Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best Mashed Potatoes I Ever Ate

So after Thanksgiving I bought a turkey. That's not something you hear all the time but I did. Most people are pretty sick of turkey after Thanksgiving and don't want to see one for a long long time. But since we don't host Thanksgiving at our house we never have turkey leftovers. My intent was to roast it, can some of the meat and make another batch of stock. However, a family emergency took me away from home for several days and we knew it wasn't going to happen. Turkey for dinner became the plan and I'll tell you what- the last of the turkey was probably the BEST meal I have had in a looong time. I did bring home the family's Thanksgiving bird remains and made stock that weekend so I had a few pints on the shelf already, and one of those became part of this delicious quick dinner also.

The Chef decided it was his turn to cook and I let him! He reheated the last of the turkey meat in some of that stock and made a delicious turkey gravy. Simple, homey and easy. What he served it over knocked my socks off and made me second-guess our family's traditional holiday side dish of Fat Ass Potatoes. Folks, mashed potatoes are comfort food no matter how you make them, but when you add some imagination to the pot like The Chef did they become an entirely different realm of food. These seriously belong on a restaurant menu- in some amazing steakhouse. What did he make?

Rustic Roasted Garlic and Sun Dried Tomato Mashed Potatoes

6 potatoes
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup half & half (plus more if needed)
1/4 cup sour cream
white pepper

Begin by scrubbing the potatoes very thoroughly. You want to leave the skin on for this dish- hence the "rustic" character. You can cook the potatoes whole (The Chef always does for some reason) or cut them up. 

Place in a saucepan and fill with cool water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.

Chop the sun dried tomatoes. Use the oil-packed tomatoes if you can, otherwise you want to soak the dry tomatoes in hot water until pliable and drain, discarding the water. 

In a skillet, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter. Mince the garlic cloves very finely and add to skillet. Cook over low heat until pan roasted and golden. Your garlic should be very soft golden and not brown.

When the potatoes have cooked, drain the water. Mash the potatoes with an electric hand mixer or potato masher, adding all the ingredients. You might need to add a little more half and half until you reach the consistency you like. Season with pepper and salt and serve immediately.

The Chef served these absolutely incredible potatoes with lots of turkey and gravy, and holy smokes it was delicious. These potatoes mean business folks- they truly would be heaven on a plate with a medium rare steak sizzling alongside them.

Oh ya........ there were NO leftovers this time. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trending Bites on Cooking Channel

Food trends seem to be on my mind a lot lately. Perhaps it has to do with the amount of food television I seem to be watching now that summer is over and I have more time inside. It makes me feel the need to seek out unusual ingredients- sea beans being the one thing I am currently obsessed with finding- and try different styles of cooking. New spices and flavors. Unusual produce. Exotic meats. You get the idea.

Today while stuck at home recuperating I happened to catch a special show on The Cooking Channel called Trending Bites. Hosted by Mo Rocca, the show featured several current and growing trends in the food scene- nationwide. While a lot of them seemed like the logical next step from their predecessor trend (the Crookie having been inspired by the Cronut, and so forth) some of them are completely new and inspired. 

Food boats- Food trucks have been on the scene for quite a few years now. There are a still a few hot food truck spots, and some cities that haven't embraced them (like Chicago) but chefs have begun to take their mobile kitchens in a fun new direction. Summertime brings crowds of visitors to all the vacation destinations, especially if there is a beach involved. A few enterprising chefs have started to leave the wheels on dry land and are launching a whole new mobile restaurant- the food boat. Just the Cook is a food boat owned by Ernie Hall in Panama City, Florida. The whole setup is little more than a small building on a pontoon platform. No boat motor, it gets towed out into the water, sets anchor and opens for business.  Famous for their Dandy Donut Burger, a handcrafted burger seasoned with pulverized garlic and rosemary, grilled and topped with Swiss and Blue cheeses, Canadian bacon and a grilled red bell pepper, with a split and toasted glazed donut serving as the bun, Just the Cook uses marine radio to take orders from nearby boaters and boxes everything up for pickup. Boaters cruise over and dock up to collect their meals. The end of the day isn't the end of business either. Just the Cook has a dockside boat slip for serving land lubbers as well. Look for other food boats in other states too.

