Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sandra Lee's Halloween Episode - a Doozie!!

Please tell me someone else watched Sandra Lee's Halloween Semi Homemade episode. Not only was there a record breaking number of costume changes but she even reprised Cher as a fortune-telling gypsy! I was nearly in tears. I even had to pause and rewind as she showed us cocktail stir sticks with feathers glued on them. Feathers? In a drink? Really?

For the record I have nothing against Sandra Lee and appreciate the fact that she pulled herself up by the bootstraps and made a fortune out of 'tablescapes' and recipes with canned pie filling but I normally don't watch her show or make her recipes.

Her Halloween episodes however are another story. They might very well be on my top ten list of things to look forward to in the calendar year. Anyone who saw her Halloween special with Tyler Florence knows what I'm talking about... She kept calling him honey and warning him not to burn himself as if he was ten years old versus an experienced chef and head of his own cooking empire... Oh Sandy.

Anyway the point to this ramble is that while I was falling out of my chair watching this year's episode she made a chicken marinade I actually thought sounded good. So I made it (with just a minor tweak here and there) and was blown away. Sandra Lee tricked me! She made a good recipe!

Sandra Lee's Poultry Marinade
*Marinade should hold up to 6 small chicken breast cutlets or 4 large.
* Slightly adapted from Sandra Lee
* You can read more on Sandy's Halloween Episode from this year at Food Network Humor.

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons applewood rub (recommended: McCormick) (I subbed 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 heaping cup roughly chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl then carefully pour into a large ziploc bag. Add your chicken turning it over in the marinade to be sure it's well coated, seal and refrigerate overnight. Remove from marinade being sure to scrape off any clinging garlic or onion but do not 'dry' the chicken - you want a good bit of the wet marinade to stay on for flavor while they cook.

Drizzle the chicken lightly with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and either grill over medium heat until cooked through or bake on a greased baking sheet at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes until cooked through.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Alternative to the Great Pumpkin - Persimmon Spice Bread

I am lucky enough to have a persimmon tree in my front yard. Persimmons are strange little fruit that take FOREVER to ripen. If you pluck a green one from the tree early in the summer and bite into it, it will suck all the saliva from your soul. Seriously. But if you wait for them to turn orange then more and more orange until the skin begins to take on the transparency and delicacy of a tomato then you are in for a treat. Like I said they are a strange little fruit, tomato-y in texture but with the sweet, mellow flavor of a fig crossed with a pear (at least in my opinion.)

They make lovely bread and muffins and even martinis as recently featured on the wonderful blog Lisa is Cooking. It was a little too early in the day (10 am) for me to make martinis with mine so I chose a quick bread recipe from All Recipes, added some orange zest and ground cloves, and ate a warm slice covered in butter.

Persimmon Spice Bread
* Adapted from All Recipes
* This bread does get a little dark around the edges. Don't fear - this is normal, yet be sure to not over bake.
* You could probably substitute pumpkin for the persimmons if they are not available to you.

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 cup persimmon pulp (skin and seeds removed)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup dried cranberries
zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Spray a 9 x 4 inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, salt, nuts, and cranberries.

In a large bowl, blend eggs, sugar, and oil. Mix baking soda into pulp, and add to sugar mixture. Fold in flour mixture. Finally stir in orange zest being careful to not over mix. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 55 minutes then test for doneness by inserting a sharp knife (it should come out free of wet batter.) If not ready, return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes and check again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dear Farmers Market Pie Lady...

It all started so innocently. My husband and I were enjoying our Saturday morning tooling around the Farmers Market when we spotted the Pie Lady. We walked over and asked if she had any cherry pies for sale. From the way she reacted you'd have thought I asked her to sell me a newborn baby to grill for fajitas. She even made sure to raise her voice ten octaves so that everyone around could hear her when she said NO she didn't have any cherry pies to sell me because cherries were no longer in season, dumb ass. Okay maybe the dumb ass wasn't spoken but it was there. Believe me - it was there.

I mean I'm all for seasonal cooking (hello I was at the FARMERS MARKET) but do we really need our vendors to act like holier than thou food police? The pie lady incident stayed with me for days finally prompting me to make my own out of season, living on the edge cherry pie.

It was my first attempt at a cherry pie and I have to admit that fruit pies intimidate the hell out of me (remember last year's pretty but boring apple pie?) And I'm going to get the ugly truth off my chest right now and confess to using a store bought pie crust. I mean I was already baking a cherry pie out of cherry season so I figured what the hell? If you're going to get a speeding ticket, you might as well put the pedal to the medal, man!

And you know what, even with all those cardinal baking sins being broken in two around my kitchen, it turned out to be a pretty damn good pie. The kind of pie that people with a sweet tooth can get behind (husband) as well as those without (me - though I will caveat that this pie is probably not for kids as it does smack your taste your taste buds around a a good way.)

The sour (jarred - oh the horror!) cherries and bite from the lemon and liquor give your palate something to think about while being inundated with all that lovely fruity sweetness. I will also caveat that this is a homemade cherry pie and therefore the filling tends to run a little after sliced though you could attempt to thicken it by adding more cornstarch if you're so inclined. I look at this runny lovely mess as liquid gold to add to the vanilla ice cream I serve on top of each slice.

