Friday, May 14, 2010

Satisfying & Light Weeknight

Once again, menu planning from The Book (as it will now be referred to) strikes with great success! My husband and I are heading to Philadelphia to see a dear friend from college get married this weekend, so I didn’t want to do a lot of grocery shopping this week since we would be on the road, and were some items that I wanted to use up before we headed out of town. I had flagged Mario Batali’s Spaghetti with Artichokes and Pancetta the second it graced the cover of Food & Wine’s April 2010 issue, and knew it was a flavor combination I wanted to work with. I have a lot of respect for Batali as a chef- he seems to really know who he is, both as a person and a chef, and he has a wonderful backstory to his rise to fame.
I love a simple pasta dish, especially something that can be thrown together easily on a week night without feeling like an afterthought. Following Batali’s flavor profile, I amended the components for what I had on hand, and the result was a perfect after workout spring supper that was wholly satisfying. By switching to an unrefined whole grain pasta, I upped the fiber and grain intake, and I thought he pairing of the light artichokes with the hearty fettuccini made for a great balance. I also switched out the pancetta for leaner prosciutto, helping to lighten up the dish further. The dish was only further confirmed a success when my husband not only cleaned his own bowl, but happily devoured my leftovers when I offered them up for sacrifice. Paired with a bright salad, Whole Wheat Pasta with Artichokes & Pancetta is a perfect spring meal.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Artichokes & Prosciutto
(inspired by Mario Batali’s Spaghetti with Artichokes & Pancetta)

- 6-8oz. jar marinated & quartered artichokes
- ½ Red Onion, sliced thinly
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4oz. Good quality lean prosciutto, sliced into ribbons (freeze the prosciutto for 10-15 minutes to make slicing easy)
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- Zest of ¼- ½ a lemon
- Scant ¼ cup dry white wine
- ½ Package of whole wheat fettuccini or spaghetti
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Chopped flat leaf parsley or fresh basil (optional)

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil, and build sauce while water is coming to temp. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a high sided pan or wok (big enough to hold pasta when cooked) and add in prosciutto. Keep prosciutto moving & cook until well crisped, but not burned. Transfer to paper or kitchen towel to drain. Add in a little more olive oil and sauté artichoke hearts until warmed through, breaking up if pieces are large. Add in onion and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until onion begins to soften. Introduce garlic, and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant and softened. Pour in wine and lemon juice, stirring to combine and cook until slightly reduced. Drop heat to low, add in lemon zest, stir to fully incorporate and adjust flavor with salt and pepper to taste. Sauce can be set aside while pasta is cooked. Follow recommended cooking instructions for pasta, reserve about ¾ cup of cooking liquid and drain well. Add cooked pasta to sauce with cooked prosciutto and toss well, adding some of pasta cooking liquid to loosen sauce to a light consistency and have even coating on pasta. Sprinkle liberally with fresh parmesan cheese and herbs (if using) and serve immediately.

Artichoke on FoodistaArtichoke

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Time Oysters

I have started implementing some of my menu planning ideas from my Magazine Recipe Book, and it has been a great week of eating in the Humble Home. After letting the salmon sausages cure for a bit in the fridge, we were excited to test them out, so we fried them up and served them over a fresh salad. I’m not going to lie- they were extremely good! I love finding new ways to bring more fish and protein into our diet, so I think we’ll be seeing more of these little beauties. Kyle had picked up some oysters at the often mentioned Anthony's Seafood, and I had flagged a recipe idea in Bon Appétit for an Irish style broiled oysters, and we had ourselves a little seafood supper. I altered the original oyster recipe to what we had on hand, and my only disappointment with the end result was that they ran out too fast! The robust nature of the blue cheese complimented the briny nature of the oysters, and the breadcrumbs brought the perfect amount of crunch and texture. The oysters were a perfect light first course, and would be great for a cocktail party, just make sure you have enough on hand!