Hybrid desserts-  You would have to be on another planet to not have heard about the Cronut craze a year or so ago. Combining two different food ideas into one unique dish is alive and well all over. In Chicago Waffles Cafe is serving up the "WoNut." Rich batter starts on a waffle iron to set the shape, then finishes cooking in hot oil like a donut, giving the WoNut a crispy exterior, super soft and fluffy interior covered in a sweet glaze. Expect all the usual cake flavors like Red Velvet, with lots of sprinkles and other embellishments. A Toronto, Canada French bakery is changing up the Cronut with the "Crookie"- part croissant, part Oreo cookie, and all delicious. Fans are snapping them up like crazy. Los Angeleans can get a late night dose of sweetness at AfterHours, a bakery and ice cream shop serving up the "MilkyBun"- a light and fluffy fried donut and ice cream sandwich. Gourmet ice cream flavors make it extra special.

Edible serving ware- This ideas is a little lost on me. Cambridge MA Harvard professor David Edwards has invented the WikiPearl as a way to serve food in edible shells. Oddly enough, the edible packaging comes packaged in PACKAGES. Seems to me that alone erases the novelty and uniqueness of this product. Maybe when edible cups and spoons becomes more mainstream......

Photo courtesy of WikiPedia
Shipping container restaurants- Montreal restauranteur Daniel Noiseau transforms old shipping containers into MuvBoxes- moveable kitchens. Watching these restaurant boxes open and set up for business everyday was fascinating. The sides fold down and form the dining areas with pop up and add on seating. Many are totally off-grid. They have the look of a food truck in many ways but with a sense of permanency at the same time. What really appealed to me is the open kitchen design, lots of windows and a very contemporary, urban look. Sleek and modern. I could definitely see myself owning and operating one of these.

3D Printed food- Using edible "inks" to create intricate food designs engineers have designed giant printers to create edible items. Celebrity Chef Duff Goldman is one baker who has embraced this new technology. Common in European countries, in the US the trend seems to focus on sugar use and baking/candy making. Kyle Von Hasseln and Elizabeth Von Hasseln owners of Sugar Labs create amazing cake toppers using the ChefJet Pro for other bakers, including Chef Duff at his Charm City Cakes West shop. We got to see a printer working on a cake topper Sugar Labs was creating for Chef Duff- seeing the finished piece emerge from the machine was amazing. 

Craft beer trends- What is icy cold and swirls like DQ ice cream? Frozen beer, of course. This Japanese craze hit MLB stadiums in the US and took off.  Frozen beer foams tops a chilled beer- looks like a beer float. Imbibers swear it keeps the beer cold longer and since it's frozen beer, it doesn't water down the drink. In Atlanta, Ari Fliescher's company Frozen Pints creates craft beer ice creams. Claimed to be the result of an accidental spill Frozen Pints has created 7 flavors to date. Since they use real beer in every ice cream there is 1-3% alcohol in finished ice cream. 

Food ATMs- In Chicago you can grab a healthy lunch on the run from a vending machine- no kidding- salad vending machines. Farmers Fridge packs fresh and healthy ingredients into jars with extra attention paid to organic and local ingredients. Antioxidant Salad, Detox Salad, The Cheater and Crunchy Thai salad are just a few offerings. West Hollywood boasts Burrito Box machines, fresh-steamed to order.  Beverly Hills Caviar is a caviar vending machine $5-$500. And of course, we cannot forget the one that started it all- the Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery ATM. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Kicked Up Home Cooking- Flat iron steak gets boozy

Sorry, more braising.  Actually, I am not really sorry. Since my recent reintroduction to braising I just cannot stop. Better not stand around my kitchen too long- you're going to end up in a pot with garlic, onions, mushrooms and a liquor of some sort!

