lose some weight (hence the no fry method) and small portions seem to be working for me. Although I hate it, I have to admit that it works. :) And P.S. We did have a salad with this as well!

October 13, 2009

Here fishy fishy fishy....

This is my call of the wild. For last weekend.

After returning home from our annual vacation, my head is filled with visions of tuna sashimi, garlic feta tuna, ahi poke on crispy wontons, salad nicoise, fried dorado "fingers" and filets, wahoo steaks and more.

Maybe I should explain how we are in posession of a freezer chest full of fresh caught yellow fin tuna, dorado & wahoo filets. Enough fish to have to buy another cooler on the way to the airport!

My family is blessed to be friends some folks who make their home in the southern part of Baja California in a place called Rancho Leonero. North of San Jose del Cabo by about an hour or so on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja, it is a small collection of private homes with the namesake resort on the very tip of the "neighborhood". The closest town is La Ribera, a small seaside town (with a full scale marina & golf course on the way, it may not be small for long) that is lucky enough to have friends like Bruce & Jill. Every year they host a fishing tournament to benefit the East Cape Guild, (www.eastcapeguild.com) who in turn benefits the local school system and children of La Ribera. Every year, the tournament and the guild raise money by taking the funds from the entry money (a measly $100 per fisher-person) and also by selling t-shirts, caps, cookbooks, raffles and auction prizes to the folks who attend. Automatically, 1/2 of the money from the entry goes straight to the guild and traditionally, the winner of the tournament and recipient of the other 1/2 of the prize money has donated the winnings straight back to the guild to further assist the kids & schools. After the first few years of fixing the roof on the schoolhouse, adding air conditioning and purchasing school supplies such as books and computers, the guild now has taken to offering scholarships to students as education in Mexico is only offered through the 7th grade. They do an amazing service to to the community and the kids and all we have to do is go on vacation to help them. Not so hard, huh?

I'll get the bad part out of the way now....Brock and I did not win the tournament.

The good part? Oh yeah, go back up to the top of the page!!!

First you rent your boat....it comes with a captain and deckhand to assist you throughout the day. Then you hit up the bait boats for some serious sardines. Then maybe you head out a bit to bring up some giant Humboldt squid (more bait), which is similar to reeling up a 65# cinder block from 700 feet below. It really helps to have a strong boyfriend at this point. Then you head down the coast towards Cabo Pulmo or way out in to the Sea of Cortez. And then you pray. Or you sing "Here fishy fishy fishy". Or sit on your butt drinking beer. Or you wear your lucky fishing earrings. Whatever it may be, I hope it works for you. The Sea is full of beautiful fish both for sport and for the table, you are likely to get one or the other on the end of your rod.

Day one: Blown out, pulled in the docks, no one fished. :(

Day two: Gorgeous, semi-sunny skies, hit the jackpot with a serious teeming pot of dorado. There really is no way to describe these fish, boiling next to the boat, hitting every line we had, the four of us passing lines to one another, hauling up as many as we could before they figured out what we were doing! We caught 6 fish in about 5 minutes, limited at 9 and decided to call it a good day.

Day three: Fished for the squid, hauled up 3 (ouch), hit on some tuna at about 11am and in the midst of a tuna frenzy, the tropical storm decided it was time to dump on us. Laughed our asses off while hauling in the catch. Soaked and giddy, no other bites, called it a day; we had plenty of camp meat and then some!

I am pretty sure we had tuna as an appetizer 3 nights in a row in various forms, but always fresh, sliced, with soy + wasabi. Seriously, there is nothing better. My best moment though? Watching David, the brother of our deckhand, fillet the tuna for us and me, looking at the carcass and the meat still clinging to the bones going...."What is that? Why is there so much on there? You are going to waste it?????" So he sliced a bunch off for me and I got to eat it there, in the rain under the pine trees at the Rancho. I wish I had a picture. No soy, no wasabi, just fresh, raw tuna. So freaking good. If I could have had my way, I would have scraped off every available and savory morsel and made it in to something delicious for us. Maybe next time I will ask for the carcass.

Departure day: Split up the meat between all of the couples that came and hope that your cooler doesn't weigh over 50# and you have to pay $50 to get it on the plane. Nope....ours weighed 90#, which means we would have paid $100. One brand new cooler later and we were on our way home without any extra charges to the airline, love it!

Tonight: First night home and practiced 3 ways of making ahi poke in the Hawaiian fashion.

Ahi Poke is a traditional way of preparing ahi tuna in Hawaii. There are many variations, but the staple recipe is below. Brock and I tried a few variations and will most likely continue to experiment and perfect them. Our suggestions are there, but feel free to play with it and make it your own. As we said tonight over chopped onions, garlic & ginger; it is hard to mess up when the fish is that good.

Ahi Poke

2 pounds fresh tuna steaks, cubed small
1 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Blend everything together and chill for at least a half an hour.

Best served on crispy wontons!

1 T minced ginger
1T minced jalapeno + 1 T minced garlic
1 tsp Siracha Sauce
Sub Ponzu Sauce for Soy & add lemon zest (no juice!)
add 1 tsp mustard (can be flavored if you wish!)

Any of these can be combined or you can use your imagination.


October 5, 2009

Good friends, good food & good fun

Oooohhhhhhh Facebook. You are my friend and daily companion. You update me on my best friends trials & tribulations (even though I saw her last night), tell me what my hippie and porn star name is, offer up such life sucking games as farmville & mafia wars, enable me to network online with my wedding and event friends and best of all....reconnect me with old friends and acquaintances such as my culinary/college friends that are scattered all over the US of A.