Another great tip I had picked up while doing my magazine pillage was out of Cook’s Illustrated for making fresh breadcrumbs without a food processor: Freeze whatever bread you want to use until hard. Place a box grater over a large plastic bowl or plate (to ensure it won’t break under force- you can also use a kitchen towel to anchor the plate/bowl) and grate desired amount of breadcrumbs needed. It’s a really easy way to have the amount of fresh breadcrumbs that you need for your recipe (I’m big on using fresh as opposed to the store bought variety whenever possible), and not have to worry about using up or storing any leftover crumbs. The bread has a long life in the freezer, so you waste less in the long run, and don’t have to pull out a big piece of machinery every time you need breadcrumbs.

A few of my oyster got a little extra crispy under the broiler, but the breadcrumbs act as a great shield from the heat of the broiler, so the oyster remained juicy and fresh. If you’re not a blue cheese fan, smoked Gouda or fresh curls of parmesan would be a great substitution. I picked up the technique of preheating the oven before broiling from working in restaurant kitchens, and I think it helps to even the overall temperature of the final product, so that the oyster is just warmed and all the flavors come together without having to spend too much time under the broiler.

Broiled Oysters on the Half with Garlic Breadcrumbs & Blue Cheese

(modified from Bon Appétit’s Broiled Oysters w/ Garlic Breadcrumbs, March 2010)
-1 Dozen fresh oysters, shucked & in ½ shell w/ luquor
- ¾ Cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat bread)
- 2 Good sized garlic cloves, minced finely
- 2 Tblspns flat leaf parsley, minced
- 2-3 Tblspns salted butter
- 1(ish) Tblspn dry white wine (Sauv Blanc)
- Sea salt
- Cracked black pepper
- 12 small slices of good blue cheese (Danish or Roquefort work well), cut to fit oysters
- Lemon wedges

Place oven rack about 3-4 inches from broiler and preheat oven to 450. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté minced garlic until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add in wine & cook another minute. Add in breadcrumbs, stirring to combine & crisp crumbs up, about 4-5 minutes. Add in parsley and season with salt & pepper to taste and remove from heat. Arrange oysters on a baking sheet and distribute breadcrumb mixture over oysters evenly. Top with a small slice of blue cheese. Once the oven has come to temp, switch off and heat the broiler to low. Place oysters under the broiler until cheese has had a chance to melt and breadcrumbs turn golden, approximately 3-5 minutes, depending on the intensity of your broiler. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Derby Day Fun!

Even though the Derby was a few weekends ago, with the Preakness coming up this weekend, I decided it would be a great time to get up a post on how my friend Jill and I rang in the (soggy!) 2010 Kentucky Derby.

I volunteer with Jill downtown every weekend, and given that the Derby is on Saturdays when I am working with her, I wanted to bring us down a little treat to commemorate the special occasion. In an effort to not incriminate ourselves for sneaking in some treats, I will not reveal the actual location of my volunteer work, but rather just say that it is in a beautiful and historic building downtown overlooking the water- a vague description for the Newport area! :-) But I digress…

I had given Jill a heads up that I would be bringing us a little something, and what goes better with Derby day than Mint Juleps? Given that I have been bartending on and off for the past seven years in various capacities, I knew a couple of these traditional beauties would be the perfect fit. I love the freshness of the mint coupled with the bite of bourbon and the sweetness of the simple syrup- it really is the perfect Southern drink! Having made Juleps a few times in my day, I employ a couple of tricks (infusing the simple syrup with mint first, a splash of ginger ale to lighten up the bourbon) to make them refreshing and crisp.

I wanted to couple the Juleps with a little snack that has always screamed “spring” to me, so my natural go to was Deviled Eggs. My mother has always makes these for Memorial Day and throughout the summer season, and as the mercury has slowly been creeping up the thermometer in Newport, I thought it would make a great pairing. I deviated a bit from my standard recipe for the eggs to incorporate fresh herbs from my container garden, and they turned out perfectly- not too heavy, with plenty of brightness from the herbs. Using a fork to “whip” the filling helped to create a lighter texture as well.

Although neither of our horses won (her Sidney’s Candy was 17th and my poor Backtalk came in last!) we had a great treat to enjoy while enjoying the Derby preview and watching the boats in Newport harbor wake up from a long winter.

