Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pear/Stilton/Caramelized Nut Salad

One of our more favorite salads as a meal is one that has a lot texture and flavor. Several years ago we got turned onto Pear/Stilton as a combo for a salad. Over the years we've added to it elevating it to main course status.

Caramelized nuts is super easy to do. Using a silpat pretty much guarantees you no sticky messy clean ups.

Caramelized Nuts
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T water
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 C walnut or pecan halves
  • sea salt to taste

Over medium heat melt butter. Just as butter begins to sizzle add brown sugar and water. With whisk stir constantly until all the sugar is dissolved into the butter and water. Cook 1-3 minutes until bubbly and turning a dark bubbly brown. Add nuts and toss carefully until well coated. Immediately pour onto silpat lined baking sheet. Separate the nuts. Salt with coarse sea salt.

The nuts are an integral part of the textures in this pear/Stilton/caramelized nut salad. It works best if you use lighter flavored salad dressings or vinaigrette's so you don't overwhelm and hide the subtle sweetness of the pears or the lightly tangy Stilton. One of the things I like about the salad is that you do get the whole slightly sweet and salty play with the pear and sea salt on the nuts.

Pear Stilton and Caramelized Nut Salad
  • 5-6 cups mixed greens (I use Fresh & Easy Wild Rocket blend)
  • 1 ripe pear
  • 1/2 c crumbled blue Stilton (An English Blue cheese, sub Gorgonzola if you can't find Stilton)
  • 1/2 c bacon bits
  • 1/2 c thinly sliced English Cucumber
  • 1/2 c Caramelized Nut
  • 4 slices baguette
  • Salad Dressing (I used honey mustard)
  • Black Pepper

Divide greens between two large salad plates of bowls. Place a couple of slices of bread on the side of the bowl. Divide cucumber and put on top of the greens. Core the pear and cut into a dozen thin slices. Add the pears. Divide the Stilton and to salad. Divide Nuts and add to salad.
Dress to taste. Add fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Orange Chocolate Palmiers

Today is "Bloggers Picnic V (V for vendetta)". It is done potluck style. Anyone who is a fan of blogs, writes a blog, reads a blog, comments or torments on a blog is welcome to attend. Invite details on Metblogs.

My contribution to the days noshing and festivities will include these tasty but stupid easy cookies. I'm not quite sure where I heard that orange and chocolate are a good flavor combination but they do pair well. These cookies are something I just thought up one day and ran with it.

Orange Chocolate Palmiers

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry - thawed

  • 2 T raw or tourbinado sugar, divided

  • zest of one medium orange

  • 1 oz bitter sweet chocolate

Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap larger than the puff pastry sheet. Sprinkle 1 T of the raw sugar on the plastic wrap approximately the size of the pastry sheet. Unfold pastry on top of the sugar. The unfolded pastry should have the creases visible and running horizontal on the wrap.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 T raw sugar over the pastry sheet. Zest the orange with a microplane over the puff pastry. Using microplane grate the chocolate over the pastry. Lightly tap the sugar, zest and chocolate onto the puff pastry.

With one long edge of the puff pastry carefully fold the edge to the nearest crease. Fold again to the half way point on the pastry. Repeat with the other edge of the dough. Fold the dough again in half. Wrap dough in the plastic wrap and chill 15-minutes. Very important that you chill the dough or it will not cut well nor puff correctly in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400. Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper. Remove the dough from fridge and immediately unwrap. Cut the dough in half. Take the half and cut in the middle (will yield 2, one quarter rolls). Cut the one quarter roll into 3 pieces (about 1/4 think). Lay each cookie on the sheet about 2 inches apart. Repeat until all of dough is cut and lined up on baking sheet.

Bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before moving to wire rack.

Note the original crease lines as they are important guides for the folding when it is time to start rolling the palmiers.

Microplanes are the greatest gift to the kitchen, makes it so easy to finely grate things like chocolate and get even distribution at the same time. After the final fold is done you have a log that needs to be rolled in the plastic wrap so it will hold its shape will chilling.
A sharp serrated knife is the best tool for cutting through the chilled dough. It doesn't cut and drag through the dough causing it to lose its shape like a regular knife will.
Silpat sheets...the single greatest invention for anyone who lies to bake. Cookies like this that have a lot of raw sugar would bake and burn onto a regular cookie sheet, here they just bake away and glide right off the sheet. Clean up is easy...damp cloth and it is done.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When Chocolate isn't...

Yikes...if your Hershey's chocolate doesn't taste like chocolate anymore read the bag.
It may not be chocolate.  Cybele who runs the Candy Blog was interviewed on the Today Show.  

