Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Deluxe Pigs in a Blanket


Deluxe Pigs in a Blanket
Now that Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year holiday are past it’s time to prepare for the biggest party of them all - Super Bowl Sunday.

My all-time favorite things to cook are football party snacks – wings, sliders, nachos, pizza – the list goes on. To me, Super Bowl snacks are like a simple American version of Spanish tapas, which are a variety of small appetizer-like bites served one after another to form a meal. It’s an excellent way to eat hardily with friends and family in a social setting — much like treats on Super Bowl Sunday.

For this recipe, I take the classic “pigs in a blanket” and make it a Super Bowl worthy treat. For extra pizzazz, I make it with smoked sausage and add marinara, green pepper and onion. Together, these flavors combine for an easy score.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Deluxe Pigs in a Blanket

I decided to make this recipe because of a mistake in documenting the dish I created the day before. I had forgotten to take a picture of smoked sausage after I had sautéd it, which creates little caramelized spots on each slice. I do that because those spots are little flavor bombs that give a dish with smoked sausage a little extra flavor pop.

I bought the sausage to photograph and thought it would be a good ingredient to use in my first Super Bowl snack of 2014. Each year I have really enjoyed creating new treats for the big game. With the sausage on hand I decided a souped up pigs in blanket was in order.

Some food bloggers and gourmet cooks may turn up their nose at such a primitive treat but for me it’s a simple and tasty snack that anyone could recreate as part of their own Super Bowl spread. These deluxe blankets are tasty, simple and great to wash down with beer!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Deluxe Pigs in a Blanket

Makes 12; 30 minutes
1 sheet Cresent dough, unperferated
1/4 C Marinara sauce
12 slices Smoked sausage (1/2 lb)
12 slices each
Green pepper and onion, sliced 1-inch long

Assemble

Preheat of to 375°
Cut cresent dough sheet into 12 equal squares. On each square place a dab of marinara, slice of sausage and 1 slice of green pepper and onion. Fold opposite corners of dough together forming a role around ingredients. Place on a baking sheet.

Bake
Put blankets in oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes, then serve.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Chocolate Stout Pot Roast


Printable version
When I set out to make this roast I wanted to find a dark and thick beer to be part of the braising liquid I was going to cook it in. I was looking for Guinness when I stumbled across a double chocolate stout made by Young's. I snatched up a can and decided instantly to include a cocoa and brown sugar rub to sear on the roast to compliment the beer.

After the initial sear I braised the roast for a couple hours then added the carrots and potatoes. Cooked the whole thing another hour and then served it up. The stout beer smelled strong for the first part of the braise but as time went on the aroma faded and in the end the braising liquid was a delicious sauce to serve over the meat.

I made this for a Christmas party and I got good reviews, the one criticism was that it was a little sweet, which was a relief - I worried that the stout would be to strong but the long cook helped it blend right in to the other flavors present in the liquid.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Chocolate Stout Pot Roast

I’ll never forget the first time I made a pot roast. I had it on the stove cooking away, when I decided to give Mom and Dad a call. I was living in New York City and I always made it a point to call every Sunday if I could. The roast was in simmer stage and I knew I would have time to do a little yacking before I would be able to eat. I talked to Mom first and she was exited about my pot roast, giving me suggestions and quizzing me on how I made it.

She turned the phone over to Dad and he was less enthusiastic. I asked him “What’s wrong with pot roast, we ate it a lot growing up?” He replied “Your Mom has made so many Gad damn pot roast since we been married that I could care less if I ever ate it again.” He did have a point. I decided to make it as a way of reliving dinner when I was young, I guess the reason why I remember pot roast is because Mom made it often - maybe a little to often, according to Dad.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Chocolate Stout Pot Roast

Serves 4; 4 hours
1/4 C Brown sugar
2 Tbs Cocoa powder
2 Tbs Salt
1 Tbs Pepper
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
3 lbs Chuckeye roast, boneless
1 C Red onion, diced
1/2 C Carrot, diced
1/2 C Celery, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 can Chocolate stout beer (12 to 14 oz)
1 can Beef broth (14 oz)
3 Carrots, large chunks
3 Potatoes, large chunks

Make rub
In a bowl mix together sugar, cocoa, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg until well combined. Liberally apply rub to all sides of roast and let marinate 30 minutes.

