Monday, January 21, 2008

Food for Giants

(My apologies - this post is a week late in actually being posted. It seems I've already broken every resolution I made for New Years - I haven't been updating the blog and I've eaten dessert every night this week. Oh well...Enjoy the week old post!)

Finally a weekend off (mostly, anyway.) Sunday we had a few good buddies over for dinner to watch the Giants versus the Pac. And since they all happened to be boys, I made a serious Meat and Potatoes feast including:

Sweet and Savory Mini Sausages with Chives

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pistachios and Goat Cheese
Soy Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Mac and Cheese

Grand Marnier Cheesecake with Drunken Strawberries and Orange Segments

I know that all of this sounds like hell on earth to make on your day off, but sometimes I need to cook like I need to breathe, and this was one of those times. I think I worked through at least a good third of my work stress, some aggression towards our neighbors, and a phobia or two while I got the meal ready.

There was only one hitch. In typical daredevil cooking style (it's my own adrenaline-rush version of sky-diving), I waited until the last possible second to make the cheesecake. For cheesecake novices, the beauty (and the devil) about making them is that you HAVE to bake them ahead of time, allowing enough time for it to cool completely down and then chill for a minimum of 4 hours (some recipes longer) in the fridge.

Kris and I headed home from brunch and I set about whipping up the graham cracker crust at a ballsy 1 pm. But when I flipped my oven on, nothing happened. There was a sickening absence of the 'tap tap tap' sound it normally makes when I turn it on. Sure enough it was dead, and I had 3 people due for dinner in a matter of hours. Well, this is NY living. Just when things are humming along - you find yourself being picked up by the shoulders and punted back to the starting line...

Amazingly, our landlord actually came over, even bringing a legitamite, coherent, able-minded person with him to look at it (believe me, this is rare.) Meanwhile I worked around them, continuing to measure and whisk, praying out loud as I did that it would be fixed. It wasn't, but the guy showed us how to light the pilot manually until they could get a new part for it. Good enough.

Finally, at 3:00, the cheesecake went into the oven. At 4:00, when it was supposed to be removed, I checked on it only to find it was still completely liquid. I almost started crying. I called my sister, the cheesecake queen, and asked her what to do. She said to keep it in for another 30 minutes, then turn the oven off and let it cool completely inside. I didn't have that kind of time, so I went for broke (adrenaline pumping) and kicked up the heat keeping it in for another 20 minutes. I then turned it off to cool in the oven for 25 before setting it on the counter for 45. It was still a little warm when I stuck it in the fridge at 5:30. I prayed some more.

The rest of the meal was thankfully, uneventful to prepare. I've posted all of the recipes with the exception of the mac and cheese. It's my own recipe and I worked for years on it. And even though the only people reading this are probably my parents, I'm just not ready to go live with this one. But for the rest, here you go:

Sweet and Savory Mini Sausages with Chives

I have to admit, this is one I go on by smell before I even bother to taste it. Like most recipes, you might need a smidge of fooling around with it before it's just right (there are several variables here, such as brands of mustard or weenies available to you that can change the constistency and the ratio of sweet to savory.) But unlike most recipes, even if it isn't perfect, no one notices - they'll disappear anyway.

1 lb mini weenies (aka lil smokies in the south)
10 oz rasberry jelly (without seeds) or red currant
4 tblspns spicy whole grain mustard (such as Gulden's), or to taste
1 tspn dried ground English mustard (Coleman's)
tablespoon honey (can add more if needed)
Handful chopped green onions, for garnish

Whisk together jelly, mustard, dry mustard, and honey in saucepan and bring to boil whisking frequently. Reduce heat and keep at a low simmer, stirring every so often, for at least twenty minutes and up to an hour.

Transfer to a heated serving dish, then sprinkle with chopped fresh green onions. Serve with toothpicks.

Grand Marnier Cheesecake, adapted from Austin Entertains

This is a cheesecake for adults. Not too sweet, not too dense. The vanilla beans keeps the orange in check and likewise, the orange cuts the creaminess keeping it lighter than other cheesecakes (in flavor anyway.)

