Friday, February 27, 2009

Sun-Dried Tomato & Meat Sauce

I've adapted this recipe from one I recently saw on PBS' America's Test Kitchen. I used sun-dried tomatoes because they add a really nice richness. I also personally can't make an Italian-style sauce without basil, so I added that as well. The bread & milk mixture is called a panade and it's frequently used to coat meat fibers with starch to protect them from overcooking. That, combined with the fact that you don't brown the meat before simmering it, makes for a very tender texture. Once you try this, you'll never want to go back to canned sauce again. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for about 5 days, and you can freeze it for a couple of months (great for a saturday afternoon when you've got extra time to make some for a rainy day).

  • 4 ounces mushrooms (white, cremini, or shitake), cleaned, stemmed and minced as fine as possible (or pulsed in a food processor)
  • 1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 pound ground beef, 85% lean (avoid using ground round if possible), if using frozen beef, make sure it is completely thawed
  • 1 tablespoon plain olive oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, minced fine (if using oil-packed tomatoes, drain and rinse well)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained with the liquid reserved
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh basil and oregano, minced (or use 1/2 teaspoon each of dried herbs)
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • balsamic vinegar (optional)

In a small bowl, mash together milk and bread with a fork until a paste is made. Mix bread paste, salt, pepper, and beef together in a medium bowl until well combined (your hands are the best tool for this, but you could also use an electric mixer, just make sure not to over-work the meat).

Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan (I use a big stir-fry skillet) over medium-high heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Saute onions and mushrooms with a large pinch of kosher salt, stirring frequently, until onion is mostly browned and a fond (stuck-on brown bits) has started to form on the bottom of the pan. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a another minute. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring frequently until the garlic becomes fragrant. Reduce heat to medium and add reserved diced tomato liquid, scraping the bottom of the pan to dissolve the fond (i.e. deglaze the pan). While deglazing, add half the fresh herbs (if using dried herbs, add the full amount). Add the meat and cook, breaking it up into small pieces. Cook to remove the raw red color (about 2-4 minutes), but do not let the beef brown (that would make it tough - reduce the heat if necessary).

Add both kinds of canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to a low, gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, until the flavors have married together, about 20-30 minutes. Add cheese and remaining herbs. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Optionally, add a little balsamic vinegar if you like your sauce a little richer. Serve over linguine or penne.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Muffins

I love recipes that start with something simple and mediocre and turn it into something that is still fairly simple but tastes a lot better. Take corn muffin mix: this mix (I use the Jiffy brand) makes completely average muffins, with ones made from scratch being a lot better. However, add jalapenos and cheese and they get a whole lot tastier. I love these muffins, so I always double the recipe as a single box of mix doesn't make very much.

Ingredients (for 9 muffins)
  • 1 package Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
  • 1/2 jalapeno, finely diced (remove the ribs and seeds for mild flavor, or use 1 entire diced chile for extra heat)
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup milk (whole milk is best)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Liberally spray a muffin pan with no-stick spray.

Mix muffin mix, jalapeno, and cheese in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, beat together egg, milk, and hot sauce until well integrated.

Pour milk mixture onto the muffin mix mixture and stir until all the mixture is moistened.

Using a large disher, evenly distribute the batter into 9 of the muffin pan spots (they should be about 2/3 full).

Bake 18-20 minutes or until a wooden skewer poked into a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. They are best served warm with butter but will keep for 2 days in a sealed plastic bag (cool completely before bagging). They are great served with a western omlette or huevos rancheros.

Monday, February 23, 2009

All-Purpose Tangy and Sweet BBQ Sauce

This makes a great dipping sauce, marinade, or basting sauce for ribs, chicken, brisket, or anything else you may want to grill, smoke, or roast. See, I wasn't kidding when I called it "all-purpose!"

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard

Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions with a pinch of salt until they have softened and browned slightly. Add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce boils with large bubbles and has started to thicken. If using as a dipping sauce, let cool slightly and serve warm. For marinades or basting, cool to room temperature before using.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beer-Battered Fish

When you make this recipe, you will notice that the batter is very thick. You'll need a good, stout set of tongs or possibly a gloved hand to get the fish immersed into the batter and coated with it. However, a sturdy batter really is required to stand up to all the heat of deep-frying. Since it is so thick, it protects the fish from drying out; in fact, thinner pieces of fish work really well here, when normally they have a tendency to dry out or become brittle.