I had quite a giggle over a recent post on Wini Moranville's blog Chez Bonne Femme. She prepared this recipe from Molly Stevens' cookbook All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking using flat iron steaks but mentioned the old standards of my childhood- top round steak and cubed steak. I remember my mother laboring over the cutting board, pounding the life out of round steak and then cooking it for hours. Sometimes it turned out tender, but most of the time it was just dry and chewy. I can't remember the last time I have seen one of those big platter-sized round steaks in the meat department. I don't really miss them. Flat iron steaks are the new kid in town and I'm going to give this recipe a try myself. The pictures on Wini's blog are mouth watering and the ingredients have everything I love- butter, onion, herbs, mushrooms and a splash of sherry. Boozy braising is right up my alley! Here is the recipe from Chez Bonne Femme-

Smothered Flat-iron Steaks with Mushrooms and Onions

Serves 4

4 3/4 to 1 inch thick boneless flat-iron steaks (you might have to cut 2 large steaks into 4 portions)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large yellow onion (about 3/4 lb), sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley

Using a meat mallet (or the bottom of a heavy saucepan), pound the steaks one at a time between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap until about 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides of each steak with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish and dredge the steaks with flour, shaking off the excess.

Heat the olive oil in a braiser over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the meat, turning as needed, until nicely browned on both sides, but not cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Remove the steaks from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the braiser, and when it is melted, add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring as needed, until the liquid they release has mostly evaporated and they've started to brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.

Return the braiser to the heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter; when the butter has melted, add the onions, thyme, and paprika; lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onions are tender but not brown, about 8 minutes. Add the sherry; bring to a boil while stirring to loosen the browned bits clinging the the bottom of the pan.

Reduce the heat to simmering; return the mushrooms and their juices to the pan and stir to combine. Tuck the steaks and any juices into the mushroom-onion mixture, covering the steaks with some of the mushrooms and onions. Cover the pan and allow to simmer. After a few minutes, make sure that the liquid is at a gentle simmer and adjust the heat as needed. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until the steaks are fork tender.

Transfer the steaks to a serving platter, but leave the mushrooms and onions in the pan. Increase the heat to a boil and allow the liquid to reduce to a sauce-like consistency. Season to taste, then spoon the sauce over the steaks. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Doesn't this sound absolutely delicious? So I am going to make it. Of course, that means a Foodie Field Trip to the city to get flat iron steaks and cremini mushrooms. I have cooked with so many different cuts of meat over the years but honestly don't think flat iron steaks have ever been in my kitchen. First time for everything, right? So let's go shopping.......

Back in the kitchen- let's do this! I'm going to start out by prepping my vegetables and have them ready to go. No time for slicing and dicing later when a hot pan is waiting on you, so slicing the onion......

pounding the steaks, seasoning, dredging and all that good stuff.......

and now we are ready to heat our pan. I will be using a Dutch oven because I don't have a braiser pan yet but it will work great in this recipe. The first step is heating the oil and browning the steaks. A nice sear is all you need, you don't want to cook them completely at this stage. Remove to a plate and set aside. I use the upside down lid of my Dutch oven- saves a dish to wash later.

Onions come next and smell oh so good when they're cooking. Look at all that delicious fond building up on the bottom of the pot.

Mushrooms- out here in the country the only thing available was plain old white button mushrooms, but they work just fine. Slice them thickly for a heartier bite. Add the sherry to the pot and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom- those are the tastiest bits in the world and make the best sauce.

Make a cozy little spot in the onions to nestle the steaks for braising. I added 2 cups of beef stock to the pot so we would have lots of leftover pan juices. Cover and let the magic happen.

In just about an hour, you have a pot full of amazing.

I roasted some parsnips and carrots since I had the oven on (warming the house on this cold day) and even managed to slip a dessert in there to bake. The Chef was suitably impressed with this French-style dinner. We had plenty of the delicious beefy juices left over, I chopped up the remaining roasted veggies and tomorrow we'll be recycling that delicious pot into some lovely vegetable soup.

Remember, to get your own copy of Wini's wonderful cookbooks, click HERE

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cooking with friends- Feiny's Rubs

Along my blogging journey I have become friends with all kinds of interesting people. Home cooks, cookbook authors, master food preservers, cooks and chefs and barbeque pitmasters. Every day I am learning something new, or hearing about new recipes and restaurants. I'm totally in my element surrounded by all these interesting folks. I love everything food- from growing to cooking to preservation. I love talking about growing vegetables, and the best knives for chopping, the best cut of beef and which brand of almond milk tastes best. It's a never ending cycle of learning and exploring.