Sear, sauté mirepoix
In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat sear roast on all sides in a little olive oil, 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until a crust forms. Remove roast to a plate. Add onion, celery and carrot to pot and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more or until fragrant.

Deglaze, simmer, finish

Add beer and broth to pan, scraping up brown bits from bottom. Return beef to pot, bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, adjust seasonings if necessary. Cook another hour or until beef is fork tender. Remove from heat and serve.

Italian Grinder Fail


Originally I had planned to make a giant toasted sub, cut it into about 15 slices and present it as a Super Bowl Italian Grinder. I layered the meat and cheese, toasted it, threw on the fresh LTO and smothered it in Kraft's Green Goddess sauce. Once I closed it shut and sliced it I knew there was a problem – bread overload!

It was tasty, but I did eat it without the top portion of the bread.

Toast the bread, meat and cheeses
The loaf I had chosen was a large fresh baked french bread, the only problem was that I need 2 to 3 times the amount of meat on it to balance the sandwich. I should have went with a lighter, fluffier bread, or just made several individual sandwiches with sub buns. There was nothing wrong with it flavor wise, which is why I'm sharing it here.

Usually I would make a custom sauce for something like this but I wanted to give the Goddess Sauce a test, and I must say it passed with flying colors. It reminds me of a creamy Italian or Caesar dressing with a little extra pepper or spice.  It was a great compliment to the meats I had chosen and I'm going to try and keep this on hand to use as a special sandwich sauce when I'm in a pinch for something nice. It's not that expensive and an easy thing to keep in the pantry for the occasional saucy surprise.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Add the fresh LTO!

1/2 lb Smoked ham
1/4 lb Hard salami
1/4 lb Sandwich slice pepperoni
1/2 lb Mozzarella cheese
Lettuce, Tomato, Onion
Green Goddess Sauce
1 loaf Bread that can be halved length-wise, or 6 sub buns

Layer meats
Preheat oven to 400°
Cut bread in half length-wise. On bottom piece layer ham, salami, pepperoni and cheese. Place in oven with top half of bread along side and cook until cheese is melted and bread is toasted, 5 to 6 miniutes. Remove from oven.

Finish
Add lettuce, tomato, onion and Green Goddess sauce, and top with bun. Then serve, if using a larger loaf for bread, slice before serving.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beef Stew


Printable version
I have made beef stew several times in the past and this recipe is the first time I have used a cornstarch slurry to thicken it rather than a flour based mixture. The biggest difference is the color. Same great flavor, but the cornstarch turns the liquid a nice rich brown color rather than the blondish brown achieved with flour. I discovered the magic of cornstarch with a turkey stew that I made over Thanksgiving weekend and couldn't wait to put the technique to use with a stew like this.

Making the liquid a beautiful color is important to me because it should look as good as it tastes. The key to any great stew is the gravy that binds it all together. The beefy flavor enhanced by vegetables and a long simmer is downright drinkable when made right. It’s so exciting to have this new trick up my sleeve for thickening soups – after 20 years of cooking, I’m still a student and will be forever.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Beef Stew

Whenever I make stew I think about my Dad. When I was 11 or 12 he made breakfast for us one Saturday that consisted of a huge plate of fried potatoes smothered in a giant scoop of beef stew. It was a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast that I will never forget. I felt like a lumberjack as I gobbled it down, and thought it might be time for my first shave once I was finished. It was a man meal, fit to be served in a man cave before walking out the door to kill something.

