Sunday, September 25, 2011

Decadence Because I Wanted To

Not for the calorie conscious--

Not for those short on time--

Not for those wary of fat--

But absolutely delicious.

Artichoke Cups with Lemon Butter Mayonnaise

I love artichokes.  I have for as long as I can remember.  I love them steamed, plain, dipped in butter, fried, in dip, with mayo, for lunch or as an appetizer.  Any way they can be cooked, they are delicious.  They are also pretty.  Don't you think?  We are pretty much at the end of fresh artichoke availability, but I had to make them tonight anyway.  And I went with a fun presentation.  I made homemade mayonnaise and then hollowed out the center, filling it with the mayo.


First, trim and steam your artichokes.  I always cut off the tips of the outside leaves with a pair of scissors.  Not only does it make the artichokes more attractive, but it makes them less dangerous too!

As your artichokes steam, make your mayonnaise.

Melt 1 stick of butter.

Put one egg yolk, a pinch of salt and a tsp of dijon mustard in a large bowl.  Whisk (I like to use a hand mixer) the egg and mustard briskly.  Slowly (only a drizzle at a time) add the melted butter, allowing it to emulsify into the egg before adding more.  When half of the butter has been added, add the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime and a sprinkle of Chipotle powder if desired.  Finish whisking in the rest of the butter, adding gradually.

You should have a thick and creamy sauce.  (If you want a thicker mayo, you will need to add more oil or butter).  I have found these proportions to be just right for this application.

When your artichokes are soft but still firm (after 30-45 minutes of steaming), gently pull the leaves out from the center.  Remove the center leaves and choke using a teaspoon.  Fill the center with about a tablespoon of the mayonnaise and serve!


Leek, Apple and Fennel Scented Pork Belly with Crispy Skin

Pork belly.  Really?  So many cuts of pork don't sound that great, but taste so good.  This just might be one of those cuts.  It takes a while to cook, and a bit more time to prepare than some other cuts of meat, but overall it is pretty easy.  Just know that this is not a calorie light meal.  I mean, really, this is the same cut of meat we use to make bacon... so you do the math.  Still worth it once or twice a year though, I say.

I took a classic technique for pork belly and added my own autumn inspired twist.

two apples
1 large bulb of fennel
2 leeks
pork belly
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

First, roughly cut your vegetables into large chunks.  And arrange them in a baking pan large enough to hold your piece of pork belly.

Use a sharp knife to score the skin of the pork belly every half inch, cutting through the skin, but not all of the way through the meat.

Then, spreading the slices apart with your fingers, sprinkle salt into each cut.

Lightly salt the underside as well, and place, skin side up, over the vegetables.  Drizzle the apple cider vinegar over the top of the pork belly.  If you are using a metal or glass pan, I would recommend adding 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the pan as well.

Place in a HOT oven.  Bake at 450 for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and continue baking for one hour.  If you hear popping and little explosions, that is a good thing!  The skin needs to crackle.

Use the juice in the bottom of the pan to drizzle over the  meat.  Slice on the cuts you have already made and serve.


Two Potato Gratin (aka pommes anna)

added note: after posting this, I have since learned of a dish called pommes anna that I had never heard of or eaten (but I guess re-created with a twist).  This dish is much more of a pommes anna than a gratin, but it is still amazing.

Lightly sweet, perfectly browned, with a hint of caramelized onion, this gratin makes an impressive looking and wonderful tasting accompaniment to any autumn or winter meal.  It is fairly easy to prepare, but beware!  This one takes some time to bake.

2 Sweet potatoes, scrubbed
3-5 Russet potatoes, scrubbed
1 medium onion
1/3 cup cream
3 T butter
Onion Powder

 Slice your onions in thin 1/2 or 1/4 slices.  I always keep the skins attached so that I can use it as a handle when I get down toward the root end.  Caramelize your onion in 1 T of butter and a sprinkle of salt.

Slice your potatoes in thin round slices, putting the russet slices in a bowl of hot water.  Don't worry if your slices aren't perfect; you will use the best ones for the top and then the rest will not really be visible.

Line a large cast iron skillet with parchment paper.  Turn on the pan and melt 1 T of butter on the parchment paper.  Turn off the pan.  The parchment paper is a key part of flipping the gratin when it is finished.