Just about three years ago I met and became friends with an up and coming young chef in Denver. Adam Feinberg has an infectious enthusiasm and such a passion for cooking, you can't help but want to get to know him. We have great conversations- everything from craft brews to chefs' knives to what's trending in the restaurant business. What I found so unique about getting to know Adam was not just the fact that he is a chef, but he also was throwing 100% into launching his own personal line of seasoning rubs. Ambition tells me a lot about a person and Adam certainly has no shortage of ambition. 

An experienced cook myself, I had come up with my own personal meat rub that everyone raved over, so I was a little hesitant to try something I didn't think I'd use that often, but I felt like I should give my friend's new product a try. I was immensely impressed. Creative and unique combinations of flavors, everything natural with no MSG or preservatives, and gluten-free for those who need to avoid gluten, are inspiring and well crafted. I have tried four of Adam's line of rubs and am anxiously awaiting some of the future rubs, such as an Asian-inspired rub. 

Adam's crab cakes are legendary
When Adam isn't crafting his rubs or cooking at the restaurant, he travels to Las Vegas every year to attend the World Food Championships, where he cooks up a storm on the Vegas Strip with lots of incredible home cooks, pit masters and chefs. He has also participated in competition barbeque and would like to talk with other competition teams and chefs about future collaboration. You can bet that everywhere Adam is, he is sharing Feiny's Rubs with people.

Let's talk about the rubs for a few minutes. Adam currently offers five different handcrafted rubs: Veggie Rub, Everything Rub, Citrus BBQ Rub, Chesapeake Bay Rub, and Original BBQ Rub. Amazingly, I have yet to try the Original BBQ- I always forget that one! Could be because the Citrus BBQ is just that good.........

Seriously though, let's go through my four favorites and talk about them.

Veggie Rub- If you're like me, you love your veggies. Roasted, grilled, steamed, stir fried- you name it, if it grew on a plant I love it. When I was growing up my mother's idea of seasoning a vegetable was plopping in a pat of butter in a can of something she got at the store. Oh how times have changed. For one thing, there is a better than average chance that I grew this vegetable myself, and if not, if came from a farm or farmers market. I want to highlight the natural flavor and freshness of my veggies. Feiny's Veggie Rub is exactly what I am looking for. Herbs, spices, citrus and honey make up this all-natural preservative free rub. Sprinkle it on fresh asparagus and grill it. Toss potatoes or cut up root veggies like carrots and beets with a little Veggie Rub and roast them. Add to salad dressings and sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. You can even use it to boost the flavor of tuna and chicken salads! It's fantastic and really brings the flavors out in your fresh veggies. My favorite ways to use it? Tossed with chunks of root veggies and Brussels sprouts and roasted and blended into softened butter to make a delicious compound butter for sweet corn. 

Everything Rub- Everything. Literally, everything. You wouldn't believe what's in this playful rub- herbs such as parsley and thyme, tomato powder (you don't see that very often!), cinnamon and citrus. I personally find chicken to be a bit bland at times. Not with Feiny's Everything Rub. Rub some liberally over your chicken or pork- everything from whole chickens to boneless, skinless tenders to pork chops and roasts as a dry rub. Mix with olive oil and wine for a wet marinade. Everything Rub makes your hand-pattied burger jump out of the bun with flavor. Mix a tablespoon of Rub into mayo for a killer sandwich spread or fry sauce. Throwing some steaks on the grill? Don't even think about not rubbing those babies down with Everything Rub. Just don't. Sprinkle some on your baked potato too.

Citrus BBQ Rub- Make your seafood come alive! Mango, orange, lemon and lime highlight Citrus BBQ Rub, along with a hint of heat from chili, garlic and cumin, with some other all-natural herbs and spices. Use this liberally in marinades for fish, shrimp, scallops and more. Mix into clarified butter for dipping. Create a modern version of the Nawlins' Style BBQ Shrimp with this flavorful rub. It's not just for seafood though- chicken and pork come alive with the fruity flavors. Sprinkle into Asian stir fries or rice, and don't forget this tasty blend when cooking veggies. Grilled baby bok choy, for example, is the perfect fresh veggie for this sweet savory mix.