Traditionally, fried fish is served with french fries (i.e. chips). Using frozen fries that have been parboiled prior to freezing is the easiest way to go (frying fresh, raw potatoes is kind of a pain, since it requires two fryings, a lower-temperature one to soften the insides and a higher-temperature one to crisp the outsides). So if using frozen fries, just cook according to package directions and then keep in a 200 degree oven while the fish cooks up. Also, since the batter needs to rest 15-60 minutes before putting on the fish, making fries is a good way to make use of that time.

  • 1 gallon of oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds of tilapia, cod, halibut or any other firm whitefish, cut into 1-ounce strips
  • Cornstarch in a pie pan for dredging
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon seafood seasoning (e.g. Old Bay)
  • 1 bottle beer, cold

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and seasoning. Whisk in the beer until the batter is smooth and lump-free. Refrigerate for 15 minutes (up to 1 hour). Heat oil to 350 degrees. Lightly dredge the fish in the cornstarch. Working in small batches (2 or 3 pieces), batter the fish and gently place into the hot oil. When the batter is set, flip the pieces over in the oil and fry for another 2-3 minutes, or until deep golden brown. (Note: Pieces that are too blonde do not taste very good - the batter is gummy instead of crispy. You're probably better off over-cooking than under-cooking, although just right really would be best.) Drain on a wire rack and season with a little kosher salt. Serve with malt vinegar and tartar sauce.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Welsh Rabbit (Rarebit)

According to Wikipedia:
The first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown. It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese.
So there you go!

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 shakes hot sauce
  • 4 pieces of toast (sourdough or rye)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes (do not let the flour brown). Stir in the mustard, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper until smooth. Stir in beer. Add cream, whisking until smooth. Reduce heat to low and slowly stir in cheese, a handful at a time, letting each addition completely melt before adding the next handful. Keep stirring until the sauce is smooth. Add hot sauce and serve over toast.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Beef and Ale Stew

I love to cook beef chuck in my slow cooker. After several hours with the low, moist heat, it is fall-apart tender and extremely flavorful.

  • 3 pounds of beef chuck roast or stew meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup sliced carrots (about 1/4 inch thick)
  • 1 medium bell pepper, sliced into thin strips 1-2 inches long
  • 12 ounces beer or ale (regular or non-alcoholic)
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 packet Italian dressing seasoning (.7 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 pound mashed potatoes (if making homemade, don't use too much milk or cream - they need to be somewhat thick and hearty)

Toss beef with oil and salt in a mixing bowl. Heat a large skillet or fry pan over high heat. Working in batches (so as not to crowd the pan), sear the beef so it is brown on the outside (there may some smoke from the high heat, so open a window or turn on the vent). As each batch browns, place the beef in the (turned-off) slow cooker.

When the last of the beef is browned, reduce heat to medium and deglaze the pan with beer. Add tomato paste, bouillon, seasoning packet, Worcestershire, pepper, and sugar and whisk to combine, scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Add the vegetables and sauce to the beef in the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and turn slow cooker to high. Cook for 4 hours and serve over mashed potatoes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Theme Week: Cooking With Beer

I know what you're thinking: A Mormon who cooks with beer? Well they make non-alcoholic beers (I have tried O'Doul's, If you're looking for a suggestion), so all of you Mormons, Muslims, and heart patients can still make this week's recipes. In fact, you should strongly consider it - they are quite tasty! So tune in here on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a delicious set of meals.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leftover Chicken: Asian Panini

If you're returning to the blog from Wednesday's post, you'll remember that we did Asian-Style grilled chicken. If you had any leftovers (and you should have if you read my note/hint), you can do today's recipe! If you didn't do Wednesday's chicken, just make it specifically for this recipe - it'll just take a little longer (OK, a lot longer, but it's worth it).