This last weekend was one of many future "reunions" between myself and my awesome friends/classmates from the Santa Barbara City College Hotel Restaurant & Culinary program. As mentioned in previous posts, it was an interesting college experience likened to getting a 4 year degree in 2 years...super intense, super strict (it was then at least) and a program that will either give you enemies or bond you for life. I am fortunate to get to see a few of the ones I bonded with on a regular basis and others....well, I get my fixes on Facebook and hope for the next time I am in Colorado, North Carolina, Washington that they will be available to do what I got to do this weekend because I miss you all.

One friend who was "lost" to us for 7 or so (Nic!) years found us on Facebook and then she found a weekend off (and she is a chef even!) to come back down to Santa Barbara for a girls weekend. Saturday morning we took off with Mo and headed up to Los Olivos to do a little wine tasting and visit yet another lovely lady happens to live near Brander Winery and suggested a picnic there. A little sippy sippy at Andrew Murray in the adorable town of Los Olivos and then we were off to Christine's house to walk across the street for a picnic and a little more vino at Brander. The picnic was perfect, under the trees, surrounded by grapevines, watching the forklift dump crates of grapes out for the fall harvest. Feasting on cheese, prosciutto, melon, olives & bread while enjoying a lovely dry Rose from Brander and the Tout le Jours Syrah from Andrew Murray. I think we were there for 3 hours and I could have stayed longer just catching up and hanging out.

Down the road just a bit to Roblar Olive Oil for a little olive oil tasting (and buying of course! Mmmmm garlic olive oil) and then back to the Larsons house for a some group pics & a quick zen moment on the tree swing.

First Miss Emily showed us how it was done.....

Then Nicole took her turn....
And my turn to join in the fun!

Too fun not to share!

Sunday was a full and awesome day of friends and food....we started out at the Tyminskis house for a delicious brunch. Mo's egg casserole, fresh fruit, potatoes and mimosas-then Brock got all creative and made us bacon filled croissants. This boy knows the way to my heart, oh yeah!

Mmmmmm.....bacon stuffed croissants. Such a good way to start a morning!

Dinner at our house with the same crew of 6 fabulous peeps + Clover for the cocktail hour + the 3 most adorable munchkins ever....our meal was braised short ribs & polenta (goo-ooo-ood!) with delicious pear & bleu cheese salad with candied pecans. We started out with some tasty cheese & crackers and a grape and olive compote that I found in one of the many random books I read.

After the dishes were done, leftovers put away and Nicole & I were draped on the couch I thought about how lucky I am. To have friends who are not only fun and interesting to be around, love to eat and eat well, will jump in the kitchen and cook or do dishes, share the pleasure of taking care of each others kids while mommy and daddy get a break is not something that everyone can say they have. I am blessed.

My biggest gripe of the whole weekend???? Those of you in other states (and you know who you are!) weren't there with us celebrating and catching up. Glasses were raised and stories were told and I am more hopeful and optimistic now than ever that this will occur more frequently in the future and you will be there the next time.

Grape & Olive Compote

1 bunch of red or black grapes
1 jar of Kalamata olives, pitted, drained & chopped
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 T thyme

Combine all in a saucepan, stir and cook over medium heat for almost an hour....stirring the whole time. If the liquid runs low before the grapes break down and get squishy, add a little water.
Should be thick and a bit syrup-y. Serve with bread rounds & goats or feta cheese to spread on the bread, spoon the compote on top.

Braised Short Ribs & Soft Polenta

This feeds a gazillion people :) Nicole, forgive me if I effed up the proportions, I was browning the ribs!
25 Short Ribs, seasoned with salt & pepper
Brown in olive oil, set aside, reserve juices

2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, medium dice
3 celery stalks, medium dice
3 garlic cloves, fine dice
2 oz prosciutto or pancetta, fine dice
1/2 cup oven or sun dried tomatoes (should not be dried, if so-re-hydrate with water)
Saute all in olive oil in a large stock pot or turkey roaster

4 tomatoes, rough chopped

Add the tomatoes to the pan the ribs (minus some of the oil or fat that has probably accumulated) were sauteed in, scrape up the beefy goodness that sticks to the bottom of the pan :)

Add to the veggies and add 2 cups beef broth or stock & 1 bottle red wine.

Add ribs back in and add about 2 T salt

Cover tightly and cook in the oven or on stove top at 350 or medium until ribs are tender.

Strain off all liquid, separate fat and reduce broth to 1/2. Take all veggies from pan and puree roughly in a food processor (or not if you like it chunky). Add everything back to the ribs, cover & hold.
Make polenta according to the package directions or your taste. Th low fat version is made with water or chicken broth. In culinary school they teach you fat = flavors. So milk, butter, water & cheese are what I saw Nicole dump in to ours and d**n it was good. And THEN she had the freaking balls to tell me to add a pat of butter to the top.....just for the hell of it. So what if I have to be in a bathing suit in 2 days, I had to listen, right?

Serve polenta, ribs, top with Parmesan and enjoy.....if you have leftovers, I think they are even better the next day too. At least they were today. :)

If you are short on time at night, you can also pop the ribs in the crock pot in the morning and do a 6 hour cook too. They are even more tender and when you get home, all you have to do is make the polenta and salad.
Cheers and thank you to my friends that made this a perfect weekend! When are we doing it again?????