I don’t know why I perceived it that way, but to this day I can’t see a couple of women getting together for breakfast and deciding to smother fried potatoes with a huge heap of beef stew. Not that it can’t or doesn’t happen, it just seems as though a breakfast of potatoes smothered in meat and gravy would have been the choice of a man going out to plow under a corn field or chop a cord of wood. I guess it’s just one of those things that struck me as a kid and I have yet to see something else that would prove the insight wrong.

Eat well, cook often ...

BEHIND THIS BITE
Beef Stew

Serves 6; 2 1/2 hours
2 lbs Stew beef
4 C Beef broth
1 C Onion, diced
1/2 C Celery, diced
1/2 C Carrot, diced
1/2 C Green pepper, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
2 Russet potatoes, cubed
2 C Water
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tbs Cornstarch
2 Tbs Water

Cook beef
In a soup pot over medium high heat, sear beef in batches on all sides until just cook through, salt and pepper to taste. Return beef to pan and add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Sauté vegetables
In a fry pan over medium heat sauté onion, celery, carrot and green pepper until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, cook 1 minute more or until fragrant.

Make stew, thicken

Add sautéd vegetables, water, potatoes and Italian seasonings to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. In a separate bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water to make a slurry. Once potatoes are tender stir slurry into pot and simmer 10 minutes more or until mixture thickens. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup


Printable version
In my family it was a tradition to eat cabbage on New Year’s Day. I remember it being overcooked and mushy. They would sauté two shredded heads of cabbage in oil in a skillet. I think the problem was that my elders cooked it to long because I dreaded having to eat the smelly stuff.

I always tried to avoid it until the last minute which is when the New Year’s Cabbage Police, consisting of my Mom and Aunt, would ask “Did you eat your cabbage? It will bring you prosperity all year long.” It was a tradition to eat on New Year’s Day and they enforced it.

Today, I’m a big fan of cooked cabbage and plan to have it on January 1st, just as I do every year. I like to cook it in soups, like this recipe, or use it in dishes that are more tasty than just plain fried. I hope it has helped me prosper. Regardless though, it’s a tradition I’m passing on to the next generation in our family, just as my Mom and Aunt made sure to pass on to us. Traditions like these connect the present to our past and future.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup

Since I published the column above, it seems as though my Mom decided to change the rules on how cooked cabbage can be prepared for New Years Day. She said that it must be fried and all of it must be eaten. I have no idea where she came up with these rules, but I think they must have been passed on to her from a distant relative that liked to torture others with bad food. Writing about our family tradition in the local paper must have rekindled her fondness for fried cabbage because it has been a while since it's been served that way at a New Years gathering.

I volunteered to make the cabbage for our family's New Year celebration, but she and my cousin insisted that the cabbage be fried. I compromised and made a nice pot of cabbage soup and when I got to the gathering, I fried a head of shredded cabbage that my cousin had set up to appease the new found traditionalists.

Is there some sort of irony to eating cabbage prepared in the most undesirable way that makes you prosper? I say no, the tradition is to eat cabbage, making it as tasty as possible should be the objective, gulping it down to avoid gagging on it seems preposterous.

Now I must convince my family to think differently about this, or I’m going to be faced with eating a bowl of smelly cabbage each New Year’s Day for the rest of my life. Either that, or come up with a way to fry cabbage and make it delicious, which might be the ticket. Better get to work because I've got less than a year to do it.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup

Serves 4 to 6; 45 minutes
1 C Onion diced
1/2 C Celery diced
1/2 C Carrot diced
1/2 tsp Allspice
2 tsp Garlic minced
1/2 lb Corned beef, sliced thin, diced
3 C Cabbage, shredded
4 C Beef broth

Make base
In a soup pot over medium heat sauté onion, carrot, celery and allspice in a little olive oil until vegetables are soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, cook 1 minute more or until fragrant.

Simmer, serve
Stir in cabbage, corn beef and broth. Bring to a simmer and let cook 30 minutes or until cabbage is cooked through and wilted. Remove from heat and serve.