  • 1 Asian-style grilled chicken breast from Wednesday's blog post
  • 8 slices hearty sandwich bread (whole wheat or sourdough would be nice)
  • 1/4 cup baby spinach, washed and dried
  • 1 sliced tomato
  • 2 ounces sliced Monterey Jack cheese

Distribute 1/4 of a sliced chicken breast over 4 slices of bread. Top with spinach, tomato, cheese, and remaining bread. Bake in a 300 degree oven or toaster oven for 3-5 minutes (or grill on a skillet or panini press) or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted. Slice in half diagonally and serve. Makes 4 sandwiches.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Asian-Style Grilled Chicken

Although this dish seems simple, it's very flavorful. The Buddhist religion so popular among Asian cultures emphasizes balance - the yin and yang - and this dish is no exception. We've got salty and sweet, spicy and tangy all in one dish. One might say that it is culinary nirvana*!

  • 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 pounds total)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced fine or pressed in a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons chili sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (red, white, or cider vinegar would also do)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • juice of 1/2 lime

Combine soy sauce, garlic, chili oil, vinegar, and pepper in a small baking dish (one big enough to hold all the chicken). Add the chicken, making sure the mixture coats both sides of all the pieces.
Let stand at room temperature while the grill heats up, about 30 minutes. If not all the chicken is completely submerged, turn the pieces over halfway through the marinading time.

Meanwhile, whisk together the honey and lime juice, set aside.
When the grill is ready, place the chicken over direct heat. Grill, covered, about 5 minutes. Flip and brush the honey mixture onto the cooked side. Cook another 5 minutes, brushing on about half the honey mixture over two or three bastings. Flip the chicken back to the first side and brush on the remaining honey mixture over two or three bastings. Cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of at 150-160 degrees, or until the juices run clear. Serve with jasmine rice and stir-fried oriental vegetables.

Note & Preview: If you save one of the chicken breasts, you will be able to make Friday's recipe - Asian Chicken Panini!

* I have the greatest respect for the Buddhist religion - I do not intend to mock, trivialize, or denigrate their beliefs in any way.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A note on comments

In the spirit of greater discussion, I'm allowing anonymous comments on this blog. I figure since I've got the "type the obfuscated word into the box" setting turned on, I'll only get real people (and for you tech geeks out there, yes, I know it's not foolproof). However, if I get any obscene, abusive, or spam comments, I will immediately go back to allowing comments from registered users only. Readers, let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

The secret to this recipe is the pine nuts. When they are toasted they add a rich smokiness that's almost like bacon. To toast pine nuts, put them in a dry skillet over medium high heat. Toss them frequently so they don't burn. When they just start to brown, immediately take them off the heat because they will scorch quickly.

  • 1/4 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine or pressed through a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 box rigatoni or penne regatta pasta
  • 1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (if packed in oil, rinse the oil off)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 cups chopped lettuce or baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, combine oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt in a salad dressing shaker. Shake to combine and set aside.

Combine drained pasta, artichokes, tomatoes, basil, olives, and feta cheese in a large bowl.

Fill chilled salad bowls halfway with lettuce. Top with pasta mixture and dress with the dressing. Add pine nuts and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pan-Fried Crispy Tilapia

Although I did this recipe with tilapia, almost any mild-flavored, firm-fleshed fish would work (cod, halibut, flounder, etc.). This goes great with garlic mashed potatoes, or you could roll up the fried fillets into a burrito with beans and rice.

  • 4 medium tilapia fillets (about 4-6 ounces each)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 slices sourdough bread
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

Preheat broiler. Tear up the bread and pulse in a food processor until it has a mealy texture, 5 to 10 1-second pulses. Spray a baking sheet and the breadcrumbs with nonstick spray. Toast under the broiler, about 6 inches from the heat, tossing every 2 minutes to ensure even cooking, until they are light brown. Remove from heat and place in a pie pan. Beat eggs together with 2 tablespoons water and pour into another pie pan. In a third pie pan, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and whisk to evenly distribute spices.

Coat a fillet with flour, shaking off any excess. Coat with egg, letting any extra drip off. Place in pan with breadcrumbs, coating both sides and pressing firmly to adhere crumbs to fillet. Lay on a wire rack to let the crust firm up and repeat with remaining fillets.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches approximately 325 degrees, carefully lay the fillets in the pan and cook until the crust becomes golden brown, about 3-5 minutes per side. Drain on a wire rack and sprinkle with a little more kosher salt. Serve immediately.