Layer russet potatoes in the bottom of the pan, arranging them in a circular pattern.  This will be the top of your gratin, so use your prettiest slices for this layer.  Lightly sprinkle with salt and onion powder.

Next, layer half of the sweet potatoes and half the onions in the pan as evenly as possible.

Finish your layers with russets, salt and onion powder, followed by another later of sweet potatoes and finished finally with a final layer of russets.  Drizzle the cream over the top and distribute the last T of butter over the top.  Put a round of parchment over the top and bake with another oven safe pan on the top as a weight.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Run a knife or spatula around the edges to loosen, and flip onto a platter to serve.

I have found that a serrated bread knife works best to cut this dish into perfect wedges. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Positive of Winter

One of the few things that I enjoy about the coming winter months and nightfall happening earlier is the ability that gives to have candlelight dinners.

I have so many memories of candlelight dinners.  Birthdays, my parents anniversaries, and those begged for candlelight dinners for no reason at all.

The soft light.  The cloth napkins.  The playing with fire.

Have you had a candlelight dinner lately?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mini Chocolate Silk Pies

Decadence is chocolate silk pie.  No joke.  It is simple, rich, sweet, and calorie rich.  But it is worth it.

I have made this a few times with different recipes, and the recipe is always almost exactly the same.  This time, I took a bit of creative license and came up with something delicious.

Melt and allow to cool to room temperature:
2 oz. of unsweetened baking chocolate.

Cream until light and fluffy:
1/2 cup butter (salted creates a more complex flavor)
3/4 cup sugar.

Cooled chocolate
1 tsp vanilla

Add and beat one at a time for five minutes:
2 eggs*

Distribute into 6 mini graham cracker crusts and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Right before serving, whip 1 cup of whipping cream, 1 T powdered sugar, and 2 t of your favorite liqueur.  I used a fig cognac liqueur.  Put a dollop of whipped cream on each mini-pie.

Use a micro-plane to shave bittersweet chocolate over the top of each.  Serve.  Enjoy. 

*If you are concerned about using raw egg, you can pasteurize your eggs by following this process.  Be careful to follow it exactly, or your eggs will cook! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Full Circle: Caper and Beef Toast

When I lived in Denmark during college, I cooked. Often. I get comfort from cooking, and I was blessed to live with a woman, now a close friend, who was more than happy to share her kitchen with me.  I think I left the country knowing, in Danish over 100 food names... and not much else.

Anyway, the woman I lived with, whom my daughter now calls "Gramma Tina, " taught me how to make a few things, one of which was beef and caper toast.  She learned it from a friend who had learned how to make it as a nanny in the United States.  And I have brought it back again.  Today I'd like to share it with you.

Until this simple dish, I was not a huge caper fan, but their tangy saltiness is the perfect foil for the beef and onion, and all f the ingredients work together to make heaven in your mouth.  So, without further ado:

Caper and Beef Toasts

First, in a bowl, mix until just combined:

1 lb. lean ground beef (the leaner the better in this case)
1/2 large onion chopped
1/4 cup capers (or more)
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 raw egg

 We use gloves in our house, not because meat is gross, but because it is cleaner feeling:

Lay out 8 pieces of bread.  We have found sourdough and rye to be the most delicious, but your favorite bread would work great too!

Equally portion the meat mixture onto the bread, and then spread it out evenly over the entire piece of bread.

Preheat your griddle(s) over medium/low heat and place your bread, meat side down on the pan(s).

Allow to brown, for about 5-7 minutes, until the meat has a nice brown color.  Flip and allow the bread to toast on the griddle.

Serve hot with your favorite soup and/or salad.  We had ours with this Strawberry Fennel salad, and it was great!  


Strawberry Fennel Salad

This salad was a wonderfully light and sweet salad with a crunch that would make a delicious accompaniment to any savory meal.

Put any young tender lettuce in your salad bowl and top with:

thinly sliced hothouse cucumbers
5 thinly sliced strawberries
About 1/4 cup shaved raw fennel root
1 green onion, tops only, chopped

Drizzle with Honey White Balsamic Vinaigrette to taste:

1 Tablespoon honey
3 T White Balsamic Vinegar
a pinch of salt

Briskly whisk in, a drizzle at a time:
6 T Canola, Grapeseed, or Vegetable oil