The short of it, Hershey's who for years has billed itself as America's Chocolate has decided to go cheap instead of maintaining quality to boost their profits.  They have substituted palm oil or other vegetable oils for the cocoa butter.  The end result is something vaguely chocolate flavored with a chalky texture AND a somewhat bitter after taste.

You can read quite a bit of related info on the Candy Blog.

If you don't like what you tasted do like I did.  Drop Hershey and note and tell them the changes suck.  I'll boycott any product that says vegetable or palm oil instead of cocoa butter and buy only those that do.  
I became a fan of the Candy Blog and Cybele's work through the LA Metroblogging network.  Her site is one worth bookmarking and following if you have a sweet tooth.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Steak and Gravy

Growing up in the mid-west Steak and Gravy was a regular meal for us. Thursdays I believe was the day. It was made using a cheap cut of beef that was braised until it was fork tender. The meat of choice was "round steak" which in LA is becoming next to impossible to find.

I was too tired to think yesterday about what I wanted for dinner and after wandering back and forth through the meat dept at Pavilions I spotted "Thin sliced Top Round Roast". Pretty much the same cut of meat my Ma used for our "Steak and Gravy Night". Old fashioned comfort food has its merits, this is one that is tasty and perfect for one of those brain dead days where one is too tired to think.

With my version I had to do some changes as my picky eaters (4/5 of the house) canNOT bear the sight of onion in their food. Feel free to include a thinly sliced medium yellow onion and cut out the onion powder from the dredging. Just add the onions after the beef is browned off and cook until soft. Then add the beef back in and continue cooking as per the instructions.

Steak and Gravy

  • 1 1/2 lbs thin cut "Round Steak" or "Top Round Roast"
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 T Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 1 T onion powder
  • nutmeg
  • 1 pkg brown gravy mix.
  • 2T oil

Cut the steak into serving sizes of about 1/4 lb each. Pound each side with the serrated side of a meat mallet until about 1/2 their original thickness.

Heat large skillet with oil over medium high heat until just smoking. Combine flour, steak seasoning and onion powder. Dredge each piece of steak in the flour mixture. Sear each side until brown in the hot oil. Do a few pieces at a time, moving cooked pieces to side while searing the new pieces.

Add the beef broth and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Using a grater add 3-4 good scrapes fresh nutmeg to the pan, stir in well. Bring to boil. Put lid on the skillet and let it simmer on low for 1 hour. At the end of the hour prepare gravy mix according to pkg instructions then add to the Steak. Stir constantly until gravy is cooked. Server over egg noodles or mashed 'taters.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Marshmallows and Popcorn

I can't take credit for this. It was my 11 yo's idea. It actually is pretty tasty. The whole sweet and salting thing. Added bonus is the soft/sticky and crunchy thing. I'm not certain however that the ortho for him and his pals would appreciate the combo since they all have braces. Whatever...what they don't know doesn't come to haunt me later.

Stupid easy recipe:

Marshmallows and Popcorn

  • 1 bag Orville Redenbocker butter flavor popcorn
  • 2 c mini marshmallows.

Pop the popcorn according to package directions. Put popped corn into a bowl, toss with marshmallows. Serve with hot cocoa.

Rose Hip Mint Jelly

My Grandma Jasovec lived deep in the woods on a small farm outside of Ely MN. Many a summer was spent foraging with her for berries and stuff when I was a little kid.

She had some roses on her property. Those roses came from her mothers farm in South Dakota. (My grandmother was actually born in a Sod House on the Prairie of SD but that is another story for an place). It has relevance as her humble beginnings she learned to cook all sorts of stuff. Among the things she could do magic with was Rose hips.

Part of what she did was make great jelly's and jams. Rose hips was one of the items on her farm she made jelly with (also wild strawberries, wild blueberries, choke cherry's and just about anything else ending in "erry" and was a fruit. Oh, also rhubarb combined with any of the "erry" fruit.

I have quite a collection of roses. Several bloom only once a year so I just let them go, grow their hips then leave them for the birds in the area to feast on. This year my memory was jogged and I remembered that my grandmother made jelly from Rose Hips. Swore by them as a cure all which if you believe wikipedia there is some herbalists that believe so.

So with a little research (Grandma passed in '81 so those recipe cards of hers are long gone at this point) I found a recipe for Rose Hip Jelly. The Mint was my idea to add a little more flavor as the rose hip, though related to the apple tastes more like quince.

Rose Hip Mint Jelly

Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes

  • 4 quarts ripe rose hips
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 pgk pectin crystals (I used sure-jel)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1/2 c lemon juice

Preparation: Simmer rose hips and mint in water until soft. Crush to mash, and strain through a jelly bag. Should make about 4 cups of rose hip juice.