Pie lady beware - if you're not careful I might set up a booth right next to yours selling my out of season pies and drive your surly ass right out of business.

Wicked Cherry Pie

1 (24 oz) jar sour cherries in light syrup
1 grapefruit sized Pink Lady or Gala Apple (or 2 medium) peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon apple, cherry, cranberry or other fruit juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest of a small lemon
8 oz dried tart or sour cherries
1/3 cup Calvados (apple brandy) or Cherry Brandy
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
2 store bought pie crusts
Non stick cooking spray

1 egg beat/whipped with a tablespoon of heavy cream or milk
Sanding sugar, for decoration

Using a large sieve, strain the cherry juice from the jar directly into a medium large sauce pot. Add in the chopped apples and bring to a boil. Let boil for two minutes then add in the cornstarch/juice mixture stirring well. Let boil for 3-4 minutes stirring every so often. Add in the dried cherries, calvados, lemon juice and zest, and cloves and lower the heat to let simmer for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in the salt and sugar and let simmer another two minutes. Kill the heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Stir in the extracts and set aside to cool further.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400. Take one of the pie crusts (remember to let sit out for a few minutes first or they may tear) and gently press it into the bottom of a deep dish pie plate. Make sure the crust goes all the way up to the edges and brush the edges lightly with a pastry brush dipped in water. Add the cooled pie filling gently distributing the fruit evenly with a spoon.

Dot the filling with butter then place the second crust over the top gently pressing the edges down to 'seal' the seams where you wet the edges. Carefully cut slits (any shape you like) into the pie to let steam escape.

Place the pie plate on an aluminum lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the top and edges of the pie with egg wash. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and put back in the oven for 20 minutes. Add strips of aluminum foil around the edges of the pie (or an aluminum pie edge if you have one) and put back in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the pie filling juices begin to bubble when they erupt through the slits.

Remove and transfer the pie to a wire rack. Let cool/set for at least 8 hours before serving.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spicy Beef Tenderloin and Mushroom Stir Fry with Hoisin and Ginger

I did a bad thing y'all. I made a stir fry with tenderloin and now I'll never make it any other way again. Feel free to use another cut of meat. In fact I encourage you to. Because once you taste how tender and velvety the tenderloin is in this spicy, lightly sweet it just seems meant to be with the green onions and mushrooms and ginger like some perfectly assembled, hand picked by God ingredient super group...there's no going back.

There is an upside to all of this however. I used tenderloin I had found on sale and put in the freezer. While I wouldn't want to grill previously frozen tenderloin for a steak supper, frozen tenderloin is perfect for this. Just pull it out of the freezer an hour or so before you're ready to cook to let it thaw a little as it's easier to slice while still partially frozen. Slice it into thin strips against the grain and set it aside while you chop up the other veggies. By the time you're ready to add it to the skillet it will be nice and thawed and docile.

Or stick with a cheaper cut of meat and I promise it will still be delicious. Because at the end of the day, it's all about the sauce. This recipe and I have that in common.

Spicy Beef Tenderloin and Mushroom Stir Fry with Hoisin and Ginger
* Adapted from Bon Appetit
* I used organic Hoisin sauce from Central Market which is a little less sweet/thick than traditional Hoisin. If using the traditional kind, I'd start with 4 tablespoons and taste for sweetness/balance. On the same note, I'd start with 1 teaspoon of Shriaka if you don't like things too hot and taste before adding more.

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
8 oz sliced Baby Bella or white mushrooms
dash vegetable oil
1 lb beef tenderloin trimmed of fat and cut into slightly thinner than 1/4" slices against the grain (no longer than 2" long)
1/2 small sweet onion, cut into half lengthwise then into thin slices
1 bunch green onions, rinsed well, ends removed and cut into thin strips, divided
8 oz sugar snap peas, tough spine removed and halved
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
5 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
1-2 teaspoons (or more if you're a fire freak) Sriracha sauce
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

In a wok or your largest nonstick, rimmed skillet, heat the sesame oil over medium heat for one minute. Add the ginger and saute, stirring frequently for two minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute, stirring frequently for another three-four minutes until they've begun to soften. Scoot the mushrooms over to one side of the pan or wok, add a dash of vegetable oil to the empty space, then add the slices of beef over spreading them out as much as possible in the open area. Season well with salt and pepper and let cook for one minute before carefully flipping to the other side. Let cook one more minute then stir the meat in and around with the mushrooms as their heat will help them along. After all the meat has browned, add in the onion, half the chopped green onions, snap peas, and cilantro.

Season lightly with salt, then gently stir in. Cook about two-three minutes while you mix together the Hoison, Sriracha, and five spice powder in a cup or small bowl. Pour the mixture into the wok or pan and gently stir to incorporate. Cook another minute or so to let everything meld, then taste for seasoning.