(sidenote: When I was about ten years old, I got inspired to make a loaf of banana bread. In fact I was so excited, I must have spent 20 minutes ferociusly mixing the batter, completely oblivious to the fact that over mixing is a baking NO NO. When the loaf came out of the oven hard as a brick, I threw it out in the backyard where even the squirrels were afraid to touch it. I didn't bake again for 5 years. The point is, for most things in baking - mix the batter until just combined, with the exception of cheesecake. Here is your chance to build those forearms - you want the batter to be meltingly smooth when it goes into the pan - so for that matter go the extra measure and sift your dry ingredients too.)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs, blended in food processor or bashed in a ziploc
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

hot water, from the kettle

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9 inch springform pan and wrap the bottom in aluminum foil (I double it up) to prevent leakage.

For the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and ginger in a mixing bowl with a fork until well blended (or if you've already got the food processor out, add all and pulse until well combined.) Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake for 5 minutes and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl at a medium speed until creamy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the cream, ricotta cheese, sour cream, vanilla seeds from vanilla bean, Grand Marnier, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Continue beating until well mixed and pour into prepared pan. Set the pan in a larger jelly roll pan, then add the hot water to the jelly roll pan (about a half inch or so) up the sides of the springform.

Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. (Cheesecakes are testy things - you want the outsides to be firm but the center still slightly liquidy. If the whole thing is still liquid, then keep it in longer. The cake will set up upon cooling and chilling in the fridge.) If you're in doubt, turn the oven off and allow to cool down competely in the oven before transfering to the fridge. Don't forget to remove from water bath.) REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 4 HOURS BEFORE SERVING (I.E. FOR THE NON ADRENALINE-SEEKING, PREPARE THE NIGHT BEFORE.)

Drunken Strawberries and Orange Segments

1 quart strawberries, washed, beheaded, and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3-4 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 large orange or two small, peeled and segmented

Place strawberry slices in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar over the top, the drizzle liquor. Gently stir to combine and to get the sugar dissolving. Cover and allow to macerate in the fridge, doing so at least one hour before serving. The longer you allow it to sit, the sweeter and less bite the Grand Marnier will have. Do with this advice as you see fit.

For each serving, spoon some of the strawberries and syrup over a slice of cheesecake. Criss cross two sections of orange segments and serve.

Soy Ginger Pork Tenderloin, from Paula Deen

This is my stand by main dish for company when I'm on a budget. I've fed it to so-called 'picky eaters' and gastronerds. All seem to love it. It's a pretty forgiving recipe, but be sure not to overcook as pork can dry out quickly.

1 (1 1/2 to 2 pound) pork tenderloin

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 green onions (green parts only, chopped
flat leaf Parsley, chopped, for garnish

Combine marinade ingredients in mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to blend. Pour over pork tenderloin in a large Ziplock. Marinate at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a glass baking dish with all of the marinade or until meat is 145 degrees when measured with an instant read thermometer (top of meat will be burnished brown but should not look dried out or 'tired.') Allow meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve meat slices in a fan shape, drizzled with marinade, and sprinkled with flat leaf parsley.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Pistachio Nuts and Goat Cheese

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced onion (do not be tempted to add more)
1/2 teaspoon strawberry or raspberry jam

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

10 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 quart strawberries, cleaned hulled and sliced
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup pistachios (or slivered and toasted almonds)

At least two hours before serving, combine sugar through jam in a blender, blending thoroughly. Stir in sesame and poppy seeds and transfer dressing to refrigerator to mellow. (Can be made one day ahead)

Remove dressing twenty minutes before serving. Meanwhile, add spinach to your salad bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Shake dressing, then add slowly (you may not need all of it so taste first.) Toss together thoroughly, then serve.

Now that we know the Giants won and will be advancing to the Superbowl, I suggest fixing any of these make-ahead recipes for your SuperBowl parties. (And apologies to our midwestern friend who was rooting for the Pac. Although, at the rate he was texting towards the end of the evening, I think he already had already gotten over the loss and moved onto more important things. After all I'm fairly certain it wasn't church he was headed to at 11 at night after leaving our place.)

Until next time, Bon Appetit!

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