Running of the Roses Mint Juleps
(enough for 2-4 servings, depending on the size of your cup!)

-½ Cup organic sugar
- ½ Cup water
- Medium bunch of fresh mint leaves
- 10 oz. Kentucky bourbon (Jim Beam is my go to fella)
- 2oz. (or so) Ginger ale
-Crushed ice

Combine water and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Heat well until sugar is fully dissolved and mixture reduces slightly. Remove from heat, tear ½ of mint leaves and stir into syrup and pour into a good sized pitcher (or jar with tight fitting lid if taking to another location to watch the race!). Pour in bourbon and ginger ale and stir well (or shake if in jar) to combine and dissolve sugar. Fill small glasses with crushed ice and top off each with half of the remaining mint leaves torn up. Pour julep mix over ice and stir. Garnish with a sprig of mint, sip & enjoy.

Derby Day Deviled Eggs
(proportions are for 3 people)

- 6 Large fresh organic eggs
- 1 ½ - 2 Tblspns chopped fresh herbs (I used a mix of dill, flat leaf parsley and arugula)
-1 Heaping Tblspn finely minced shallot or sweet onion
- 1 ½ Tbspns English cucumber, seeded & diced small
- 2-3 Tblspns mayonnaise
- Sea salt
- Fresh cracked pepper

Place eggs in the bottom of a sauce pan, cover eggs with water and place on stovetop over medium-high heat. When water reaches a boil, turn off heat and set pan aside for 10-12 minutes. While timing, prepare an ice bath in a bowl large enough to hold eggs. Remove eggs from pan and place in ice bath for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Peel eggs, slice in half lengthwise, remove yolk and place in a small bowl. Combine yolks with all other ingredients & season to taste with salt & pepper. Using a dinner fork (or small whisk if you have one), whip a little air into yolk mixture for lighter consistency. Spoon mixture back into eggs, dust with smoked paprika (optional) and serve or stash in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Homemade Salmon Sausage

As I mentioned previously, my husband and I are now the proud owners of the meat grinding & sausage stuffing attachments for our much loved KitchenAid stand mixer. Since Kyle is such a proficient baker, I wanted to make sure that we diversified our use of the stand mixer so it was not purely used for the baking arts. We had been talking about getting into sausage making for a while now, and we were both excited when we finally bit the bullet and ordered the attachments. We were successful in our first attempt at making a basic breakfast sausage, so on the next go ‘round, I wanted to step it up a bit.

Quite a few years ago, my mom and I would regularly attend the local farmer’s market, and my mom would always stop off at one particular stand. The company was called Out of the Blue, and they made the most incredible salmon sausages- they were packed with fragrant herbs, fresh salmon and had a subtle texture. At this point in my life, I ate almost no seafood, but I could not get enough of these salmon sausages. My mother would serve them grilled and sliced for cocktails and they were always the first to go. At some point, the purveyors stopped attending the local farmer’s market, and the salmon sausages were all but a memory. Until now!

Armed with my memory and fresh ingredients, I set out to re-create the much loved treats. I ordered some vegetarian collagen casings, went to the ever popular Anthony’s Seafood Market to pick up the salmon, and set to work. From memory and a little online technique research I began piecing together a recipe. Upon chatting up the guys at Anthony’s, they recommended that I go with wild caught salmon tail meat- the reasoning being that it has an excellent fat content, good texture, and was much less expensive than the filet cuts. As sausage making in general is all about using less expensive meats to start with, I knew it would be a perfect match, and they removed the skins for me in the market. Wanting to replicate the smoky flavor of traditional sausages, I added in some cold smoked, wild caught salmon for Washington, which brought a lot to the flavor profile. After letting the sausages “cure” in the refrigerator overnight, Kyle and I had our first sampling yesterday, and the flavor was just as good as what I remembered from all those years ago- subtle, fresh and delicate. Initially, I had planned on using the sausages for a hash last night, but Kyle and I agreed that the flavor was just too wonderful to overpower with a heavy pan dish. Instead, I’m leaning towards using them this evening with a bright spring salad, and I know it’ll be a perfect match.