Add to juice, lemon juice and pectin crystals and stir until mixture comes to a hard boil. Stir sugar in at once. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove jelly from heat and skim off foam with metal spoon.

Pour jelly into hot sterilized jars.

Yield: about 5 cups

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Couscous and vegie saute'

After this last weekends Battle Bacon I am pretty much overloaded with animal proteins and their associated fats. Don't get me wrong, I'm still an omnivore with heavy carnivore overtones, BUT - I still like lighter vegie only meals to keep the pipes clean and functioning.

One of my favorite summer meals is a simple vegie saute tossed with warm couscous. Nice and filling, full of flavor but it doesn't weigh you down. Couscous also has the advantage of being the easiest pasta on the planet to cook. Had boiling water or stock and walk away. No boiling pot of water adding tons of steam to the kitchen making a hot day worse.

Couscous & Vegie Saute'

  • 1 1/c water or stock
  • 1 c couscous
  • 2 medium zucchini -sliced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms
  • 1 med red onion
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1/4 c basil coarse chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • fresh cracked pepper

Bring water or stock to a boil. Pour over couscous, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Slice mushrooms in halve, quarter the really big ones. Add to hot oil. Cook approximately 5 minutes until they start to brown.

Add sliced zucchini. Cook about 5 minutes until they start to brown. Chop onion and green pepper and add to pan. Add half of the chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook 5-10 minutes or until onion begins to caramelize.

Fluff couscous with a fork. Add the hot vegies and remaining chopped basil. Toss lightly and serve hot.

This is a pretty versatile dish. You can use it as a side dish or main course.

Best flavor in the couscous comes from using a good stock, beef or chicken. If you are using as a side dish chose a stock that compliments your main (beef for beef for example). If you are looking to go vegetarian use vegetable stock.

Also, if you want your vegies to brown better during the saute process reduce the olive oil by half and substitue in a pat of butter to replace the removed oil. It does add a bit of animal fat to the dish that is otherwise missing, but what the heck...what is a little butter between friends?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Iron Chef Bacon & "Layered Salad"

In my little corner of LA we like to party. Our street is pretty special in that you get more than a couple of us together and we wind up putting together a party. It has been like that for as long a I can remember. One of our favorites of the last few years is "Iron Chef Night". We work it out more than a few different ways. Sometimes we do themes like "Provence", English Pub, Thai etc.,. Other times we do ingredients like pumpkin, peaches or cinnamon. We get a lot of great food and then move into a really good time with the neighbors.

This weekend we can attribute our Iron Chef night to my cousin Paul (two doors up from me) for the ingredient. It started with a conversation over more than a few bottles wine after an evening at a local wine bar. When he was living back east in Jersey he and his roommates joked about "man candles" or candles with scents guys would appreciate more than the frou-frou florally stuff. Bacon was their number one candle idea. We got to laughing and decided Bacon had to be our next Iron Chef night ingredient. After all who doesn't like crispy, salty pork product?

I remember my Ma used to make at Thanksgiving all the time this layered salad that I just loved that included a lot of bacon in it. I remember it coming from the mid-70's, but it wasn't something we got much as only the two of us would eat it, my Pop and other Sibs didn't do cauliflower so it didn't make sense to make it unless there was a crowd or a special occasion with guests to help eat it up.

After looking at the original recipe, that was sadly missing quantities I figured I might as well update it a little. This was going to be for a competition so I had to make it a good one.

Mom's Layered Salad
2 inches chopped lettuce
next layer 1 small box of frozen peas
next fresh cauliflower cut into little pieces
next a layer of chopped bacon crisp fried or bacos
1/2 pkg Great Beginnings garlic salad dressing mix sprinkled over last layer
Layer of real mayonnaise over the top to seal. Refrigerate 24 hours. Toss before serving

Bacon Layered Salad

1 small head iceberg lettuce chopped
10 oz frozen peas - thawed and separated
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
1 1/2 c grape tomatoes - halved
1 1/2 c bacon chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c miracle whip
1/2 package 7 Seas Zesty Italian salad mix
1 1/2 t smoked paprika

fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Chop lettuce and put into the bottom of a straight sided bowl. Pour lemon juice over the lettuce and toss lightly to distribute. Add fresh cracked pepper to taste.

Cut Cauliflower into small florets. Toss with smoked paprika in a small bowl then spread in even layer over the lettuce. Sprinkle chopped parsley evenly over the cauliflower.

Add peas. Add layer of bacon bits. Sprinkle salad dressing mix over the bacon. Carefully spread the Miracle Whip over the top of the bacon. Arrange tomatoes cut side down. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Toss just before serving.

Make life easy.....use a mandolin for the thin onion slice layer

chop lettuce in bite sized pieces