Chesapeake Bay Rub- It should be a law- never make a crab cake without Chesapeake Bay Rub. Really, just don't. This blend of herbs and spices is complex. Lots of flavors I never imagined would go together. Spices like mace, which to me translate to baking, and green herbs like thyme, basil and more- just phenomenal together. Poaching seafood? Don't forget the rub. Seriously, no fish or seafood should leave your kitchen without Chesapeake Bay Rub. Add it to Pinot Grigio before steaming mussels. Prepare your lobster roll- cook that tail with Feiny's and add it to the dressing. Tuna salad reaches a new dimension if you add Chesapeake Bay. My family loves pasta salad with baby shrimp- I'll never make it without Chesapeake Bay ever again! Besides all these seafood and fish dishes, I gotta tell you- I LOVE tossing wedges of potato in a little olive oil and Chesapeake Bay Rub and roasting until browned and crispy- mix up some sour cream with more Chesapeake Bay for dipping! Delicious!

You can't get Feiny's in stores yet, but you CAN order them online at www.feintastingfoods.com. Quick delivery gets your rubs to you so fast you'll be cooking up a storm before you know it. Adam offers two sizes and great sales and special offers, and has several fantastic new rubs in the works. I can't wait to check them out!

Now let's cook something using some Feinys. I just so happen to have a nice pork loin roast so I cut off four nice chops, rubbed them liberally with Feiny's Everything Rub and popped them in a hot skillet with 2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil.

Give each side 4 or 5 minutes to get a good sear and golden brown caramelized crust and flip only once. Cook to an internal temp of 145 degrees for perfect juicy pork. Delicious! The Everything Rub has so many flavors going on, savory, sweet, herbs- the best pork chops you will ever have. Trust me, you need this rub in your kitchen.

photo by Studio Feldman
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Kitchen 101- Gravy and Sauces

The Chef and I are putting our heads together to come up with what we think are some of the basic skills every cook should master. Not everyone needs to make flawless puff pastry or be able to sear foie gras like a master chef, but making some of the basics should be a priority for everyone who enjoys cooking and loves good food. Where to start? How about an everyday basic like making gravies and sauces? Grocery stores have made it too easy to cheat- with jarred gravy and mixes for every kind of sauce you can think of, many people just don't know how to make them from scratch anymore. We hope to change this. So let's start with a very basic form of thickening- roux.

What is a roux anyway? Quite simply- the easiest way to thicken a liquid. If you were forced to endure Home Economics as a junior high kid (like I was) you might have learned to make white sauce. Thin, medium and thick- each had a specific use and a different amount of butter and flour to thicken it. That, my friends, is roux. Melted butter or fat and flour, in equal parts, with milk or broth, makes your sauce or gravy.

Let's talk about white sauce, or Bechamel sauce, for a few minutes. I mentioned the three types of white sauce- thin, medium and thick. They are all made from the same basic technique- melt the fat, add the flour, cook out the raw flavor, add the milk. Bring to a boil and simmer. Thin white sauce is typically what you would want if you are adding cheese to the sauce. Medium white sauce is the Bechamel most of us are familiar with. Thick white sauce isn't as common as it once was. People don't make croquettes and dishes like that as much as in years past. 

Thin white sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Medium white sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Thick white sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Seems simple enough right? It is!! White sauce is so easy to dress up- a little bit of grainy mustard, some shredded cheese, chopped herbs, sauteed mushrooms or caramelized onions.

Now, what does cornstarch have to do with sauce? For people who prefer not to use wheat products cornstarch is the perfect option. Like roux, the cornstarch mixture used for thickening is called a slurry. For each one cup of liquid, you will need one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon cold water. Bring your sauce mixture to boil, then whisk in the slurry. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.

Yet another way to make an easy and delicious sauce is to make a reduction. A reduction can be made from almost any liquid- broth or stock, wine, juice. You can't get any easier than a reduction either- simply add your liquid to a heavy saucepan or skillet and boil gently to evaporate the liquid until you have a thick, glossy and luxe reduced liquid. You can add herbs or seasonings and strain them out before using. Red wine and port wine make incredible reductions and are a beautiful sauce for a perfectly cooked steak. Reduced fruit juices are awesome as syrups and flavorings, as well as meat glazes. Like sauces, reductions can be perked up with minced garlic or shallots, a shake or two of spice and some citrus zest.

With those basic sauce skills under your belt, you can dress up the simplest dishes. Have fun and experiment!