If you’re apprehensive about using casings for the first time (I know I was!), the meat is just as good loose, or formed into patties for sandwiches or any other application. I have to be honest, I did burst a few of my casings on this first attempt (which in turn caused me to bust out a few four letter words), but as my husband patiently reminded me, it’s all about learning and the experience. If you do decide to go the casing route, be sure to work with even pressure and gently- over handling the casing or overstuffing will cause them to burst! As with any sausage making, it is important that all equipment and ingredients be very cold: I usually put my grinder, die and meat in the fridge for a good 30-40 minutes before grinding, and then put the meat back into the fridge for another half hour time out before stuffing.

Fresh Herb & Garlic Salmon Sausages

-2lbs. Fresh, wild caught salmon tail meat- skins removed & cut into chunks
-8oz. Wild caught smoked salmon, broken into pieces
-3 Cloves of garlic, chopped
-3 Tblspns fresh dill, rough chopped
-3 Tblspns fresh flat leaf parsley, rough chopped
-Zest from ¼ lemon
-Juice from ¼ lemon
- ½ - ¼ Tspn smoked paprika (optional)
- ½ Tspn celery salt
-1 Tbspn(ish) sea salt
- ½-1 Tbspn fresh cracked pepper
-Small (21mm) sausage casing (vegetarian available)

Combine all ingredients in appropriate size cold bowl & let rest in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes or until well chilled. Fit stand mixer with meat grinding attachment and small grinding die. Working in batches, feed salmon mixture through grinder at a medium speed into chilled catch bowl below. Once all meat has been pushed through, mix thoroughly. At the point, you can pull off a small amount of the sausage mixture and cook it off to test for seasoning adjustment. Place mixture back in refrigerator to rest and chill for an additional 30-40 minutes and clean out grinder (see note for tip). If you do not plan to use casing, make sure mixture is covered tightly and let “cure” overnight in the refrigerator before using. Can be formed into patties for sandwiches and salads, crumbled into stuffing or used in any other sausage application. For casing use, follow additional directions:
Grab a friend or a loved one, as this works best when working with two people, especially if you are a first timer (also why I don’t have photos of this part of the process- all hands were busy!). Re-attach grinding attachment to stand mixer and fit with small sausage stuffing tube. Slide casing over end (if you have a large amount of casing, you may want to cut the casing down to size to work in batches, otherwise you won’t get a good fit over the tube).At a medium speed, begin feeding salmon mixture through the grinder. Once salmon has reached casing, pinch or tie off end with kitchen twine and begin slowly feeding salmon into casing, making sure not to overstuff. I found it works best if you have one person feeding the mixture into the hopper, and the other guiding at the casing end. We worked in 3 sections of about 2-3 feet each so as we had a little more flexibility and didn’t become overwhelmed with one large casing. Once all stuffing has been fed into the casing, lay stuffed sausages on a flat surface, and twist into sections of desired relatively even length (I tried to keep ours around the 6” length) by holding starting end in one hand and twisting open end clockwise for 4-5 rotations to seal off each link. Once the process has been repeated to create all links, wrap tightly in butcher’s paper or parchment paper and allow to “cure” for 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Cook as you would any other link sausage over medium to medium-high heat in a skillet for 10-12 minutes to ensure they are cooked through. Fresh sausage will last about 2-4 days in the fridge, or can be frozen for a max of three months.

Note on cleaning: Anyone who has ever cleaned out a meat grinder knows it is a bear! To simplify the process, feed a couple of pieces of bread (stale works best!) through your meat grinder. The bread will pick up a lot of the bits and pieces left behind in the grinder, cutting down on cleaning time immensely. Some folks even mix in the bread with their sausage so as not to lose any little bit of flavor, but I’ll leave that choice up to you!
Salmon Sausages over Spring Salad

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Little Spring Cleaning & Re-Focus

I have finally tackled a project that has been looming over my head since moving into our Newport apartment last fall. It had been hanging over me for months, and my long standing promises to my husband to make good on my word were starting to cause sideways glances. In an effort to curb any potential heated discussions regarding this project, I saddled up this weekend and created my magazine recipe binder, and I must say, it is a thing of beauty! I know a lot of cooks (both in the professional and home realm) employ this technique to keep interesting recipes from their favorite periodicals close at hand, and I finally got the inspiration I needed to jump on the bandwagon from my friend Brianne over on Sweet Cheeks in the Kitchen and her post about cookbooks and her binder system.