Serve over white or brown rice garnishing with the additional green onions and cilantro.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Homemade Granola with Dried Cranberries and Cinnamon

There are two types of people in the world - granola heads and non granola heads. I am a card carrying member of the granola heads (though not in the hippie sense of the word as I shower daily and shave my armpits most of those days, thank you.)

Fellow granola heads know what I mean. We crave this crunchy, lightly sweet rubble the way others crave brownies or ice cream and we can tell you who has the best in our hometowns or even in other cities (Urth Caffe in LA, Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, and Joe's Coffee in Austin.)

As a granola head, the biggest insult in the world is to go to breakfast somewhere anticipating a bowl of crunchy homemade granola and fresh fruit only to be served a broken up, store bought granola bar with a limp bunch of greenish gray grapes next to it (Cafeteria in NYC...for shame.) This is like being slapped in the face with a wet fish before you've even had your coffee. Of course even minor personal offenses take on catastraphoic proportion in the vulnerable pre-coffee time of morning but you get my drift.

Now that I know how easy granola is to make at home, I can rest easy. This may not be the most impressive recipe I've ever made but as a granola head, it may be my most treasured.

Homemade Granola with Dried Cranberries and Cinnamon
Adapted from Everyday Foods

3 cups quick (rolled) oats
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup honey
4 teaspoons sesame seeds
3/4 cup walnuts or pecan pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
couple gratings of fresh nutmeg, or a dash from a bottle of dried
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
non stick spray

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the oats, butter, honey, sesame seeds, nuts, and dried fruit with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle over the cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix again until well combined.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment and spray lightly with non stick spray. Carefully spread out the granola mixture letting it go to the corners to make a nice level layer and patting down any mounds or lumps for even baking.

Bake for 20 minutes and check for color. I like mine to become a little more bronze/toasted than most granolas but a light golden is what most consider ideal. I keep mine in for half an hour, but this is very individual and ovens vary so check every few minutes after the 20 minute mark up to 30 minutes. Once evenly golden, remove and turn the granola over gently with a spatula. Leave to completely cool in the pan (about an hour or so) and once cool transfer to a large ziploc or air tight container where it should keep for up to 3 weeks.

Serve with yogurt and honey, with milk as cereal, or even as a crumbly topping for baked fruit (just bake the fruit before adding granola over as it is already baked and will burn if cooked more.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Beer Marinated Flank Steak Fajitas, Courtesy of Hearst Ranch

Do you ever see a recipe you'd love to make then get busy and forget all about it? That happens to me more than I like to admit (especially with the amount of cookbooks I own. If I don't stop you will soon see me on an episode of Hoarders.)

Anyway this recipe from Epicurious was one of those I had forgotten about. Luckily I stumbled across it again just about the time Hearst Ranch sent me these lovely Grass Fed Flank steaks via the wonderful folks at Foodie Blogroll. If you love browsing food blogs or particularly if you blog yourself be sure check out their site. It is - in the words of Rachel Zoe - 'major.'

I had never been sent a product to review before and for the record did not get paid and was told to write honestly about my feelings - good or bad. Maybe I got lucky this time but goodness gracious these were neither good or bad - they were fantastic! I know flank steaks can get a bad wrap if not prepared correctly so I did a bit of reading up before making them finding tips from such wonderful blogs as One Perfect Bite.

It seems the key with flank steak is to cook it quickly either in a searing hot skillet for just a couple minutes per side or on the grill. Another trick is to only cook them to medium rare but to be honest I went a little further than that (if Kris sees blood on his plate, it's game over) and they were still great. Just be sure to let them rest before slicing against the grain on the diagonal and you'll have yourself some delicious meat to stuff into a piping hot tortilla.

Beer Marinated Flank Steak with Jalapeno and Green Onions
* Lightly adapted from Epicurious
* You can buy grass fed steaks online from Hearst Ranch
* If you'd like more kick, leave the seeds in both peppers before chopping
* Be sure to until your flank steak - you can see I forgot this step in the above marinating photo;)

Flank steak, as much as you need (this marinade should hold up to 2 1/2 pounds)

1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 fat green onions, sliced thinly
4 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, chopped (one seeded and the other with seeds and all)
1 12-ounce bottle dark beer (actually a good quality light beer will do also in a pinch)
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk up the oregano, cumin, salt, oil, green onions, garlic, and jalapenoes. Carefully pour in the beer and Worcestershire sauce and gently stir again to mix.

Transfer the marinade to shallow, rimmed Pyrex or ceramic baking dish. Add the steak (if it's been tied, untie it so it lies flat) making sure it is well covered by the mixture (a large ziploc will also work.) Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight, turning the steak over to the other side midway.)

Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and let come closer to room temperature. Preheat a gas grill to medium heat. While it's heating, remove the steak from the marinade, scrape off any stragglers, and dab both sides onto a stack of paper or kitchen towels to dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the grill, away from direct flame for 3 minutes. Turn to the other side, shut the lid, and cook for 4 minutes (if your steak is particularly thick you may want to open the door and let cook with the door open another 1-2 minutes.)

Remove to a baking sheet or cutting board, cover lightly with foil and let rest for ten minutes before slicing. Remember to cut against the striation patterns in the meat.

Hook 'Em Horns!