Surrounded by countless back issues of Gourmet (rest it’s soul!), Food & Wine, Bon Appétit and Cook’s Illustrated,  and armed with a sharp knife and a three hole punch, I began pouring over the pages, carefully slicing out the recipes that peaked my interest and inserting them into a massive 3-ring binder. I organized mine by publication (sub categorized by date), and cut out the cover and table of contents for quick reference. I could almost hear my husband's sigh of relief as the number of massacared magazines began to grow in the recycling bin, and I admit that I took a lot of enjoyment out of organizing all of the recipes and ideas into one conscise location as opposed to an endless search through towers of dusty back issues. Tonight I am planning on going through and flagging the recipes I would like to try right off the bat so that I don’t have to rifle through to make a shopping list.

A catalyst for this project came from a discussion my husband and I had earlier in the day as we sat down to take a hard look at our finances- a chore that is never fun- and realized that we are spending too much. This is primarily a result of not really thinking about our spending, and getting carried away in our new city and wanting to experience the most of it. Before I was hired on at my new job, I was extremely cautious (if not obsessed!) in regards to not spending money, and I think that once I became employed, I went a little far over to the other side, and have since realized that I had lost my focus. In an effort to curb some of our frivolous spending, we have taken our joint credit card out of our wallets and vowed to only pay cash (or use debit cards) to make purchases, and cut out all unnecessary spending, focusing that money instead on knocking out our credit card balance. This is not to say that we are going to give up all spending, but rather re-focus where we were spending our money to better plan for our future. As a part of that, we are challenging ourselves to eat in as much as possible. It is something we have always done in the past, especially when finances are tight, and a practice we both enjoy. Upon both becoming employed, we were excited to go out and try our new city’s restaurants (and there are a good deal of fantastic restaurants in Newport!) and bars without really thinking about how much we were spending. Once we looked at the breakdown of where our money was going, we were quite surprised, to say the least!

So with our new spending plan in hand, I have decided to take up home menu planning, a tool I have seen a lot of other bloggers use. I think it will be a great way to not only go through my freshly created magazine recipe binder, but also streamline our grocery shopping to be more time and cost effective. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of wandering the aisles of the market aimlessly; picking out various items that look enticing and tossing them into the cart. I really do love taking “found” ingredients, getting them home and playing around with them, so I want to make sure that there is plenty of room to let creativity flow. On the flip side, I also want to ensure that we are getting the most bang for our buck at the store, and also make sure that we aren’t wasting any of our food and using our pantry staples to the best of their ability. The local farmer’s markets are just starting to wake up from the long winter around here, and I’m also looking forward to implementing lots of local fresh produce into our diet- a great way to fuel creativity and support the local economy. As a direct result of all of this menu planning/recipe collecting/at home eating plan, I forsee a lot of posts in the upcoming weeks, and I am really excited to share all of the new dishes and ideas along the way!

After our big financial talk and diving into the recipe book project, it goes without saying that we both needed a little culinary therapy, so we headed off to Anthony’s Seafood Market to pick up some salmon to try our hand at making salmon sausages. We had a lot of fun (and a little frustration!) in our first go at using collagen casings, but in the end I think we ended up with some wonderful sausages that I plan on cooking up tonight, and will be posting on soon. There really is something to be said for diving into a kitchen project after a big day, and sausage making was the perfect thing to do on a breezy Sunday.

So keep your eyes open for new posts regarding weekly menu planning, savvy wallet friendly recipes and first attempt meals inspired by my fancy new magazine cook book. Happy Monday all, and happy eating!